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Food operations in parks and other public spaces
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Experiences and questions people raise 29-May-2010 by Belinda Cole 
People interested and involved in food and gardens met to talk about their experiences trying to enliven parks and public space with food, gardens, bake ovens, and farmers markets. They discussed a number of their experiences trying to bring good, affordable food to parks and public spaces.
The gifts and benefits of markets and food in parks
People talked about the importance of markets and community food projects and experiments in parks and public spaces. Two women spoke about the way that experiments with food in their parks brought droves of recently arrived women and their families out to their park on 7 bazaar evenings in the summer of 2009. Before holding the first bazaar, the assistant to the local councillor told the organizers that there was a "special by-law" prohibiting any food in the park.
One market manager talked about the huge economic potential of markets - how they further the availability and support for non genetically modified and locally grown food to neighbourhoods and support family farms.
The record of food-related incidents - what is the danger to be avoided?
People asked whether or not there were any documented cases of food poisoning or health problems arising from markets and church suppers.
An experienced market manager referred to a big campaign by the Farmers Markets Ontario called "Food Safety Matters at Farmers' Markets". The campaign, which included glossy brochures and training sessions, stated that there have been no health complaints or incidents.
A researcher for CELOS reported that opposition members had asked the government about documented cases of poisonings when it lobbied for markets and church suppers to be exempted from the regulations for running restaurants. As of spring 2006, there were no documented cases of food poisoning or health problems anywhere in Ontario. Yet, Toronto Public Health stated that 49% of all poisonings had occurred at church suppers. However, there appears to be no hard data to support this claim.
Another CELOS researcher talked about a radio debate she had heard about ungraded eggs. A radio caller suggested that ungraded eggs were a problem and had caused 500 poisonings. However, it turned out that there had been no actual documented incidents - all of the 500 "poisonings" were based on extrapolated data, based on estimated risks.
Heavy-handed city regulatory involvement
One person who has been involved in markets for years stated that, in recent years, the City has begun to "bear down on" people running farmers markets. She also mentioned that she had her "fingers slapped" by the recreation supervisor for selling hot chocolate and cookies in the park.
Newcomers and food in the parks
Two people talked about the way that women who are newcomers to Canada can use their food talents and skills to bring people to the park, for example, by having cooking fires and selling food.
One woman explained that the opportunities for interesting food experiences and experiments in parks abound, and she gave the example of a very good baker. However, she talked about the difficulties for women with little English and limited formal education to make their food related talents available.
Experimenting with food in parks
During the city strike in the summer of 2009, neighbourhood women, most relative newcomers to Canada, experimented with holding lively bazaars and selling food in the park. According to the women who organized the gatherings, the strike offered the opening to hold the events, some of which they were told were technically "permitted" and others "not permitted". The food and neighbourhood gatherings brought droves of people to the park.
To give other park visitors notice about the home-made food, the women posted a sign in the park to advise park attendees that "this food is not made in a public health kitchen".
It's hard to figure out what the law is - what can and cannot happen in parks?
A teacher talked about her efforts to put in a community garden at the alternative school where she teaches. She said that the parks supervisor she talked to about her school's plans told her about all of the regulations and requirements but failed to mention the exemptions that pertained to the gardens.
City staff inspectors who don't or won't reveal the basis for their decisions during inspections
1) One market manager told the story of the City public health inspector's visit to their market at the end of July 2009. The inspector told the market manager that the market did not meet the criteria for a "farmers' market" [law00001] under the Food Premises Regulation. This is very serious for a market. If a market does not meet the legal definition of a "farmers market", it loses the exemption from the regulation and must then have the equipment and handle food (double sinks, refrigeration, etc.) the way a restaurant does.
When he was doing the inspection, the inspector showed the market manager a document that referred to "neighbour's produce." After the inspection, the manager requested a copy of this document that the inspector was using to enforce the "rules". The inspector refused to provide her with a copy.
Three days later, the inspector's supervisor said that he was working hard to resolve this issue. For the market manager and the farmers, the tight time frames make managing a market challenging - farmers have to plan to attend markets ahead of time in order to do the necessary work to harvest or prepare their food and produce and to arrange to bring it into the city. Julia needed to let one of the farmers know whether or not the farmer could bring in her neighbour's lamb a few days later. She also needed to advise all of the other farmers not to bring in any produce grown by their neighbours.
The day before the market, the inspector called and said that he had talked to his supervisor and that there was no problem with the Stonegate market. All of this confusion stemming from what laws and regulations govern farmers' markets made a lot of trouble for Julia and the farmers who sell at the market.
In the end, despite repeated requests, the city inspector did not give the manager a copy of the document upon which he based his inspection. It would be very helpful to have this so that market managers could share this information and make sure that everyone involved in markets knows that this document has no bearing on the law or policies for running markets.
2) One market manager reported that an inspector was asking farmers for their "farm numbers". Another manager said that she has been asked if farmers at her market have "pink gas". Apparently, pink gas is sold to farmers at a reduced cost. However, the law and regulations make no mention of either farm numbers or pink gas, and they have nothing to do with the law governing farmers markets. One of the market managers had heard of these in connection with the Farmers' Markets Ontario (FMO). The FMO, however, is an organization with no authority to set law or draft policy with respect to farmers markets.
Who has the power to invoke and defend against regulatory actions by the city?
One market manager talked about complaints she has received from a neighbour to the market. She wondered aloud about how much power is or should be available to this neighbour who has made public health complaints because she does not like the market.
A person who works in communities to support community gardens and other food-related projects has seen how projects in neighbourhoods with powerful constituents thrive, while those with less powerful neighbours are defeated in the face of regulatory opposition or pressure.
Difficult times in setting up food and markets in parks
People talked about the divisions in the community when a neighbourhood group wanted to plant a 40 tree fruit orchard in a small park in the city.
In Agincourt, in Scarborough, community members met with difficulties when they tried to set up a "good food market" in their local park.
Another person talked about a community that has tried to start up 4 community gardens, all which have failed. The councilllor, who opposed their efforts, put up roadblocks and ignored the community's design for its gardens.
In Etobicoke, the city charged the community organization that runs a weekly market separately for each market day, as though it were a special event.
In Parkdale, the Business Improvement Association lobbied successfully to close down the farmers' market.
Parks and Rec and their NO's