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What’s Not at Our Farmers’ Markets

We have returned from spending some time in Ohio, visiting family and friends. As part of our trip, we visited a farmers’ market that has popped up in my hometown, right downtown under an overpass bridge next to the river. It’s nicer than it sounds, and even in the morning we were glad for the shade.

The local food movement isn’t confined to Manitoba, fortunately. Wherever you go during the summer, you’re likely to find some kind of market where farmers sell direct to the consumer. (Some of them might not be quite so local, so do your homework before you go.) Ohio and Manitoba are a few zones apart in terms of the things that you can grow. There were lots of similar items, but one of the things that is missing from the Manitoba markets was peaches.

Peaches at the Kent Farmers' Market

Until I moved away, I totally took fresh peaches for granted. The ones we get from Ontario are nice; in fact I found some delicious ones at Safeway last week. But they’re not this fresh. I really miss them. Manitoba excels at blueberries, while Ohio does not, but peaches… Mmm.

Another thing that stood out at the market we visited was dairy. There were at least two goat milk producers at the market. One of them was selling litres of frozen goat milk, and both of them sold various types of goat cheeses, including flavoured fetas. I thought about how wonderful it would be to complete my shopping at the market: fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk… and dairy.

But unless the law changes, that’s unlikely to happen.

There is nothing in the Manitoba guidelines or regulations preventing dairy from being sold. The problem – and here is where my naïveté about economics becomes evident – is the agriculture marketing boards in Canada. They limit who can sell a product, when, to whom, and for how much. For dairy, farmers have to buy quotas – which are limited – in order to produce to sell. This effectively keeps new, smaller producers out of the market, and also removes the possibility of niche producers from jumping in to grab the smaller market share available at a farmers’ market. (And please, if I’m totally out to lunch on this, let me know in the comments.)

I am torn on this issue. I see the benefits of having a mandatory marketing board, but the consumers are really the losers in these cases. I remember the hullabaloo over Peak of the Market’s clamping down on local potato producers. That was eventually resolved, but the thought of having to fight that battle for every type of food stuff is a bit exhausting. This type of marketing board is becoming less and less popular, and I’m sure everyone in Winnipeg knows what the Canadian government did to the Canada Wheat Board.

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For someone who just wants to buy locally-produced food, preferably directly from the producer and without having to travel all over the countryside to get everything I need, this is all a bit depressing. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can, and keep my eyes open for new and exciting food available at our own local markets.

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