Myp­ick shines a light on the pol­i­tics of food

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Luisa D’Amato

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.”

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