The Farmers Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM) may change its name and become the new farm organization called for in a report delving into supports needed for farms that direct market.
About 50 people met last fall for a day-long meeting and consultation on how to create a more formalized group.
“What we’re looking at is to see whether it’s feasible to build FMAM up into this larger mandate,” said Phil Veldhuis, president of the FMAM, adding it would mean bylaw changes for FMAM and “putting a ‘d’ for direct” in their name.
Currently FMAM’s membership is restricted to member markets and has a current membership of over 40.
The need for an organization to represent those forging direct-to-consumer links was identified in a report Advancing the small-scale, local food sector in Manitoba authored by retired chief provincial veterinarian Dr. Wayne Lees and released early last year. Among its recommendations for strengthening this emerging farm sector, the report called for the creation of an umbrella organization or “unifying organizational structure” to help these kinds of producers and processors engage policy-makers.
There was strong support to form an organization expressed at the November meeting, Veldhuis said. “About 50 interested people came out and we went through quite a bit of discussion about what people are looking for.”
There was less clarity about what to create so to give the thing legs, about 20 also volunteered to help forge a new group. That steering committee met again last week.
That’s where discussions about switching up FMAM to represent direct marketers generally began, Veldhuis said. There could potentially be anywhere from 100 to 200 or more potential members, he added.
FMAM incorporated in 2007 to foster a vibrant farmers’ market scene by advocating for an improved policy environment, and offering supports like group insurance and access to training for startup markets.
It now represent over 40 markets across the province, but the organization has also floundered with volunteers struggling to keep it afloat since a small grant to employ an executive director ran out.
Veldhuis said FMAM has talked about expanding membership to revamp its purpose. It will ultimately be up to FMAM’s current member delegates to decide at their annual meeting in March if they want to go in this new direction, he said.
Keystone Agricultural Producers president Dan Mazier, who has participated in all discussions, said he thinks it’s great to see a new farm organization forming because it will ultimately help to expand the farm community.
“These are beginning producers,” he said.
This will be a new organization with a vision and a mission to support farmers that direct market in Manitoba, he added. It won’t be an organization for the small farmer per se, because small is indefinable.
“The common link between them is direct marketing, not small,” he said.
The working group that worked with Lees to prepare the report struggled with what defines “small” on the farm scene, and concluded that small cannot be arbitrarily defined by any number of acres or employees, instead characterizing those in this emerging sector as innovative and entrepreneurial and focused on forging close marketing relationships with consumers.