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Canadian Publications Agreement No. 40727545

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Local vendor faces eviction from Farmers' Market

 

January 05, 2018

 

BY TERRY GILLIS

 

Last summer, CBC’s Marketplace launched an investigation into Farmer’ Markets across Ontario. The investigation revealed that food grown in other parts of the province and vegetables bought from the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto were being sold and labelled as “local” at many farmers’ markets, including the Peterborough Farmers’ Market.

 

This investigation lead to dissention among vendors at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market (PFM) and several local farmers suggested the need for more transparency for the weekly Saturday market at the Memorial Centre parking lot. A group of local farmers then introduced new signage at the market, which they stated was designed to better identify local growers. The market’s board did not endorsed the move.

 

Then, the board of directors of the Peterborough and District Farmers’ Market Association issued a special notice to its members that a meeting would be held on Monday, January 8 at Morrow Park, proposing a motion to terminate the membership of the seven vendors.

 

McLean’s Berry Farm was one of the vendors facing possible termination.

Erin McLean told reporters that “getting this notice a few days just before Christmas is pretty challenging.” The McLean family has been selling at the market for 27 years.

 

The notice which was sent to seven vendors — McLean Berry Farm, Circle Organics, Gaelic Garlic, Chef Marshall Eckler, Necessitea Elix and Ontonabee Apiary — cited disruptive behaviour at the market, including interference with the operations and governance of the market and inappropriate and aggressive conduct toward individual vendors for the reason for the possible expulsion.

 

Other claims included making false and disparaging statements about the market, which the board claimed has had a negative impact on the reputation of the market.

 

Peterborough & District Farmers Market Association (PDFMA) secretary-treasurer Jill Staples said the motion to terminate the seven memberships didn’t come from the board itself, but was brought forward by complaints from other vendors.

The vendors who faced termination called upon customers in the community to show their support at a rally on December 29 and more than 150 people packed the Seeds of Change community hall at Emmanuel United Church on George St. on Friday morning.

 

At the rally on Friday, Erin McLean called the notices “illegal pink slips,” and said her family is hurt, saddened and confused over the possible eviction.

 

Erin McLean told the Lakefield Herald that, “we have been attending the Peterboruigh Saturday Farmers’ Market for the last 27 season. Issues at the PDFMA market are problems that are not new - they’ve been quietly happening at that market for at least the last 20-25 years in various forms, occurring with many of the same people. Some are documented in media over the last decade or more, whereas others have been happening much more quietly behind the scenes for years, intensifying in recent years.

 

“These issues are not entirely an issue of reselling, but more about transparency and a lack of good fair governance.

“We don’t understand the allegations against us because the board has given us no specific details regarding them.

“We are devastated with the news of the potential eviction and worried for our farm and our family - we don’t know what we’ll do without this market as a source of income.

 

“We never wanted for any or this to happen and have tried for years to make suggestions, be on the board and otherwise help to contribute to positive change for the betterment of all farms, all vendors and the betterment of this farmers markets.

“After years and decades of mismanagement, a lack of transparency and poor governance such as missing documents, failure to provide documents, not following proper procedure or other serious lacks of governance we now feel as though we have been faced with expulsion for what appears to us to be speaking out on these issues and defending the rights of farmers at farmers markets.

 

“We have gained a tremendous amount of support through the community in the last week with our online petition at:  https://www.change.org/p/nopinkslips-stop-farmers-from-being-kicked-out-of-the-ptbo-saturday-farmers-market, our newly created GoFundMe page to help with legal costs at: https://www.gofundme.com/protect-local-food-and-farmers and our website at www.NoPinkSlips.ca - which also documents timeline of events and other relevant information.

 

“All that we want is fairness, transparency, and above all good governance, but it feels as though these problems have gone on for so long with no attempts at resolution from the board that we no longer feel as though we can work together. In light of this, we now feel that the only solution left is for the City to step in and open up the market for an RFP from community groups in order to save farmers at this farmers’ markets.”

 

As of early Saturday morning, more than 11,400 had signed the petition.

 

Coincidentally, the seven members who face expulsion have all either asked the board of directors why nearly $22,000 is unaccounted for on the market’s balance sheet between 2015 and 2016, or they’ve asked that the financial books be audited.

 

On Tuesday afternoon, (January 2), the Lakefield Herald received a press release from the Peterborough Regional Farmers Network (PRFN) Board.

 

Neil Hannam, board president of PRFN, stated that “the current Farmers’ Market board has lost the moral authority to govern the market. They are not following their own rules, and they have created the framework to unjustifiably kick out seven local vendors. In response, the community has made it clear they don’t support the current board.”

 

The press release went on to say that “the recent events at the market demonstrate that the current board structure creates conflicts between vendors. Furthermore, the current board has not embraced transparent governance or food source labelling. These problems were exposed repeatedly by local and national press this past year. The Farmers’ Market ended the year featured on the CBC national media under the headline: “Turmoil, eviction threats featured in CBC investigation of home grown lies.”

 

The Peterborough Regional Farmers Network  board said they are ready to lead the process to hit the reset button on the Peterborough Farmers’ Market in partnership with the City.

 

The PRFN release said that the PRFN would solve the governance issues at the market by recruiting a board that would consist of arms-length and independent directors. Hannam states “we need a balance of people who are leaders in the community as well as local farmers. The local farming voice should always be the majority on the PFRN board, but not all the farmers should be market vendors.

 

PRFN is formally calling on the Mayor of the City of Peterborough and City Council to show the same leadership they have in the past and hit the reset button on the Farmers’ Market. PRFN asks the community to contact the Mayor and City Council and call for a Request for Proposals to allow for other groups, like PRFN, to operate and improve the Saturday Farmers’ Market.

 

The Lakefield Herald tried to contact the minister of Agriculture, Jeff  Leal, however Mr. Leal is away from his office until next week.

 

The Lakefield Herald will continue to follow up on the story.