Farmer says farmers' market gave him the boot for selling corn too cheaply

·4 min read

A Huron County farmer is calling foul after he said he was booted from a Stratford farmers’ market when he refused to raise the price of his corn.

Oliver Papple, a regular vendor at the market, said he’s frustrated over what he describes as “price-fixing” after being asked by market managers to increase the price of his sweet corn from $5 a dozen to at least $7.

The 21-year-old farmer took to social media last week to express his frustration. What he didn’t expect, Papple said, was for the post to result in an eviction notice on Saturday.

“Market organizers are threatening to kick me out as I will not go along with their price-fixing that is inflating prices to excessive levels,” Papple wrote in a Facebook post Friday.

It continues: “They are trying to force me to price my corn at $7/dozen or more. (The) market opens at 7 a.m. If you’re able to come out and show your support for affordable local produce we would appreciate it.”

Papple was handed the eviction notice on arriving at the market Saturday, he said.

Heidi Danen, manager of the Stratford farmers’ market, wouldn’t comment on details of the situation but did say “we have confirmed we are within our policy in all aspects.”

Papple said the managers told him all vendors must comply with market rules and regulations. He refused in an email to the managers before taking his complaint to social media.

This includes Rule 28, which states “vendors must not practise stress pricing by undercutting other vendors, or dumping products at bargain prices. The rule of thumb is no more than 25 per cent between high and low prices for like items between vendors.”

Typically listing corn at $5 a dozen at his roadside stand and the Goderich farmers' market, which he also regularly attends, Papple doesn’t understand why he can’t maintain his prices at the Stratford market and believes the eviction wasn't justified.

“Five dollars per dozen is a normal price. It's not dumping products,” Papple said. “That's what I'm selling at everywhere else.”

He said he planned to keep his the price at $5 after learning from his girlfriend, who was running the stand on previous weekends, that other vendors asked her to increase the cost to at least $6.

“I never got to set up my stand or put a price out (on Saturday), so the rule was technically never broken,” Papple said. “The 25 per cent is a rule of thumb, and it's between highest and lowest, so it can go either way. You could say, well, why are we basing it off the lowest?”

Catherine Clark, executive director of Farmers’ Markets Ontario (FMO), said rules and regulations vary across farmers' markets.

“If the market has rules and regs about the distress pricing not being allowed (and) if the market has implemented a percentage range, that is reasonable and fair, it’s expected that each vendor selling the same product would be within that range,” said Clark, who heads the member-based organization representing more than 180 farmers’ markets in Ontario.

She said the rules help keep the market “fair” and “provide a level playing field for competitive selling.”

Papple, who grows two acres of sweet corn, has been selling at the Stratford market for nearly eight years, he said, noting it's a large source of his sales.

“Dealing with the price rule . . . the whole season, we’ve lost quite a bit of potential from lost sales,” Papple said. “We’re making only $150 a week, when last year, I was making almost $800 a week.”

With piles of sweet corn left unsold, Papple said he plans to donate the crop elsewhere rather than see it go to waste.

It's not just about the business, but also about customers, Papple said, adding people need "access to fresh local food at reasonable prices.”

“You can go to the grocery store and buy corn for $4 a dozen when they have it on sale when it’s in season,” he said. “But you should be able to buy it at the market, directly from the farmers for that price.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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