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Aug 26, 2009 10:43 AM

Produce at Farmer's Markets really from farmers?

I wanted to bring up this topic because I've noticed this when shopping at farmer's markets.

A friend recently told me that while shopping at the Square One farmer's market, her husband started chatting with one of the vendors who spoke his native language. During the course of the discussion, it was revealed that only some of the produce that vendor was selling was actually grown on his farm. The rest was purchased (I would assume from the food terminal where supermarkets/restaurants etc. get their produce) and resold. When asked why, the vendor said that people want these items and if they don't grow it they want to meet the demand.

I can't be sure but I often shop at the Nathan Phillips Square farmer's market and I've seen vendors taking produce (cherry tomatoes/berries) from plastic clamshell containers and re-packaging the produce in the cardboard "farm" containers. I've also seen trays with the brand name of a well-known tomato producer in the back of the truck. And English cucumbers shrinkwrapped in plastic being sold.

I'm not saying that all the produce being sold is not actually being farmed by the vendor - I'm just saying that I think some vendors, particularly the ones with a huge variety of produce, may not be selling all farm-fresh produce. I think I can be fairly sure that the stand that only sells melons, corn and berries actually farms all those items. And the guy that only sells apples. But some of the others, not so sure.

I feel pretty confident that the vendors at the Evergreen Brickworks farmer's market are all selling freshly picked produce that they've grown themselves. There's an obvious just-picked quality in all the produce sold there.

I just wanted to bring this up to see if others have noticed this as well. I don't think it's right that I pay more to buy a tomato at a farmer's market that is the same this I would have got at the supermarket. The reason I shop at the farmer's market is to get produce that is fresher and of a higher quality than I can get at the supermarket. If it's the same tomato, what's the point? I'm a pretty savvy shopper and I inspect the produce very closely before I buy, and I think I've been able to identify the "real" stuff but I think there should be some regulation or something, requiring vendors to identify the resale items.

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  1. At 200 Eglinton West Market, in June a vendor was selling USA-grown strawberries, explaining that it was not yet the season in Ontario.
    On Saturday's SLM some produce is from the USA, as well.

    1. You're right. If there are no regulations governing the selling of 'organic farm-fresh produce' there should be. That said, I think commonsense has to come into play here. I would pass on the shrinkwrapped english cucumbers -- I don't think a legit farmer at an outdoor market would go to the trouble of shrinkwrapping the produce. For me I look for the ugly imperfect stuff. Heirloom tomatoes are a good example. If there are a good amount of blemishes and malformations then that's most likely the real deal.

      I recently went to the Riverdale Farmers' Market and purchased some ugly but tasty heirloom tomatoes (beauty being in the eye of the beholder), and some zucchini that were a mottled green and yellow. I've never seen anything like them in a supermarket and to me that is a good sign.

      Aso take the time to talk to the person behind the counter. If they are scammers it is usually obvious. Some dirt under the fingernails is usually a good sign too!

      1. i agree there should be some regulation for this, in the states you have to produce a certificate that certifys the produce being sold is from your farm, most farmers market produce around toronto comes from the food terminal. and your right whats the point of paying a bit more for the same tomato from the supermarket, the tomatoes they get from the terminal are picked green then artificially ripened with ethylene gas when they arrive at there destination, a farmers market tomato should be ripened on the plant, there is a big taste difference between the two, even the tomatoes on the vine you see at the supermarket are picked at the breaker stage (green just about to ripen stage). the only way i get farm produce now is to drive up north a bit and actually get it from a farm, i dont trust the markets anymore.

        1. There are definitely people selling stuff at some of the markets that they did not grow. However, you might want to check out My Market ( - a website featuring all of the 'certified farmer's markets' in city. This mean that the vendors are all real farmers, selling what they grow. I've been going to the East Lynn one for the last couple of years (Danforth/Woodbine). The selections are more limited than some of the other markets but at least I know I'm supporting the farmers directly.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ms. clicquot

            Another agree here. Certified Farmer's markets are just what they say they are. Go and talk to the people who grow and raise the food. Ask them how they do it. And don't just ask "is it organic"? Many small farmers, often the type that come to markets like these, cannot afford the certification process but will gladly explain to you what they feed their animals or how they manage their crops.

            Just ask.

          2. Agree entirely!
            I went (once) to the Weston Road 'Farmers market' - just couldn't bring myself to buy those 'local' bananas!

            2 Replies
            1. re: estufarian


              Which raises an issue I've had with the local 100-mile(km)-diet. I don't want to eat turnips all winter, and I enjoy eating tropical fruit often. And shrimp sometimes. Etc.

              With peak oil and other problems either here now or on the horizon I don't know how feasible this will be in the future. Our diets may have to change drastically. Strange days indeed.

              1. re: DrewStar

                I'm of the distinct impression that management of the Saturday north St. Lawrence Market, which I frequent, rides herd on the farmer-vendors there to make sure they're selling what they say they're selling. Indeed, I recall reading some years ago that one vendor was booted from the premises when he was caught peddling imported produce as local. But then, it's easy to patrol such a year-round market, where everyone - customers and vendors alike - soon get to know everyone else, and it's hard to sustain a scam for any length of time. In the late spring, summer and early fall, I'm reasonably confident it's overwhelmingly local foodstuffs that are available there (aside from the obvious exceptions like the nut vendor). In the dead of winter, the rules change somewhat - after all, farmers have to make a living year round - and imported produce is allowed if it's identified as such. For sure, though, I've never seen citrus fruits or bananas for sale there. That'd be too much to handle. For those things, you have to go across the road to the south market, where the professional marketers flog their goods, local and imported alike. I'd take it real hard if I ever discovered if it were otherwise at the north market, which is probably why that market is closely supervised. Someone faking the origin of his produce - and getting away with it because of sloppy oversight - would instantly damage the market's reputation.

                I suspect it's more difficult to judge the authenticity of local goods at the smaller markets that spring up only during the summer months, and probably aren't supervised all that well.