Fact-check your farmers market
Avery Nowicki // Communities Editor
Jasmin Linton (she/her) // Illustrator
In the age of inflation and pesticide-infused produce, Canadians have the right to be skeptical about their grocery store products. Yet, with a major organization like Vancouver Farmers Markets, consumers are offered an opportunity to feel good about their purchases. These markets are advertised as selling quality local items, though at a presumably justifiable higher price point—but how much information really exists for Vancouver consumers?
Monika Chowdhry is the Communications Manager for Vancouver Farmers Markets, the official organization that manages all Metro Vancouver markets. Chowdhry offered a peek behind the curtain of the organization which reaches the produce drawers of many Vancouverites’ fridges. They discussed organization protocols, which are in place to ensure that their products are grown locally.
“Our markets include 60 per cent farm and agricultural producers, these stalls are also given priority bookings over all other sellers. Vancouver Farmers Markets also holds a strict clause for products to be local (within B.C.). We do not allow outsourced and non locally harvested products.”
Chowdhry outlined VFM’s onboarding and credibility checking process for vendors. “First, there is an extensive vendor onboarding process, we ask several questions relating to the products. particularly farm produce which is followed through [by] checking a land lease, licenses, and additional paperwork once a vendor is shortlisted.”
To set rules and regulations for their sellers to ensure products are not outsourced, Chowdhry shared the strict levels of paperwork needed by sellers in order to become a vendor at VFM, including land title, and an organic certification if a seller chooses to advertise as selling pesticide-free products.
These markets often have a large quantity of local businesses and bakeries selling their products alongside farmers, to see their stance on including local bakeries, who make storefront income alongside the money from farmers market sales, Chowdhry said.
“We offer a mix of vendors in the baked goods and prepared foods category that mostly operate out of commissary kitchens and have no physical store presence. We do include a small number of vendors who do have storefronts. These vendors have worked with VFM for many years, who now have a physical storefront in the city. Our aim is to phase out these sellers to make room for new bakers without storefronts.
To ensure fair pricing regulations across the market VFM strictly prohibits the use of resellers at the markets. The pricing of products is dedicated to the vendors, and they expect fair market based pricing. These prices are also based on competitive sales, and are largely guided by seasonality, as well as availability of produce and products.
In total, Vancouver Farmers Markets’ nine neighborhood farmers markets are composed exclusively of vendors who make, bake, grow, catch or raise the products they sell.
VFM encourages shoppers to talk directly to sellers for any concerns they may have, or to evaluate product integrity and transparency among VFM’s core values.
This does leave one question unanswered. If all food products are made locally, what about the jewelry and crafted pieces which don’t seem to have the same regulatory processes. There are no rules which ensure that the origins of these products are not from overseas and subsequently assembled in B.C. In this case, examine the products you consider purchasing, ask questions to your sellers, and be vigilant. Remember it is always best to know too much rather than not enough.
Vancouver Farmers Markets promote local produce and offer a chance for farmers to make a profit against the high prices and non-local outsourcing at grocery stores. If consumers want to ensure that their produce is entirely locally sourced, VFM encourages buyers to visit their local farmers market across the city, and ask questions as much as possible.