Farmers markets in Nova Scotia are relying mostly on an honour system to determine whether the products they sell really come from within the province because the rules are established by individual markets.
An investigation by CBC Marketplace found that several farmers market vendors in Ontario were selling produce they claimed as their own this summer, but they were actually reselling goods purchased elsewhere.
In Nova Scotia, there are roughly 40 farmers markets spread across the province, according to the Farmers’ Markets of Nova Scotia Cooperative, which currently has 26 members.
Executive director Keltie Butler said she doesn’t believe sneaky reselling is something that happens frequently in the province.
In her six years with the organization, she’s only had one market come forward with a complaint about a vendor. She said most markets have a system in place for people to bring forward their concerns.
How much product must be local
CBC News spoke to eight farmers markets in Nova Scotia about their rules. Most of those markets insisted that between 60 and 80 per cent of a vendor’s inventory must be grown, made or caught from the vendor themselves.
The remaining product allowance varies by market, with some markets saying the product must come from another Nova Scotia business and others allowing vendors to bring in products from outside of the province.
But all eight of the markets said anything not from the vendor directly must be labelled as such and identify where the product came from.
“[I’d] encourage consumers to be asking the questions, and that’s one of the advantages of shopping at a farmers market — the farmer is right there,” said Kristi Russell, market manager at the New Glasgow Farmers Market.
“If I were ever to find out that somebody was as manipulative as the people in that [Marketplace] report, they would no longer be at our market.”
‘A lot of it is an honour system’
Often, farmers markets are run by volunteers who don’t have the time or manpower to consistently check out farms and businesses to make sure products are really coming from Nova Scotia.
“We don’t go out and inspect farms,” said Julie Chaisson, executive director of the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.
“A lot of it is on an honour system … At some point you have to trust if somebody has a farm, and they are a registered farmer, and they come here with carrots, that they grew those carrots.”
Chaisson said they do have a discipline process in place if a complaint or concern is brought forward.
“We want to have integrity in the products sold at the market,” she said.
Chaisson said she only remembers one incident where another vendor contacted her because they had a suspicion about a product. She met with the vendor in question, who eventually stopped selling that product.
Vendor expelled in Cape Breton
The manager of the Cape Breton Farmers’ Market, Pauline Singer, said they found out a product sold at the market last year was being mass-produced in Ontario.
She said they tried to work with the vendor, but the person wouldn’t comply and was expelled from the market.
“We often get criticized for our application and vetting process, but our reputation is very important to us,” said Singer.
“Because we are a small community here in [Cape Breton], it is pretty easy to find out if someone is trying to deceive us.”
‘A lot of deep relationships’
Kelly Redcliffe, market manager for the Wolfville Farmers’ Market, said markets in rural communities often have more direct relationships with market vendors.
”We know our farmers and they know each other and our customers know them and have been to their farms. There’s a lot of deep relationships, a lot of integrity,” she said.
“So if we were ever to get a complaint … Then we would have the ability to go and check.”
When in doubt, ask the vendor
Butler said if customers have concerns, they should start by speaking with the vendors directly.
“If we don’t maintain that integrity and those relationships we won’t be able to offer what’s at our core, which is this authentic relationship between producers and consumers,” said Butler.
“So it’s really important for us to care for that [relationship] and to tend to it well.”