Just before Christmas, Erin McLean was given a notice that her family farm, McLean Berry Farm, might be kicked out of the Saturday Peterborough Farmers’ Market.
“Getting this notice a few days just before Christmas is pretty challenging,” said McLean, whose family has been selling at the market for the past 27 years.
“To try and organize and determine what we can do is pretty difficult.”
CHEX News obtained a notice for a special meeting that was issued by the Peterborough and District Farmers’ Market Association (PDFMA) board of directors.
It lists seven local farmers and vendors who stand to lose their membership for “behaviour that is detrimental to the corporation.”
“This market is important for us to continue our financial stability, but it’s also a part of the community and how we connect with the community,” said McLean, adding that revenues from the Saturday market make up 10 percent of the berry farm’s annual gross income.
It’s much more than that for Circle Organics, who have been at the market for nearly a decade and specialize in growing organic produce.
“We went through this same experience last year,” said Circle Organics manager Julie Fleming. “It’s been emotionally exhausting and it’s had a huge toll on our family. We have three young children and they have been going through this with us. The climate of the market has changed a lot for us — it’s been horrible.”
A letter from a lawyer representing Circle Organics threatening legal action allowed them back at the market this year after they were voted out at this time last year.
The notice lists the vendors — including Circle Organics and McLean Berry Farm, along with Gaelic Garlic, Chef Marshall Eckler, Necessitea Elix and Ontonabee Apiary — citing disruptive behaviour at the market, including interference with the operations and governance of the market and inappropriate and aggressive conduct toward individual vendors.
Other claims include making false and disparaging statements about the market, which the board claims has had a negative impact on the reputation of the market.
A longstanding feud between some vendors and board members and other vendors at the market began following a call for more transparency around where food being sold at the market was grown.
A CBC Marketplace investigation revealed that food grown in other parts of the province and vegetables bought from the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto were being sold and labelled as “local” at many farmers’ markets, including the one in Peterborough.
PDFMA secretary-treasurer Jill Staples says the motion to terminate the seven memberships didn’t come from the board itself, but was brought forward by complaints from other vendors.
“We have received a request from 16 members about this, and they are upset over the behaviour of these people,” Staples said.
Staples said the details of the complaints are confidential, adding that the board was forced to act on the complaints as it is mandated to respond to any written motion within 21 days.
Although they are also vendors, Staples said the board members have removed themselves from the vote.
There are 98 members eligible to vote on the issue, and the vote is scheduled for Jan. 8 at the Morrow Building.
Astrid Manske and David Moffat of Otonabee Apiary, along with Marshall Eckler (Chef Marshall) and Bryan Mahaffy and Greg Knifton of Finest Gourmet Fudge were all given written warnings from the PDFMA back in May 2016 for harassment complaints over taking photos of booths at the market without consent of the vendors.
Manske says the complaints against the vendors aren’t made public, so the vendors aren’t aware of what the claims against them actually are.
“They are not talking to us. There’s no openness, no transparency, no discussion whatsoever.”
The vendors who face termination are calling on customers in the community to show their support at a rally planned for Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. in Confederation Park across from City Hall.
They say a petition will be also online soon at NoPinkSlip.ca