Market gardens — making bigger plans for growing moe vegetables

by Bruce Cherney (part 4)

A letter sent to city council signed by C.L. Charrest, the chairman of a committee of the Merchants’ Association of Canada, Winnipeg Branch, contained a resolution asking the council to not put any more public money into the Central Farmers’ Market.

The December 1913 letter alleged the Central Farmers’ Market was “defrauding the public and libelling the retail merchants of Winnipeg.”

The alleged fraudulent activity cited by the association was that the market was importing consignments of butter, eggs, poultry and vegetables from Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia “and selling this produce in competition with the retail merchants of the city.”

A December 1913 letter, signed by J.F. Kennedy, the secretary of the Merchants’ Association of Canada, Winnipeg branch, also demanded that city council no longer provide funding for the Million for Manitoba League’s Central Farmers’ Market.

According to a report by a merchants’ association committee, chaired by C.L. Charrest, which was included in the letter sent to the council, the market had not fulfilled its original purpose of selling only Made-in-Manitoba produce and had not lowered the cost of living in Winnipeg by a single cent.

The merchants alleged that the “process of bringing producer and consumer together has not and will not be accomplished by the Central Farmers’ Market under present conditions,” and that the middlemen, who bought vegetables from local market gardeners and then sold the produce to retailers, a process which the Million for Manitoba League claimed contributed to higher prices to consumers, could not be put out of business as long as their produce was being used to fill the stalls at the market.

As city ratepayers, the merchants also objected to their taxes being used to fund the operation of the market (December 16, 1913, Free Press).

“The Million for Manitoba League has no quarrel with the retailers,” asserted William Sanford Evans, the president of the league, at a meeting on December 18, “and we are not trying to injure them, but we do think that the two fundamental factors, the producer and the consumer, should be benefited, and we have been working toward that goal.”

Local market gardeners said the market had benefited their production, according to a December 13, 1913, Free Press article.

“The St. Vital gardeners are making bigger plans for the growing of vegetables and produce next year than ever before, with the intention of supplying the farmers’ market,” said an unnamed gardener, attending the December 18 meeting at the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau at the corner of Main and Water (now William Stephenson Way). “Bad crops cut a big figure out of our inadequate supply of produce this year, but every gardener in St. Vital who has occupied a stall at the market has voted it a huge success. I didn’t lose a $5 bill all summer on my stuff, and if I had lots more I could have sold it.”

The gardeners said that they may have previously realized a higher price for their produce by hawking it door-to-door, but the greater volume sold at the stalls more than made up for any price discrepancy.

“We have but a baby market yet, and it requires being more systematized and being conducted on a larger scale,” said Evans. “The market gardeners and the farmers who supply this market have to make up their minds that they will support and stand back of this institution.”

The market gardeners and farmers supporting the market with produce and other goods came from across Winnipeg, including the Knowles School for Boys, which ran a large market garden, as well as Elmwood, St. Vital, Teulon, Stonewall and Whitemouth.

In a letter to the Free Press, published October 4, 1913, J.W. Ryckman, the chairman of the league’s market committee, wrote that he was disappointed that George Lawrence, the provincial minister of agriculture, considered the farmers’ market as “purely a Winnipeg affair and does not affect the agricultural interests of the province to a sufficient extent to warrant his giving it any recognition whatever.”

He called the minister’s viewpoint “narrow and erroneous” and that it didn’t reflect “the character and importance of this market, and it undoubtedly hampers the committee’s efforts very greatly. Inasmuch, as the shipments are from many parts of the province, and the Dominion agricultural department has given to the provincial department a large sum of money to assist agriculture in Manitoba, this market seems to afford the most definite and practical means of aiding our producers that could be devised.

“The committee feels that both the city and the provincial government should give such support to this enterprise as would make it the kind of helpful institution it should be, and can be, if $100,000 were devoted to putting the Central Farmers’ Market in the shape the consumption of the city justifies. It would only be a tithe of what we have saved the people during the past summer out of the ordinary and unusual cost of their table necessities.”

Despite Ryckman’s arguments, the minister refused to help fund the market.

On February 4, 1914, representatives of the Grain Growers’ Association, the Trades and Labour Council, the Industrial Bureau, gardeners and the market committee of the Million For Manitoba League met to discuss the future of the Central Farmers’ Market.

The gardeners at the meeting claimed that the market had saved consumers $2 on their weekly grocery and meat bills. And if the market didn’t continue, the gardeners claimed, they would be seriously inconvenienced.

Evans admitted that inexperience in running a farmers’ market had contributed to some mistakes and advocated that the producers themselves become directly involved in its operation.

(Next week: part 5)