Mypick shines a light on the politics of food
It takes just a few seconds to leave the city behind.
One moment you’re passing densely packed homes under construction on Huron Road. The next, you’re surrounded by piles of orange pumpkins, and rolling green-and-gold fields of corn.
In the blue sky above, thick clouds reflect bright sunshine at their edges. The road ahead shines in the silvery light.
Close by is Gmach Gardens, and the treasures of the family’s 52-acre farm: Aromatic onions, sturdy bunches of dark green kale, and the best field tomatoes for miles around are sold each Wednesday out of this farmhouse, and on Saturday at the Kitchener Market.
It’s a beautiful spot, nestled in the hills. You can see the vegetables growing in the fields as you approach the house, and it makes you feel connected to your food.
If a customer asks him why his vegetables cost a little more, farmer Joseph Gmach replies, “I picked it yesterday. I can tell you where it came from.”
By contrast, plenty of vendors at the market are re-selling food.
If the fruit and vegetables have stickers on them, if they are food from another climate like mangoes or bananas, or if they are being sold out of season, chances are they were bought somewhere else, like the gigantic Ontario Food Terminal wholesaler in Toronto, and are being re-sold.
There’s nothing wrong with that, if everyone is upfront. But some re-sellers in Ontario have been caught posing as farmers who are selling their own produce. That’s misleading.
Farmers’ Markets Ontario has come up with MyPick, a certification system that lets genuine farmers put up a sign to let people know their food is locally produced. A representative comes to the farm to actually see the crops, equipment and so on.
This “helps level the playing field for family farmers trying to compete with resellers who try to pass off cheap terminal sell-offs as just-picked, farm-fresh food,” says the farmers’ market group.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Min-
istry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs also supports transparency at markets, and sends investigators out to make sure false claims aren’t being made. There’s even a number to call if you suspect food is being misrepresented: 1-877-424-1300.
At the Kitchener Market, several produce vendors have MyPick designation, said market manager Kim Feere.
Gmach hasn’t decided whether to use MyPick designation at the market. He can only use it if all the food he sells comes from his farm. Sometimes he will buy sweet potatoes from another farmer, or tomatoes from a nearby greenhouse.
“I have to do that” to generate enough sales to cover his costs, especially in winter when local produce options are very restricted, he said.
“Between you and me, cabbage and potatoes kind of get boring,” he said.
Farming has been in Gmach’s family for three generations. But today, he also has a day job as a high school teacher. Raising vegetables doesn’t pay the bills.
Gmach understands that people go to market for different reasons: entertainment, socializing, trying new things. It’s not just about getting food.
And he doesn’t resent the resellers. Their cheap boxes of California strawberries bring in more traffic, some of whom may stop by his stall.
And just like everyone else, “I buy strawberries in the winter, when I feel the need for strawberries and ice cream.”