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Editorial: Honesty is the best policy

January 24, 2018  By Marg Land

Life was much simpler growing up during the 1970s and 1980s in rural Ontario. Well, I think it was. The rules were pretty straightforward – don’t steal, don’t lie, be home before dark, etc. You knew what was expected and what would happen if you didn’t meet those expectations.

Fast-forward to 2018 and life is a lot more complicated.

Case in point – in late September 2017, CBC’s Marketplace aired a program about farmers’ market vendors lying to consumers about the produce they were selling. A team from the program went undercover at 11 farmers’ markets across the province, ultimately discovering five vendors at four different markets were passing off produce purchased elsewhere as being grown by themselves. The TV program even  followed the suspected vendors, filming them as they picked up goods at the Ontario Food Terminal.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest this never would have happened when I was a kid. Not that the 1970s and 1980s were some idyllic time of honesty and harmony but because no consumer ever would have fallen for a lie like that. The farmers’ market where my family sold produce – grown at our farm and local neighbours’ operations – had multiple resellers – vendors who went to the terminal or bought at the farm gate and then resold the produce at market. Everyone knew who they were – consumers and vendors alike. A kind of balance and cooperative spirit existed between farmers and resellers. Arguments were rare.

Of course, none of those resellers would have dreamed of trying to portray the produce they were selling as having come from their “farm.” In the first place, many were urban dwellers with no access to land for a market garden. They had customers who had been coming to them for years, possibly even generations, and they weren’t that far removed from the farm. They could tell the difference between local produce and imports.

On top of that, day neutral strawberries and greenhouse produce weren’t as plentiful then as they are today. You would have been hard pressed to convince a consumer that the strawberries you were selling in August or September were from Ontario. Or those November red or yellow peppers were grown just down the road. They’d be giving you the stink eye and quickly walking away.

Of course, in the 30 years since then, the world has changed. Advancements in storage technology and produce transportation have meant some domestic crops last longer out of season and more imports are making it into the Canadian marketplace from further away and in a shorter amount of time. The produce market has become more competitive and farmers’ markets have become more popular. Many city dwellers are several generations removed from the farm and have no understanding about what crops are in season locally. The market has also changed. It isn’t about price anymore – it’s food miles and the stories connected to food.

Unfortunately, people have changed as well. Honesty, in some cases, has fallen by the wayside as vendors struggle for customers’ money. That spirit of cooperation isn’t always there. And I believe the industry is poorer for it.

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