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Food in parks: Key issues

29-May-2010 [84]

• Key issues - Farmers' Markets and food in parks

People who devote their time and efforts to enliven their parks with food, markets and gardening talked about a number of ways in which laws and policies facilitate and/or hinder their projects and efforts.

The key issues summarized below were drawn from numerous conversations, meetings and email correspondence between people. Some are farmers, others make and sell preserves and prepared foods at farmers markets, other people work to bring tasty, inexpensive food into their community parks through community cafes, markets and bazaars, others manage farmers markets, and some of the people work with non-governmental organizations to bring community gardens and affordable food to parks and public spaces.

I. Laws and policies - what helps and what hinders local farmers markets?

Individual inspectors and city staff

People talked about how a collaborative relationship with individual inspectors and city officials has been key to bringing affordable food to their parks, and the smooth running of their farmers markets.

A. Lack of knowledge by city staff about what the laws and regulations apply to markets

1. During the strike, people who manage farmers markets were faced with different stories and versions of what the laws and regulations for farmers markets actually said.

One city official said that people could operate if they were selling "fresh produce"; this got interpreted as nothing else. Another city official stated that this meant everything except fast food. It was unknown whether or not the strike effectively cancelled the markets' liability insurance policies. As it turned out, it had not.

2. City officials were not sure whether or not farmers markets could be held in parks or, if food could be sold from roadsides. These were the questions that arose: - in the event that people were prevented from setting up the markets in their parks, was there a by-law that prohibited farmers from selling on the road sides? (to avoid being regarded as street vendors)

3. Lack of knowledge that policies and laws are not legally binding

Markets governed by the same laws are treated differently; officials sometimes imposing standards and procedures which appear to lack a basis in law. For example, an inspector at one market told a farmer that if she made jam to sell at markets, the kitchen in which she made the jam would have to be inspected [There appears to be no law or regulation that requires this.]

4. Non-elected bureaucrats taking on the role of of law-makers

The creations of the farmers' markets guidelines appear to have effectively re-created a detailed inspection regime in the wake of a decision by the (elected) Minister to exempt farmers’ markets and special events, such as church suppers, from the stringent public health requirements and inspections that are lawfully allowed by Ontario Regulation 562, entitled “Food Premises” of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

5. Unpredictable Inspectors and inspections

People from markets and communities across Toronto shared stories of how public health inspectors inspect their farmers markets and food related events. What they found out was that inspections were carried out in widely different ways, depending upon the inspector. One person involved in farmers' markets found the inspectors to be sensible and reasonable.

Another market manager talked about the unnecessary difficulties and stresses caused by a public health inspector who appeared to be "enforcing" a policy that included terms that are not found in the law or regulations governing farmers' markets.

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