Market gardeners — growers once again forced to peddle their produce door-to-door

by Bruce Cherney (part 5 of 5)

“Rather than see the (Central Farmers’) market fail,” said R. McKenzie, the Grain Growers’ Association (GGA) representative at the February 4, 1914, meeting of the GGA, the Trades and Labour Council, the Industrial Bureau, market gardeners and the market committee of the Million for Manitoba League, “we are prepared to manage it ourselves under certain conditions.”

He thought that the present liabilities had to be cleared up and the provincial government had to be asked to support the market financially.

A resolution to continue the market in 1914 was unanimously passed. In addition, the GGA, market gardeners and labour representatives were to later meet to discuss the management of the market.

In the end, the GGA and Market Gardeners’ Association decided to jointly take over the operation of the market in late 1914. The Central Farmers’ Market Association was formed as a co-operative with shares sold at $5 each. Under the terms of the charter, no individual was allowed to purchase more than 20 shares. The president of the newly-formed association was R. McKenzie, while the secretary was P.H. Ashton.

During a presentation the GGA convention, published in the January 14, 1915, Brandon Daily Sun, McKenzie said the Million for Manitoba League was unable to make a success of the market, so the association was forced to take over from where the league left off.

Reporting on the same convention, the Free Press said McKenzie told those attending that the market had helped lower food costs to consumers and provided producers with more earnings, so there was no reason to be discouraged about the future prospects for the market.

McKenzie informed the convention that the market association had 40 shareholders who held $365 in stock. In order for the market to flourish, more capitalization was needed, McKenzie added, although no such capital was forthcoming and shareholders would remain in short supply due to changing economic circumstances; that is, the world and Manitoba had been plunged into a depression in 1913.

Alan Artibise in his MHS Transaction (1970-71 season) article, Advertising Winnipeg: The Campaign for Immigrants and Industry, 1874-1914, wrote that by 1913, “credit stringency was manifest throughout the region and no amount of ‘booming’ could bring a return of good times.”

“The escalator of rising prices and heavy demand halted abruptly,” wrote David Jay Bercuson in his book, Confrontation in Winnipeg: Labour, Industrial Relations and the General Strike (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1974), “as rural and land values tumbled, construction sagged, wheat prices dropped, wages fell, and unemployment began to climb rapidly ... Winnipeg was so hard hit by this depression that the nation-wide stimulus to the economy provided by the outbreak of the war in August 1914 did not materially affect the bleak picture in the city until the fall of 1915.”

H.J. Horan, a Winnipeg real estate agent, told the Free Press on April 10, 1915, that farmland outside Winnipeg had been “ignored, pressed aside in favor of city property and subdivisions, notwithstanding the fact that the city cannot go ahead on a firm basis without farm development. A business man and his business cannot exist without the farmer, although the farmer can get along without the business man ...”

Of course, as a partner in the firm H.J. Horan-A.E. Robertson, which specialized in the sale of farmland, Horan had a vested interest in promoting such properties, but, at the same time, he was also echoing the concerns expressed in  communities outside Winnipeg, including the absence of publicity from the league about the advantages of settling in rural Manitoba.

For all intents and purposes, the league devolved into a Winnipeg-based organization run by Winnipeggers, who were only interested in benefits for the city, such as the market.

As Premier Roblin and Lawrence, the provincial minister of agriculture, asserted, the market was “purely a Winnipeg affair.”

Even the GGA and the Market Gardeners’ Association had to abandon any hope of revitalizing the central market. Thus, market gardeners were forced to again peddle their produce door-to-door, sell to middlemen, contract their crops out to pickling factories or set up shop in the outlying markets that arose in Winnipeg, such as the Dufferin Market in the city’s North End.

“The market was in the open yard between the buildings at the northwest corner of Dufferin (Avenue) and Derby (Street),” wrote Jim Blanchard in his book, Winnipeg 1912. “Farmers from north of the city brought vegetables, chickens, and dairy products to sell to local housewives, in a setting not very different from the ones in eastern Europe, where many of the women would have shopped before coming to Canada.”

The market was established by David Morosnik, a real estate agent, who lived beside the market.

“There seemed to be horses everywhere at the Jewish market on Derby Street,” wrote James Gray in his book, The Boy from Winnipeg,  “where my mother did her weekly shopping for vegetables and butter and eggs.”

While the Dufferin market and another on Colony helped to supply Winnipeggers with fresh vegetables on a seasonal basis, much of the produce eaten locally was imported. It was a perceived problem that seemed to defy resolution.

A 1914 report by the Manitoba Department of Agriculture and Immigration on mixed farming in the province stated that cauliflower grown in Denmark was bought in Chicago and then resold in Winnipeg.

In the case of onions, over 750,000 pounds came annually from the U.S., 300,000 pounds from Australia and another 450,000 pounds from Egypt, according to the report. “Celery crowds in at the rate of 750,000 pounds; cabbage and cauliflower nearly a million pounds; potatoes some years reach an importation of 25,000 to 50,000 bushels.

“There are large pickle factories located in Winnipeg. At least 25 per cent of the total garden stuffs used by these manufacturers is imported, in spite of the fact that they would prefer using home-grown products.

“One of the three firms last year imported enough to yield $12,000 to local suppliers if the supply had been forthcoming. A well-known Winnipeg alderman (councillor), who is himself a very successful truck farmer, estimated that Winnipeg sends out $20,000 per day for garden truck that can be grown in the immediate neighbourhood.”

The report claimed that the short supply of locally-grown vegetables was not due to quality, growing conditions, nor price, but a need of people “to go on the rich lands that await the production of foodstuffs.”

While a few market gardens still exist around the outskirts of the city, most of the land that was used for the earliest vegetable fields has been converted into residental and commercial developments. Even in the case of early 20th-century market gardens, the encroachment of the suburbs was viewed as a deterrent to the expansion of agricultural practices that had helped feed Winnipeggers and lessen the local reliance on imported produce. Instead of residents feasting on locally-grown produce, Winnipeggers were gobbling up agricultural land.

Today, large-scale agriculturalists  are further afield from the city and use more acreage to grow Manitoba produce under the label, Peak of the Market.

But there are still many roadside stands — for example, Henderson Highway in East St. Paul — or markets in communities that are supplied by local market gardeners. At the stands, often adjacent to family-operated market gardens, fresh produce is made available during the harvest season. As was the case years ago, discerning consumers savour the flavour of locally-grown vegetables  to the store-bought varieties from California and elsewhere, even though market gardening only provides some seasonal relief from the produce imported year-round from farflung nations.