Proposed increases to user fees threaten to have a devastating impact on Toronto’s vibrant, community-based farmers’ markets. It’s hard enough for farmers and small-scale food producers to earn a living already, and the benefits markets bring to our city are numerous, for health, community and the environment. Please show your support of Toronto farmers’ markets by signing this petition, and asking your friends and neighbours to do the same. Here’s the link:
(Note: after you have signed the online petition, you will be directed to the online petitions site’s (voluntary) donation page. This is not connected to the Toronto Farmers’ Market Network; we are not asking for financial contributions, only signatures.)
To get a sense of what we’re supporting, take a look at this summary:
Farmers’ Costs to Attend Toronto Markets:
Vendor sales can range from $100/market for small-scale city-based vendors to several thousand per day for larger produce farms at peak season. In general, it is not considered economically viable for a farmer to come into the city for sales of less than $1,000, but many farmers have made investments in developing customer bases at small or new markets in Toronto where sales are lower, counting on longer-term success. While higher sales numbers can sound like a lot of profit, here are some things to bear in mind:
For produce farms, production costs (seeds, fertilizers and soil amendments (organic or conventional), irrigation equipment, machinery & repairs, temperature-controlled storage/washing/packing facilities, insurance, interest on farm loans, on-farm labour for cultivating, planting, weeding, harvesting, etc.) make up about 70% of the final price of produce at market.
For meat farms, sales volume is generally lower than for produce, and production costs are somewhat different, for example: a year of labour, fencing, shelter, veterinary and feed costs to raise calves to maturity, shipping and butchering costs ($45/animal plus approximately .45/lb to cut and wrap), staff to stay behind feeding animals. In the end, the total is again about 70% of the retail price at market.
So, for each $1,000 in sales, a farmer has $300 to cover all ‘going-to-market’ costs. These include:
1) Time (not including harvest, washing and packing in crates): in addition to market hours, 1.5 to two hours loading and unloading the truck on-farm, on average two hours travel at each end, plus 1.5 setup and .5 cleanup at the market, so a 4 hour market takes approximately 12 hours labour for two or more people. (Estimating the cost to the farm of having the farmer absent at peak season is harder.)
2) Gas and vehicle wear & tear: current estimates for a truck are .75-$1/km travelled, so for even the closest farms, over $100/market in travel round-trip. For farmers coming in from Niagara/Prince Edward County and other areas farther from Toronto, costs are substantially higher.
3) Equipment and supplies: tents, tables, signs, weigh scales, hand trucks, other display equipment, coolers and ice if needed, baskets, bags
4) Fees: markets charge about $25/week in table fees (or sometimes more) to each vendor to cover insurance, permit fees, some promotion, at-market equipment and manager/support staff time. Most farms also pay an extra premium on their own insurance to cover them at market.
Markets typically run for about 22 weeks, though some continue through the winter, with lower sales volume. Whatever the farmer earns at peak season must cover their expenses for much longer, and provide a buffer against crop failures; as well, for every top-notch day (eg/ peak of strawberry season) there will be slower ones, including days when inclement weather results in poor customer turnout but expenses must still be covered.
Why do they come? Farmers may work out an overall plan (participating in two markets in different parts of the city by dropping product and family/staff at one and attending the other, balancing production for a CSA (weekly box share program) with sales at markets, using direct sales as an alternative to the collapse in opportunity that occurred following mad-cow fears, combining deliveries to stores or restaurants with a trip to market…) that helps to reduce the risks and makes attending markets more viable. They also value the direct feedback, interaction and promotional value of markets. However, after calculating their expenses, it is easy to see that farmers must manage all aspects of their operations expertly to make a profit, and any trend towards higher costs would make it impossible to earn a living.
(Information compiled by market co-ordinators through interviews with farmers at Withrow Park Farmers’ Market, The Stop’s Green Barn Farmers’ Market, Stonegate Farmers’ Market and Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market, 2011)