What’s On at the Saturday Farmers Market in October
We spoke with two of our vendors about barriers their businesses have faced and how they navigate them.
Published on October 12, 2021
Through community hubs like the Saturday Farmers Market at Evergreen Brick Works, we are able to connect with the people who are directly involved in making or growing the food we eat. We heard from our vendors just how hard the past two years have been. This month, we’re using this space to amplify the stories we heard about barriers our vendors faced and how they navigate them.
How two vendors are navigating barriers
One vendor, Spent Goods, is navigating pandemic-related shifts to the food retail industry that they could have never predicted. Another, Wheelbarrow Farm, is fighting systemic barriers within the farming industry to pay workers, including themselves, livable wages.
The Spent Goods Company aims to provide unique solutions to transform food waste. They work with Canadian businesses that have a surplus of viable food by-products, such as barley grains used to make beer, to transform these by-products into delicious baked goods like sourdough bread, pretzels and English muffins.
Spent Goods works in a partnership model meaning that instead of having their own bakery, they work with bakery partners who incorporate the spent grains into their best-selling products. Spent Goods then helps to promote their products via farmer's markets and grocery stores.
This way, Spent Goods curates locally made goods from multiple bakeries and normalizes upcycled food to a consumer base who appreciate delicious foods that have a positive impact on the climate.
Dihan, Founder of Spent Goods, shared how the pandemic has impacted not only Spent Goods but also the food retail industry at large.
A particular issue that was raised was that the pandemic gave employees in the food retail industry the time to consider whether they actually wanted to be in the industry or not. This resulted in a reduction of staff, which has made it more difficult for employers to find people to run their businesses.
Increased competition among businesses resulted in 5 out of 6 bakers leaving our bakery partner to another bakery, forcing our bakery partner to close operations in July of this year.
This left Spent Goods unable to produce any baked goods, thus operations had to be paused.
However, by way of their supportive customer base, Spent Goods were encouraged to seek out new bakery partners.
With determination, they did just that, and were able to find three smaller bakeries keen to work with them. Although the product line and volume is not where it was pre-pandemic, with each bakery making 1-2 products, they are now able to offer four out of their original 10 products.
Wheelbarrow Farm is a vegetable farm located about an hour northeast of Toronto that has a mission to grow high quality vegetables with a minimal impact on the environment.
Their symbol is the wheelbarrow as it emphasizes the human scale of the farm business. Wheelbarrow Farm is continuously looking for ways to make the world a healthier, more beautiful and just place to live.
When asked about barriers in the farming industry, the Wheelbarrow Farm team shared that the biggest barrier that they have faced while farming is the inability to pay farm workers, including themselves, a decent wage.
“By ‘decent’, I mean a wage commensurate with the difficulties of the job, not to mention the importance of the work for society,” they said. “Farmers are the first reason people eat, and we are generally paid minimum wage - sometimes more, sometimes less - for our efforts.”
Most of the money generated in agriculture passes through the farmer’s hands, leaving them with little income. This is because expenses, including high input costs, consume almost all of the revenue generated from farms.
Other systemic barriers include the globalization of food as a commodity. The Wheelbarrow Farm team explain that the prices that they are able to charge for their vegetables is loosely determined by the prices people are accustomed to seeing at the grocery store. Grocery store prices are low because large percentages of vegetables are imported from countries where minimum wage is much less than that of Canada’s.
The root of the problem is our system of production and exchange, which puts us against competitors from every corner of the globe.
In an effort to overcome these barriers, Wheelbarrow Farm has structured the farm in a way that allows farm workers to have access to profit-sharing as well as owning a percentage of the farmland itself. Their hope it that through collective ownership, they can help to overcome the low wages of the sector.
While you’re here, a few market updates.
What’s in season: Squash, onions, garlic, beets, Asian greens, cooking greens (kale, swiss chard), potatoes, celery, celeriac
What's going out of season: Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers
Vendors who have ended their season: Happy Pops
November 13 is our last outdoor market, moving back inside for the winter season November 20.