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Farmers' markets vs "farmers" markets

If you go to the farmers' market circuit in the GTA, you may know what I'm talking about.

A month ago, I was at Sherway Gardens' farmers market. I'd say that it was 50% artisinal goods and 50% food picked up from the Food Terminal. Some products had PLU stickers on them. Others had the FOODLANDS boxes stacked behind them.

I'm wondering how prevalent this is at the various farmers' markets? How are you assured that you're getting true farmers' produce and not something a vendor picked up at the Food Terminal?

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  1. They've been gaming people for years and it only gets worse each summer. I look for "farm" license plates on trucks and vans. I started shopping the Square One market in Mississauga back in the mid-90s and watched it lapse into its current bizarre mix of resellers, hustlers, and outright frauds who chased out the growers. There's a handful, maybe a half dozen or so, of growers remaining. Many have retreated to places like the old Ottawa St. market in Hamilton or taken up farmgate sales. Aside from this, higher fuel prices made log hauls from places like Leamington and Niagara unprofitable for many. This opened up the markets to phonies. Most groups running the markets do nothing to sort sellers, so whoever pays the fees can sell. I've found that getting the real deal still requires research and often some travel beyond a mall parking lot.

    26 Replies
    1. re: Kagemusha

      I only go to the farmer's markets listed at http://tfmn.ca/?page+id=2
      and have found that all of the vendors are farmers and are bringing in crops from their own farms. These markets appear to be very tightly controlled so that there are no fake sellers there flogging food terminal stuff.

      1. re: Flexitarian

        A couple places on that list aren't inspiring confidence. The fairview mall market for example sells store brand honey and mangos. I don't think mango farmers are coming to the fairview mall, it would be a heck of a drive. But maybe things have changed since I was last there, it's been a long time.
        The first market on the list though, the Appletree Market, I've been going to that one a lot this summer with some great results. They recently increased in size too.

        1. re: graydyn

          These attempts at "branding" are well-intentioned but often involve various commitments, usually financial, that some legit growers aren't keen to shoulder. Not sure why consumers can't/won't wise up and learn a bit about what grows where and when it comes to market. The Ontario government provides lots of info.

          1. re: graydyn

            I admit I haven't tried them all. I've been to the Bloor/Lippincott one, the Dufferin Park, Withrow market, Brickworks and Riverdale. I have not seen anything that was like you describe at any of those. I also talk to each vendor about where they grow their food, etc.

            Riverdale Restaurant
            360 Springbank Dr, London, ON N6J1G5, CA

            1. re: Flexitarian

              That's the way to be sure. Most people are forthright about who they are and where they come from, and many of the markets you reference are attended by actual farmers. The myth of the food terminal farmer is several years old, and perpetuated for the most part by people who don't leave their couches.

              1. re: Snarf

                "The myth of the food terminal farmer is several years old, and perpetuated for the most part by people who don't leave their couches."

                Care to elaborate?

                1. re: Kagemusha

                  The statement is plain. People who don't try the places they comment on should asterisk their remarks.

                  1. re: Snarf

                    Like graydyn, I've seen bananas, coconuts, mangos, California strawberries, and papayas on offer at "farmers'" markets around the GTA for years next to the real deal. Caveat emptor still holds.

                2. re: Snarf

                  I think the food terminal shopper is a bit of an urban myth too. I'm sure there are some, but all it takes is a few questions and using your head and you can find lots of great fresh produce and goods.

                  1. re: Snarf

                    while i'm not sure if your comment was directed at me, since i was one of the people to make the accusation, i don't know how to satisfy your farmers market quotient in order to appease you.

                    i go to Riverdale, Evergreen, East York markets with regularity.
                    Been to Sherway, Leslieville, Distillery markets.

                    i know when I've seen Foodland boxes and PLU stickers on fruit. end of story.

                    East York
                    1039 Pape Ave, Toronto, ON M4K3W1, CA

                    Riverdale Restaurant
                    360 Springbank Dr, London, ON N6J1G5, CA

                    1. re: atomeyes

                      Since we are in a buyer beware society, ask questions and use your best judgement to determine whether the answers are truthful. Personally, I think the "organic' realm is the most dubious. I guess getting to know the farmer is your best option.

                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                        Agreed that organic is a lot more dubious than locality issues. As atomeyes mentioned it's pretty easy to tell when produce isn't coming straight from the farm just from the labeling. If people were buying products from foodland and taking labels off them, that would be a whole different ball of bees.

                      2. re: atomeyes

                        But what if the majority of product the farmer sells is through "foodland" and as they are picking and sorting they automatically package and label all the product the same.. do you think the farmer should buy different "unlablelled" boxes just to brink the produce to the market? when he has hudreds of foodland boxes at the farm?

                        I worked at a farm in Rockton Ont. Everthing as it was picked was sorted and labelled and boxed. The farmer also has a stall at the Hamilton Farmers market as well as selling wholesale at the Food terminal. I can tell you the the same produce went to each place and was packaged and labeled the same.. and it was straight from the farm / farmer no slight of hand anywhere..

                        As for pricing farmers markets will be more but you should also be getting a fresher product as you do not know how long it sits in the supermarket.. plus the farmers have to pay for booths and stff for markets.. super markets just drop off and go.

                        1. re: RogerDoger

                          However, the farmers market has the added benefit of being a cash transaction.

                          There's no need for some to gouge their most dedicated customers with double or triple pricing at the farmers market.

                    2. re: Flexitarian

                      i haven't been to the dufferin park one for a couple of years, but the last time i was there they had bananas and store-packaged broccoli, sold by someone dressed as a hippie.

                  2. re: Flexitarian

                    Sherway Gardens is on that list.
                    East York also has 1 vendor that I'm willing to bet is not a farmer, but rather, a purchaser from the food terminal.

                    East York
                    1039 Pape Ave, Toronto, ON M4K3W1, CA

                    1. re: Flexitarian

                      I'll try Sherway and Etobicoke markets this weekend, but I will never go back to Square One. Easily 85% food terminal product last time I visited. What is the news on the Brampton market?

                      1. re: South Carolina Girl

                        Brampton is OK with a higher quotient of the real deal than Square One. Milton is OK- with a bit too much Etsy-style merch. Orangeville is a ways away, smaller, with some interesting stuff. The Ottawa St Market in Hamilton is good especially for Niagara fruit once the season kicks in next month.

                    2. re: Kagemusha

                      The ones in shopping mall parking lots in the burbs? Buyer beware.....

                      The ones downtown with a healthy patchouli quotient (ie. duff, wychwood), you're pretty safe.

                      1. re: aser

                        I suspect your right, but I LIVE in the burbs. Heading downtown for $15 worth of even good produce doesn't cut it for me. Thanks though.

                        1. re: South Carolina Girl


                          I don't live in your area so I have no clue, peruse that list. I do know there are legit markets in the burbs, one I used to frequent was strictly farmers.


                          1. re: aser

                            Looks great from the website, but a 40 minute ride on the 401, 400, AND 407 toll road is just as much of a deal breaker as heading downtown: too far to justify. Hopefully others reading this thread can take advantage of your recommendation though.

                            On another note. Back in South Carolina on the island where I lived you could buy a "share" or two of a local farmer's yield. Once a week for about 3 months you got a box of whatever was ready. Any places like that in the area?

                            1. re: South Carolina Girl

                              Lots, google CSA, lots of them do weekly drop boxes that you have to go pickup. Again usually downtown centric.

                              1. re: South Carolina Girl

                                Hey SCG, I joined a great vegetable CSA this year. Her name is Brenda (she was one of the farmers in the book "Locavore") and she and an intern run Black Sheep Farms. She delivers every second week from end of June to October. So far the stuff has been beautiful, delicious and all natural! Yummmmm.

                          2. re: aser

                            Dufferin's patchouli quotient is far greater than Wychwood's, but that doesn't mean that the stuff at Wychwood is any less great.

                            My markets are Wychwood, Trinity Bellwoods, Dufferin Grove, and a few times a year, Brickworks. I love them all, except Trinity Bellwoods a bit thin on the vendors. I really like the fresh trout guy at TB, though

                            Bellwood Restaurant
                            756 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J1E9, CA

                            1. re: aser

                              We split a discussion about foraging ethics over to our General Topics board: http://www.chow.com/topics/799160

                          3. Try looking for markets with this certification?

                            1. It's ridiculous. It seems the only way to know you're getting local stuff is to visit the farm itself. PLU stickers and tropical/out of season fruits are big warning signs (love the "mango farmers" example below). On at least one cross-border shopping trip per year we'll make a point of crossing back to Canada early so that we can visit some of the roadside fruit stands in Niagara on the Lake before they close for the evening.

                              We see the same thing at arts and crafts sales. My wife makes handmade jewellery and has to compete on price and selection with vendors across the aisle selling manufactured Chinese or Indian-made garbage that the "artisan" merely unpacked from a box they ordered from Alibaba.com.... Like someone pointed out, the organizers aren't filtering out the garbage, they'll take anybody who pays.

                              1. I know what you're saying. Try the MyMarket certification. I shop at East Lynn and it's definitely farmers!!


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Full tummy

                                  I go to the Liberty Village market. It's a MyMarket market and I like it. I want local but can't always afford organic so I don't go to the pure organic markets.

                                2. Ah, troubled with Flimflam Farmers huh? Problems aren't just with Farmers Markets unfortunately. Recently saw a local farmgate farmer dumping sweet corn out of a mesh shipping bag ONTO his wooden tractor trailer...

                                  Don't know if there is something similar in your area, but I use Kawartha Choice regularly to find excellent local products. Once you find a producer you like, ask which markets they attend. http://www.kawarthachoice.com/find.php

                                  Another approach is to check out and join a good reputable CSA. http://csafarms.ca/index.html

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                    Isnt the mesh shipping bags how farmers store/transport? I wouldn't write him off right away.

                                    1. re: cheezwhiz

                                      The sewn up & labelled mesh bags full of corn were transported all right. From the US or maybe SW Ontario. His corn was maybe 3 feet tall.

                                      Certainly not all do this. There are two excellent farm gate corn farmers on Cty Rd 4 NE of Little Britain. Not certified organic, but not sprayed.

                                  2. This was the subject of an undercover investigation here in Los Angeles, where they found several violations which they brought to the attention of the appropriate counties' commissioners of agriculture, which issued fines. (http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/loc...


                                    The best thing to do is to ask questions—lots of questions... and while mangoes are grown here (well, out in the desert) I would sure be suspicious of "fresh" mangoes in Toronto. Is there not a law in Ontario that says that farmers market vendors can only sell what they produce?

                                    The title of your post was interesting, too, because the 2011 AP Stylebook just came out and declared that there is to be no apostrophe in the term "farmers market".

                                    1. How's this :

                                      Went to a local farmers market yesterday and saw a local farmer selling corn for $0.49 each and berries at obscene prices. Stopped into a nearby small town Foodland today and saw beautiful corn for 10/$2. Asked the produce guy where they came from - and guess what - the same farmer delivered 15 cases to the grocer today.


                                      13 Replies
                                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                        I've seen this movie, too. Very common to see local cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, fruit, spuds cheaper at supermarkets around now and into the fall.

                                        1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                          And Loblaws is advertising a 3 day sale of Ontario corn $2 / doz starting tomorrow....

                                          1. re: TexSquared

                                            Some of you don't care about the economy of farmers markets to understand why costs are higher.
                                            a farmer needs to man a booth and drive into Toronto for the market.
                                            Go to the Brickworks and the cost for a booth is ridiculously high.

                                            Meanwhile, Loblaws puts corn as a front-page loss-leading flyer item. they don't need to profit off of corn, since all of their profits are made from soft drinks, chips, sugar cereals, etc etc.

                                            Kind of funny that I have to point out the obvious.

                                            1. re: atomeyes

                                              Fine but when sellers--distinct from growers--at markets are buying the same merch as Loblaws, does it really matter who you buy from.I'll happily pay more for better quality at a market from a grower but a reseller?

                                          2. re: PoppiYYZ

                                            Volume, volume, volume. And the farmer doesn't have to staff a booth, so his overhead is less.

                                            1. re: hal2010

                                              Rip off, rip off, rip off...

                                              He also doesn't have a middleman.

                                              1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                                As with everything, you're paying for the experience, the brand, the service and whatever the market will bear, as well as the product itself. 50 cents may be a bargain if you get to chat with the farmer, hobnob with some draft dodgers and buy some fudge at the booth next door. Or you can find a local merchant who buys in bulk and get it cheaper.

                                                I find the farmer's markets are invariably more expensive for the same products, but they're more fun than pushing a cart beneath the fluorescent lights.

                                                1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                                  What can you do? it's the allure/imagery of the farmers market. People like to tell people they shop at a farmers market instead of a chain grocer. There is an element of prestige to it.

                                                  Personally, I go by taste, that's the bottom line. Yes sometimes that means farmers market, but other times that means chain markets.

                                                  1. re: aser

                                                    Agree. Markets can come through with offbeat produce the chains just can't move in sufficient volume. Examples? Damson plums, varietal apples, gooseberries, corn varieties other than P&C all come to mind.

                                                    1. re: aser

                                                      There is also a convenience factor to the farmer's market, since the odds of finding quality product is somewhat higher.
                                                      For example when buying strawberries last month I had a much higher likelyhood of finding great berries at my fav market than at the local grocery store. But yes I was paying way to much for them.
                                                      An odd thing I've noticed, especially when involved with CSAs, is that while I always pay more for produce, I often save money on meat items. It's hard to add up, but the Field Sparrow Farms meat CSA seems like a great deal.

                                                      1. re: graydyn

                                                        Hello...from what I've been reading here, not one of these replies actually seem to come from anyone who is a farm market vendor. My husband and I are both full time farmers. Not only do I have a road side stand, but I take produce to a local farmers market. Yes, produce likely will cost more at the farm market but I can tell you it's a whole lot fresher than what you can get in the grocery store. Has anyone ever stopped to think about how much work was involved in getting the produce to the market? That truck certainly didn't get loaded by itself nor did it get to where it was going on free gas.
                                                        And just so you know....not all farmers have "farm" license plates on their vehicles. We don't.

                                                        1. re: HickChick

                                                          Don't think anyone above would argue with you, OK? As consumers, we're tired of frauds at the markets. I'll happily pay more--and do--for freshness, variety and quality. Resellers are usually pretty obvious.

                                                          1. re: Kagemusha

                                                            I have no trouble with the freshness of fruit and vegetables from supermarkets in my area (North York). All seems well and I don't have to drive more than 4-5 city blocks. I have been to several markets notably the one at the Etobicoke City Hall.. We left there and went immediately to the SLM. What a difference. The stuff at the SLM look old, wilted and it cost more then the ECH market. But the stuff I have available around here is just great.