Monday, December 23, 2013

Not All Farmers’ Markets are Created Equal - The Sale of VQA Wine at Ontario’s Farmers’ Markets

Not All Farmers’ Markets are Created Equal

Among the Questions to be Clarified Include:  What Constitutes a Farmers’ Market?  Which Farmers’ Market will be Eligible?
A big question on everyone’s mind is what will be the qualification and restrictions on which markets will be allowed to sell VQA wine?  Will customers be able to sample, taste and buy?  No doubt, both the farmers’ market and the winery will have to meet additional licencing requirements for approval through the LCBO.

The term farmers’ market has been used to describe many different types of facilities whose mission is to foster community well-being and local economic development through the establishment of a venue for local and small business incubation. This creates an economic multiplier effect to neighboring businesses, and a place where the community have greater access to safe, healthy, locally- produced and environmentally friendly food and where growers and producers can market their goods directly to consumers.
Ministry spokesperson Abigail Dancey said there’s no decision on what qualifies as a farmer’s market. “I don’t have a firm answer. We are still working on the details,” said Dancey, who stated a pilot project would be launched next year.

The Ministry has yet to provide detailed clarification around implementation and it appears that there will be significant work ahead both at the policy level and how the logistics of this pilot project will be successfully rolled out as soon as it becomes feasible, but I suspect, not until further industry and stakeholder consultation even though we have been down this road before.
From past experience, additional questions to ponder include: whether it will be mandatory for a winery market stall to have hard walls, what regulatory controls will be imposed on the premises in order to limit access to alcohol, will wineries be permitted to unite to decrease overhead costs or increase access to markets, how will wine be transported and warehoused, and whether a winery principal will be required to be on the premises to sell (as opposed to an agent or employee), as some  farmers’ markets require this compliance from their growers and farmers.

What we are reading and hearing is that, “essentially, what is being proposed is an add-on endorsement to an existing winery license. Wineries are permitted to sell their wines from their own premises and in some cases from satellite outlets. The endorsement would simply expand a winery’s retail channels to include farmers’ markets.” 
Not all farmers’ markets are created equal and there are differing criteria as to what constitutes a proper farmers’ market. In some cases the definition is also a municipal issue.
In London Ontario, the Middlesex Health Unit defines a farmers’ markets exemption from the Food Premises Regulation when the majority (51% or greater) of vendors operating the stalls/booths at the market are producers of farm products who are primarily selling or offering for sale their own products. “Farm products” means products that are grown, raised or produced on a farm and intended for use as food and include, without being restricted to, fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, meat and meat products, dairy products, honey products, maple products, fish, grains and seeds and grain and seed products.

Farmers’ Markets Ontario is the provincial association representing the province’s more than 166 farmers’ markets that meet particular criterion. They have been generously supported through the Ontario Farmers’ Market Strategy.  Farmers’ Markets Ontario is solely focused on assisting the development of community-based farmers’ markets, so if you are in the position to run a private market they do not offer support.
 Farmers’ markets  as defined by Farmer’s Market Ontario are seasonal, multi-vendor, community –driven (not private) organization selling agricultural food, art and craft products including home-grown produce, home-made crafts and value-added products where the majority of vendors are primary producers (including preserves, baked goods, meat, fish, dairy products etc.)

Farmer’s Market Ontario on its website lists 165 markets, including in Woodstock, St. Thomas, Stratford, Sarnia and Exeter and the seasonal Outdoor Farmers’ Market at Covent Garden in downtown London.
There has been an increase in the amount of farmers’, community, municipal and privatized markets across the province which is now estimated to be in excess of 350.
As I get more news I will update this story.

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