Letters of the week – Weston Farmers Market

A quick promo of Saturday’s Weston Farmers Market official opening generated a flurry of correspondence. It seems that CBC Marketplace’s investigative piece on 11 Ontario farmers markets found that while produce re-selling takes place at most markets, misrepresentation about the source of produce was found at several. A clip from the show focussed on a Peterborough Farmers Market trader picking up produce from the Ontario Food Terminal and disguising it as farmed by himself or ‘someone across the road’.

Incidentally, Weston Farmers Market was not mentioned in the CBC article or the TV show that was broadcast last year. Here’s the letter of the week from ‘ANNON’ and the response.

Hi Adam,

I am a concerned customer… reaching out to you for the third time. Hoping someone with a bigger voice than me can help the market grow into a respected farmers market. Help the area Ive lived in for decades grow. Lets start change.

A “FARMERS MARKET” requires 51% farmers. Selling 65% of their own produce. Its more like a flea market. Do your research people deserve to know the truth. In Ontario FARMERS must state where the produce is grown in. If you are a farmer selling produce, honey, maple syrup or eggs even smoke meats and claim to be a farmer or your product comes from a farm… your product must have be displayed where the product is grown or harvested in.

Customers should know the truth. Lets talk about the truth behind the scam of farmers markets. Lets not let sonority of old vendors have the rights to sell fake local produce. Lets start a market where customers can truly buy local produce. The whole point of a farmers market is to support local business and farmers and support the Canadian economy. Give a chance to farmers from our GTA to sell their produce not for fake farmers to refill their trucks at the Ontario Food terminal and resell it to customers passing it off as fresh local produce. The market turns 39 years old and the longest running farmers market there is… Don’t you feel like its time for change, the customers deserve to know the truth.

The company I use to work for CBC has broken the ice. I would hate for my area to go down just like Peterborough is right now.

Here’s the reply from Suri Weinberg-Linsky who has close links to the market and is a Weston business owner (Squibbs).

Just a clarification: vendors like brothers Sam and Joe, who are considered ‘resellers’, also have contracts with actual farmers who they meet up with at the Terminal where the farmers are bringing their produce to sell. Not all their product is ‘stickered’ – I know because I asked Sam last year. Farmers cannot always go out to Markets and rely on vendors like Sam and Joe to sell the product for them. So it is from the farm, just not sold by the actual farmer. And the Gaetas don’t grow their own corn but buy from another farmer who cannot attend the market – a win-win for both Joe and his farmer friend.

And our Market never really gets into full gear until the local crops come in which is later in June and early July. We have vendors/farmers who will bring their produce once it’s available. Also remember the season is late this year because of the weather. Peaches, etc. won’t be available until that time. Our apple guy is the farmer and his kids work with him – very nice family. The bakers do their own product. Honey person has their own hives (as far as I am aware). Thames Valley Farms are farmers. Ted Vos with eggs from his hens. Asha from Wiff (across from the Market) makes all the samosas. Perfect Blend with their coffee.

So right now, other than the Tupperware and Grandpa Ken, most of the people there produce their product like the apples, eggs, flowers & plants, pastries, coffee, fresh strawberries today along with the onions, scapes and fresh jams, etc. Even the popcorn guy was making it fresh. And we have always had antique vendors, information booths, etc. So not sure why people are complaining. Other than the signs with the wrong spelling. We should be more concerned with why people aren’t coming to support the market. The busier it is, the more vendors will want to come… don’t you think?

Sadly, the CBC show may have caused more harm than good by making people suspicious of all traders. The bottom line seems to be that until legislators tighten up reselling rules (unlikely under President Ford™), market visitors should get to know vendors and talk about the origins of what they sell.

The bottom line: the vast majority of Weston’s farmers market traders are honest about what they sell. Supporting genuine producers will ensure that they stick around.

Farmers Market officially opens Saturday

Grandpa Ken checks on a couple of customers at last year’s market.

Weston’s 39 year-old farmers market will officially open its 2018 season this Saturday and there will be a few extras to the usual vendor displays. Toronto Police and Fire will be on hand as well as live music and drummers. This is the last year that the market will be operating at the UP Express parking lot on Weston Road as it will move to its new home on John Street next year.

The market’s hours are 7 am until 2 pm but this Saturday’s ‘extras’ will happen between 9 am and 1:30 pm.

Weston Farmers Market nearly didn’t happen this year.

The Weston Farmers Market was promised that its brand new location in the Weston Community Hub would be ready for the 2018 season. Unfortunately, owing to construction delays, the site is not ready.

As a result, Weston Village BIA Chair, Masum Hossain requested the use of the UP Express parking lot for one more year. Metrolinx gave a firm no, stating that lower fares, have boosted passenger numbers and greatly increased the demand for parking. Compounding the problem, the Weston Park Baptist Church which leases its parking lot to Metrolinx on weekdays, closes its own lot to the general public on weekends.

Until three weeks ago, there was a standoff. Masum then asked local MPP Laura Albanese to see what she could do. Ms Albanese was somehow able to appeal to the better nature of Metrolinx and as a result, the market will occupy the UP Express lot for one more year. Without this intervention, Masum assures me that the Weston Farmers Market could not have operated in 2018.

The BIA has hired a new market manager. She is experienced and dynamic corporate event manager, Jennifer Forde who also happens to perform the same duties for Nathan Phillips Square Farmers Market. Jennifer is hoping to expand the customer and vendor base of our market so keep coming back to check out the new stalls in the weeks to come.

Brand new market manager Jennifer Forde with BIA chair Masum Hossain at the first Weston Farmers Market of 2018.

One familiar face was missing this week, that of Joe Gaeta of Gaeta Farms. Joe comes up from Beamsville every week but mechanical issues caused him to miss opening day.

Market stalwart, Joe Gaeta stands beside his favourite bougainvillea. (file)

Correction: In the article, I spelled Masum Hossain’s name incorrectly. This has been corrected and apologies to Mr. Hossain for the error.

The latest take on the Weston Hub

The Farmers Market with lots of room on its old site back in July 2004. (File).

Churchill once said that, “History is written by the victors”. An article in  UrbanToronto.ca, (basically a public relations organ for the local real estate and development industries) tells a sanitized version of the background story of the soon to be opened Weston Hub.

The article’s author, Dean Macaskill, has been involved in Toronto real estate since 1980 and was with the company given the GO Station parking lot listing back in 2012. The land was put on the market by the Toronto Parking Authority and according to Macaskill, the 5 offers received on the 1.42 acre site were, ‘at rather depressed pricing levels’.

What’s not mentioned in the article are thoughts at the time that the land belonged to the old town of Weston and that it should not be sold. Also, unlike the wealthy Wychwood Barns neighbourhood which received close to $20 million from the City for their Artscape project, poor old Weston received essentially nothing.

The message seems to be that no one wanted to invest in Weston until this development came along and since that time, developers have been falling all over themselves to buy into our community. He neglects to mention that his listing stated, “Area Is Undergoing Significant Change With Other High Rise Condominiums Planned In The Immediate Area.” Also missing in action is any mention of the 370 rental apartments and 40,000 square feet of storage units that came as part of the deal.  The 8000 square foot space devoted to the cultural hub seems rather ungenerous by comparison. Another unmentioned issue of contention is the tight space given to the Farmers Market .

Now that the Hub is nearing completion, we’ll all have to make the best of it and hope it’s a success – but it could have been so much better no matter what shine is put on it.

Just to cheer you up, here’s a Metro Morning  interview with Artscape’s Tim Jones talking to CBC’s Matt Galloway recently on the same topic.

Weston BIA to expand

The results are in, and Weston businesses have voted to expand the BIA. Now the issue will go to City Council.

Proposed BIA expansion
Proposed BIA expansion

On August 8, 19 ballots were sent to businesses just northwest of the existing BIA. 12 of the 15 ballots returned were in favour of joining, so the ratification requirements were handsomely met.

City Council will consider the issue this week, and when the new BIA is approved, it will include the businesses north of King St up to Church.

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis: Part 3.

3. The Public Domain.

Yesterday’s article covered the state of retail in Weston / Mount Dennis.

One of the factors that makes a big difference to an area is the public domain. Anyone who has been to Europe will know how well the public domain is looked after.

A car free street in Cartagena Spain. Note the lack of high-rise buildings and overhead wiring.

Far less public domain money is spent here in Toronto and especially in Weston / Mount Dennis where spending is further suppressed as our BIAs have smaller budgets, our Section 37 money is scarce and our politicians have an unfortunate obsession with keeping property taxes (the lowest in the GTA) at or below the rate of inflation. Spending initiatives that could improve public facilities are often voted down.

From Jennifer Pagliaro via Twitter. Click to enlarge.

As a result, the things that can help iron out differences between rich and poor are suppressed. The homeless are treated with contempt. Public housing is in disrepair; cycling and walking are dangerous, our library, recreation and and parks system are underfunded and garbage and leaf litter, is allowed to accumulate. Cars dominate our streets while the TTC receives the lowest subsidy of any major city in North America. Climbing the social ladder is harder than ever because politicians worry that they’ll be voted out of office if they support tax increases. A recent study by the World Bank has discovered that when inequality goes up, there is a corresponding increase in the murder rate.

What has to change? Our political system is a shambles – more on that tomorrow. We need leaders at all levels of government who understand the connection between adequate public domain funding and helping people move out of poverty. Gentrification is often seen as a solution to our problems in WMD. It’s not. It simply forces poor people to relocate instead of helping them climb the ladder out of poverty.

The answer is more money spent on helping the poor help themselves. More money, for example,  to fix the appalling repair backlog at Toronto Public Housing, more money to properly fund our public institutions and spaces. We also need to beautify our streets here in WMD and reduce the enormous amounts of real estate given over to the car. Will it be Weston or Mount Dennis that gets the first traffic free street in Toronto? (Toronto is one of the few cities in the world without a public pedestrian / bike only street.) We also need to find ways to improve access to the beautiful Humber River that meanders through WMD.

In summary, we need to tell our elected representatives that our priority is improving the public domain and not keeping taxes low. Poverty sucks and feeds on itself. It won’t go away without heroic efforts.

From Twitter.

The constant, artificial shortage of tax dollars puts the squeeze on the most vulnerable among us; people who traditionally don’t apply political pressure and can’t make generous campaign contributions. Even more insidiously, the constant trimming of budgets is designed to make public institutions fail and the private sector look good by comparison.

Make no mistake, underfunding the public domain impoverishes us all and lowers our quality of life.

Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 2.

As we approach the year end, here are some things that seem to be holding us back locally. This is the second a five part series, which began yesterday.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Customers line up at the opening of P&M Restaurant’s new location in May 2015 (file).

2. The Retail Experience in Weston Mount Dennis

Believe it or not but Canadians only buy 5% of their non-grocery goods online. The rest is done in brick and mortar stores. Unfortunately, businesses in Weston and Mount Dennis are under-patronized as it often seems easier to jump in the car.

Retail in WMD is a bit like the old weather adage. Everyone complains about our shopping but nobody does anything about it. People use all kinds of excuses for not shopping locally but the bottom line is that if people want vibrant local shopping, they have to encourage local stores that go some way to meeting their needs. Weston and Mount Dennis will not be confused with Bloor West Village anytime soon but there are glimmers of hope that need to be encouraged. There is a symbiotic relationship between patronage, meeting the needs of customers and a vibrant shopping area.

If people don’t like the appearance of the streets or feel threatened, (More on that tomorrow : Part 3 – The Public Domain) they need to talk to the relevant parties such as 311 or Councillor Nunziata’s office. Statistically, we should understand that we put ourselves in the greatest danger when we drive our cars or cross the road.

Landlords: our empty stores need to be occupied. The tax rebate for empty stores will be ending by June 2018. This is a good thing that will provide an incentive to quickly re-let a storefront. Empty stores detract from the ambience of a shopping area and landlords with empty stores should allow non-profit groups to use the empty stores until paying tenants are found. Weston BIA and Mount Dennis BIA should get the ball rolling on this. If landlords are still happy to allow stores to sit empty, the city should go one further and tax vacant stores at a higher rate.

When Greenland Farm supermarket closes, many Weston residents will lose their only walkable source of produce. Is there another store waiting in the wings? The owner / developer of the GF site can promise that a major supermarket chain will be moving into the podium of the new development when it finally materializes on the site. It will be a meaningless and empty promise as the podium space will be leased to whoever is willing to pay. Councillor Nunziata should do all she can to encourage a seller of produce along the lines of the Royal York Fruit Market in the Royal York Plaza.

Banks are disappearing. We need walkable storefront bank branches.

Readers, what businesses would you like to see in your local shopping area? What stops you from shopping in WMD? Which stores have you patronized?