I expect to pay higher prices when I shop at a farmers’ market, and normally do not object because I realize that the produce is fresh. However, this morning when I saw a sign that stated “Fresh Corn – 75 cents each,” I was surprised. I enquired if the price was the same if I bought a dozen, and the reply was “yes.”

“It’s the first corn of the season and it’s really good,” the young woman replied.

I did not doubt the truth of her statement, but $9 a dozen?

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A few years ago I was one of the volunteers who helped establish the St. Andrew’s Market. I realized that prices would be higher at the market, as the farmers must rise early in the morning and drive to Toronto. The costs of the transportation, the time it takes to drive into the city and attend a booth for many long hours, deserve to be rewarded.

Most of the farmers delivered quality goods, and though the prices were higher than the supermarkets, it was a delight to buy the fresh produce. However, recently I have begun to question the prices that some farmers charge.

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When the farmers at the Metro Hall (now Pecaut Square) were charging $5 per quart for strawberries, the Kensington Market was charging $3.50 per quart. At Kensington, the Ontario berries were from the Ontario Food Terminal. They too were delivered by farmers, who likely received only $2 a quart for their berries. They too had transportation and labour costs. Is $5 a quart truly a reasonable price for a farmers’ market?

Our St. Andrew’s market failed to continue after the first year. There were several reasons that it was not successful, some of them of our own making. However, we had an excellent crowd the first few weeks of the market, but some people took one look at the prices and never returned. The “die-hards,” like myself continued to attend. I loved the market as it provided much more than just fresh produce. I met my neighbours and felt that I was a part of a community.

I love farmers’ markets.

This is why the sign advertising corn for 75 cents each disturbed me. Because it was the summer’s first corn, and the supply limited, the farmer felt that people would buy. I am certain that the corn did indeed all sell. It’s “Economics 101,” the forces of supply and demand. However, much more is involved than simply the rule of “supply and demand.”

How many people saw that sign this morning, and refused to buy?  Some walked right out of the market and never purchased anything. How many friends did they tell about the price? Farmers who do not respect their customers cause damage to the entire system of the farmers’ markets. It is short-sighted to overcharge, as it means that the markets cater to the few who are willing to pay. This means that as businesspersons they are passing up potentially large profits for short-term gain. Many families with children are unable to shop at the farmers’ markets at all. This is a real pity.

As consumers, what choices are open to us. Some may say that if we don’t wish to pay the prices don’t shop there. It’s our choice. True, but if we boycott the markets, they will cease to exist. Few of us wish to see this happen.

Farmers must be compensated for their labour, time, and transportation costs. However, they must also respect their customers, and charge prices that are in line with their costs. 

I love summer in the city, and the farmer’s markets are a part of this great experience. I truly hope that they never disappear from the scene.

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