Market gardens — Whellams’ report showed mark-up retailers charged consumers for locally-grown produce

by Bruce Cherney (part 3)

Kildonan market gardener James H. Tribe said it was absolutely essential for the success of the proposed farmers’ market to have all the gardeners in the outlying municipalities working in harmony.

“If we’re going to supply an up-to-date market for Winnipeg and Winnipeg people,” he said, “we will have to have a thoroughly up-to-date collection of farm produce (Manitoba Free Press, March 5,1913).

“During the past year 16 or 18 of our very best gardeners in these parts have gone out of business. They sold their land for a handsome profit and retired. We are all working under the worst possible conditions that could exist. We have been told to move from place to place every year, and the practical man has no chance to become established permanently in one place. Unless a man can be in a fixed position he cannot steadily supply a public market like the Winnipeg venture is going to be. Therefore, the gardeners will have to be absolutely united. I’m not one of those who wish to see through a brick wall, but I at least like to see a little farther than my nose.”

H.C. Whellams, “a well known resident of Kildonan, and an expert market gardener,” (he purchased the 104-acre Pritchard farm on Lot 54 of Kildonan for his market garden), according to the August 28, 1912, Free Press, told the Million for Manitoba League, which was behind the establishment of the farmers’ market, that under existing conditions, the growing of vegetables did not pay, in spite of the fact that Winnipeg consumers were paying higher costs every year.

His accounts from 11 years earlier, on July 27, 1901, showed he had hawked cabbages on the streets of the city at three for 10-cents and was able to make a living.

The retail price of cabbages was 200 per cent higher in 1912, but he was receiving no more for his goods than in 1901, although production costs had significantly  increased since that year.

“If not for the fact that I grow pickling goods in large quantities, I could not remain in business,” said Whellams.

Whellams was asked who controlled the vegetable in Winnipeg and he replied that it was W.W. Burdett and Edward Burdett and Sons.

If adequate market and storage facilties were provided, Whellams said, he would increase his production of staples by 30 per cent, and if the other producers followed the same course, it wouldn’t be necessary to import vegetables from the U.S.

Whellams prepared a report in 1912 which gave the “spread” in costs for produce on August 15 and August 28 of that year. It provides a good comparison to the mark-up retailers charged consumers after purchasing produce from Manitoba market gardeners. For example, on August 15, producers were offered 45-cents a bushel for potatoes which then sold for $1.36, farmers received one-cent a pound for cabbage that was later sold for 10-cents to 15-cents each to consumers, growers were offered one-cent a pound for carrots that sold for eight pounds for 25 cents, while the price offered to growers for peas on August 28 (not available on August 15) was three-cents a pound which were later sold at 10-cents a pound.

On August 28, the prices offered to producers dropped, as a result of the harvest being virtually over and the supply being more plentiful. For example, they received 35-cents to 37-cents for a bushel of potatoes that later was sold to consumers for 70-cents to 75-cents per bushel, farmers sold their cabbage for $8 a ton (one-cent to four-cents a pound) that cost consumers six-cents to 10-cents apiece, growers received half a cent per pound for beets that were sold at eight pounds for 35-cents, while carrots netted producers 40-cents a bushel (60 pounds) that cost the consumer 25-cents for eight pounds.

Whellams claimed labour costs had risen over a 10-year period from 75-cents a day to $1.25 to $1.40 a day. In addition, taxes had risen five or six times during the same period. Despite these increases, the producer was still receiving the same price for their vegetables from the produce middlemen.

The result of the increases in cost was that the market gardeners were growing cucumbers, cauliflowers and other garden stuff that could be sold in bulk for a profit to pickle factories, rather than fresh vegetables for consumers.

Whellams said one-third of the production of Kildonan, Headingley and other outlying market gardens was going into pickles.

On August 9, Whellams sent rigs into the city with new potatoes, “which were all bought up by hucksters.”

“Edward Burdett and Sons telephoned him to send more to town, which he did, receiving $1.05 a bushel (Free Press, August 28, 1912) ... On August 15, Mr. Whellams asked Burdett’s for offers on potatoes and was only bid 45-cents ... He refused to sell at this price, and ultimately secured 70-cents a bushel from W.H. Stone and Company.The explanation of the low offer made to him on August 15 was that Burdett’s had received on August 9 a carload, containing 600 bushels of potatoes, which were offered to consumers at $1.25 a bushel. These potatoes, imported from Minneapolis, cost the Burdett firm 95-cents a bushel ... Yet they were only offering the local producer 40-cents a bushel for his new roots.”

W.W. Burdett and Edward Burdett told the Free Press that there were no local potatoes available when they placed their order with Minneapolis. Deliveries from local producers was so unreliable that it made better business sense to order from the U.S., they claimed.

“They further state that at certain times in the year the local market is glutted from all parts of the province, and that it is this fact, and not the shipping of vegetables from the States, that forces down the market.”

When Evans, F.J.C. Cox and J.W. Ryckman appeared before the relief and licence committee of city council (Free Press, January 16, 1913), they proposed that the cost of establishing the market be guaranteed by the city. The aldermen were unmoved by this suggestion, but the city would later provide some funding.

Instead, Alderman Herbert Gray suggested a motion to request that the province pass a law to prohibit the hawking or peddling of produce in the city. It was said at the meeting that hawking was the most serious drawback to the success of a public market.

At the time, farmers and market gardeners did not require a licence to sell their produce in the city. Many gardeners preferred to hawk their produce door-to-door or receive orders by telephone from their regular customers.

Since Manitoba’s rural population had by a wide margin the greatest number of representatives in the legislature (in 1910, Winnipeg only had four seats in the 41-member legislature), the suggestion to prohibit rural-based market gardeners from hawking their goods in the city was pointless and it was never pursued with any enthusiasm.

Eventually, it was decided to establish the market behind the south end of the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau Building, Main Street and Water Avenue (now William Stephenson Way) where the Federal Building now stands. Architect P.C. Samwell was commissioned to devise a plan for an up-to-date facility at the old central market.

At a May 30 meeting between gardeners and the league market committee, it was announced that J.W. Willis had been given the contract “to make deliveries of all purchases from the Winnipeg public market,” which was to be called the Central Farmers’ Market.

The market opened for the first time on Saturday, June 14. To mark the occasion, Premier Rodmond Roblin was on-hand to declare the market officially opened. Roblin said he had  long supported the concept of such a market to lower the cost of living.

According to a June 16 Free Press account of the ceremony, Roblin was constantly heckled by one man in the crowd during his speech.

“We owe the Manitoba for Million League much,” said the premier, “but we may not appreciate the benefits until the market is thoroughly established.”

The premier ended by saying, “Public markets are public benefits.”

The newspaper commented that the lateness of the season was perhaps the reason for the opening day not being “the great success its promoters expected.”

By 10 ‘oclock, only 14 market gardeners had unpacked their wares into stalls at the market.

“No morning delivery was attempted. One reason being that the number of packages which was asked (to be) sent (out) could have been carried by a seven-year-old boy.”

But a delivery was made in the morning.

Despite the poor beginning, Whellams was undeterred by what was a small-sized crowd.

“We could not expect a better showing as things are now,” he commented. “The market gardener has hardly any of his crop ready for marketing, and then, of course, it takes some time before the people get used to this order of things. It is always a little uphill work from the first.”

The newspaper published a list of price comparisons between stores and the market, which indicated that the market was in a few instances selling produce below the current retail cost to consumers.

Advertisements announced that “vegetables fresh from the gardens,” and “dairy produce fresh from the farms” was available at the Million for Manitoba League’s Central Farmers’ Market, which was open daily from  Monday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Lord’s Day Act then in force prevented the market from being open on Sundays.

According to a chart compiled by the league, there were a few savings for consumers at the market when prices were compared to retail outlets, although many prices were the same or even above those found at stores. For example, potatoes were 55-cents per bushel at the market versus 60-cents a bushel at retail outlets, and radishes were three bunches for five-cents at the market versus one bunch for five-cents at stores.

(Next week: part 4)