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Evidence of meeting #34 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was market.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Robert Chorney  President, Farmers' Markets Canada
André Nault  President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie
Laurier Busque  Member, Board of Directors, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Mr. Valeriote, for five minutes.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Thank you, gentlemen, for attending today. It's important that you be here to inform us.

I know the University of Guelph makes every effort to buy locally. In season they will buy over 70% of the food that's needed to feed the students' residence and the cafeterias locally. I know St. Joseph's hospital is making an effort to buy locally where they can.

One of the problems—and I had this discussion with some farmers at a CFA breakfast the other morning—is with the ability to buy in large quantities and consistent quantities of food. We've had others around the table here who have talked to us about building terminals in more convenient locations so farmers can have their food collected, and then institutions and others can buy more in bulk.

I'm totally supportive of buying locally and buying fresh and those other things you speak of, but if we're going to promote that, we have to have the capacity. What plans do you have to build that kind of capacity, if any, and what can the government do to help you?

4 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

If I may, I would like to say that the major challenge in agriculture is that our producers are no longer used to producing all year round in order to sell their products to major supermarkets, or large markets, such as hospitals. In Sherbrooke's Marché de solidarité régionale, we have trouble getting producers to provide us with vegetables all year round. Do you understand that?

Producers are no longer used to properly stocking food products in order to sell them all year round because the import market has taken over. We can get cucumbers and strawberries in January, and so on. We have changed Canadians' eating habits. I feel we need to go back to the origins. In the region of Sherbrooke, 37% of the city's territory is farmland. There is not one farmer who produces potatoes and vegetables. Our producers produce milk and beef, end of story.

So we have lost diversity in production. We need to re-educate producers. They have always been directed to the outside, not within the country. We now want to do the opposite because everyone is pretty much aware of the problems to come: climate change, a decrease in oil resources around the world, and so on. We are now doing what could have been done 10 years ago. Our producers could have then started to produce for those hospitals and schools, because they would have had the possibility to do so.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Okay.

Robert, you mentioned that you received some money from the government. I'd like to know how much specifically. Was it a lot? Was it a little? Perhaps you could be specific.

Secondly, you talked in generalities about the moribund state, or the dormant state, of your organization.

There's nothing I look forward to more than going home and going to the market on Saturday morning with one or both of my kids. Believe me, it's become a tradition; you meet people there, and there's a really strong sense of community. It bothers me to think that it could die. It really bothers me.

I'm not suggesting that's where you're headed, but we need to know numbers. Is there a business plan? Do you need more market space, or money to expand markets? What is it you need to support growing local, and specifically the local market?

4:05 p.m.

President, Farmers' Markets Canada

Robert Chorney

What we need is a national association.

First of all, I seem to recall that in 2008-09 the grant was in the range of $350,000. That allowed us to do the economic impact study and the things I talked about earlier.

We need dollars to be able to bring our board members together a couple of times a year. You know, that's a $10,000 expense each time for airfares and hotels and so on. We need money to be able to market the whole sector to the public out there. We want to be able to tell our story. We don't have any dollars for that.

Infrastructure dollars and all that stuff—that becomes a matter for the provinces to work with. As a national association, though, I think we have to tell our story in a very powerful way, and we don't have the dollars to do that.

We also have, I think, a major obligation to our provincial people to offer training programs and so on, and we can't do that. We're really hamstrung in terms of trying to do some positive stuff.

Thank you to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for the help they gave us, because it gave us a really good foothold.

Now, as I said, we're dormant, and it really worries me.

You spoke about the markets in your area. You have some wonderful markets—Guelph, Cambridge....

You know, there's something I should tell you, sir, if I can digress a little bit. In Ontario, 30 of our markets are over 100 years old. Two of them, Kingston and Toronto, are over 200 years old. There's a very rich history and tradition of farmers' markets in Ontario particularly. The only other jurisdiction in North America with an older kind of tradition is the state of Pennsylvania.

So there's a very rich history of markets in this country, and we need money to keep on telling our story.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Thanks very much.

Mr. Zimmer, five minutes.

April 4th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Thank you for coming.

I just wanted to mention that I'm from the prairies in B.C., so we've experienced Taylor corn and like to buy local beef whenever possible.

But I did have a question for you, Bob, specifically. You mentioned that people have a high level of trust for the market gardens and stuff. What are your recommendations with regard to concerns for food safety at farmers' markets?

And I'm not saying that in a.... You know, we want to help that as opposed to limit that.

So what would be your solution to that?

4:05 p.m.

President, Farmers' Markets Canada

Robert Chorney

I think it's really important, as I said earlier, for the farmers' markets to be proactive in terms of their training programs, the awareness, constantly talking about it with vendors, liaising with local health units, and, if there are CFIA people around, keeping open channels.

It really is a matter of being proactive, of training and awareness, and of talking about the fact that we're concerned and we want the right things to happen. It's just a whole awareness connectivity thing.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Right.

Mr. Nault, could you first of all explain the name of your organization? It's in French only, and I just don't know what it means.

4:05 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

The Marché de solidarité régionale—

It's market online.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Market online?

4:05 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

Yes. We've been doing that for the last six years.

I'm sorry, I am going to speak to you in French.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

They'll translate it. Don't worry.

4:05 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

This year, we are celebrating our sixth anniversary. We have a small market in the City of Sherbrooke. Producers make around $3 million in six years. So we make $500,000 a year, which is enough to keep six sheep and beef producers. And we have grass-fed beef. We pay attention to that.

In terms of food safety, I would like to answer that question. We have a direct contact with consumers. As a result, if there is something wrong with the product from a producer, we will get an immediate reaction from consumers, because they will call the person in charge to say that they have been poisoned. So we would directly contact the producer in question to say that we received two complaints, for example, about their product.

We once actually had to deal with a similar situation. I am not saying that education is not important. Recently, there was an E. coli contamination of spinach, but that cannot happen in local markets because producers don't use that type of production. They are not in a huge inaccessible market. They look after their clients' well-being.

Food safety is a consideration when there is a direct link.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

You had mentioned too about keeping the production local. A lot of us are supportive of that anyway; we like going to markets, as Frank mentioned. You spoke of the local market, but what are your thoughts on the export market? Certainly, farmers in my riding rely on the export market for their sustenance and needs. What is your position in having both, in having a balanced....

4:10 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

There is no problem with that. Both can definitely survive and thrive together. However, genetically-modified crops can contaminate the productions of local producers who don't use that method.

The popularity of local markets or local products—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

I didn't want to go down that road. I just wanted to ask you specifically if you're okay with local producers producing to consume locally and export.

How about you, Bob? Are you okay with that?

4:10 p.m.

President, Farmers' Markets Canada

Robert Chorney

It's not a problem. The great majority of our market farmers are small producers; they're not into wholesale or export. Certainly we have some, and certainly it's a part of life; it's a part of our economy.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

That brought up another question, but I'm assuming by your answer that you'd be okay. What are your thoughts on our governments opening up foreign markets in terms of CIDA agreements and foreign trade agreements? Do you have a position as an organization? Is that good or bad?

4:10 p.m.

President, Farmers' Markets Canada

Robert Chorney

It's support, simple as that.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Okay, good.

André.

4:10 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

That depends on the regulations in place. If that forces us to lower our standards... We are already below certain regulatory standards. If markets are open—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Could I have more than a yes or no answer? Simply put, are you okay with pursuing foreign agreements and foreign trade agreements?

4:10 p.m.

President, Les amiEs de la terre de l'Estrie

André Nault

Local producers should not be penalized.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Thank you.