Farmers' markets slowed by picketing health inspectors

[attach]402[/attach]It’s the day after Canada Day and North York Civic Centre Farmers’ Market at Mel Lastman Square is open for business in spite of the striking city workers who march in front of the square’s fountain, now filled with stagnant water and accumulating trash.

But beyond the picketers’ chanting “Miller, Miller, contract killer”, it’s a quiet day at market. The city made a decision June 30 to allow farmers’ markets on city property to proceed, but it’s not business as usual for all the vendors.

Sitting on the back of her truck during a slow moment — there seems to be plenty of those today — Lina Canzona of Kountry King Sausages gestures towards a barbeque that sits in the truck, unused. She says she was told she can’t use it to barbeque the sausages she sells because health inspectors are on strike.

Services such as restaurant health inspections have been suspended during the strike.

Though Conzona is still selling sausages and buns, she says she’s lost big bucks as a result of her not being allowed to barbeque them. Normally there are line-ups of people waiting for them, she says. She figures she’s lost $1,000 in sales today alone.

“It’s disgusting,” Canzona said. “I feel like crying when I think about this. We depend on this business in the summer.”

Canzona has been doing the farmers’ market circuit for 35 years and participates in three other markets in Toronto. She’s not sure what she’s going to do if she can’t sell sausages from the barbeque.

“We have bills to pay,” she said. “We have employees to pay. I don’t think this is fair.”

Gesturing towards the hotdog and sausage vendor on the sidewalk outside of the square, Canzona wonders why street vendors selling food can be allowed to operate and she can’t.

“The law is supposed to be for every one,” she said.

Market manager Marlene McKay of WillowTree Farm says Kountry King Sausages is the only vendor at the market affected by the strike in this way, and that she and fellow board members will continue communicating with the city and Toronto Public Health on the issue.

“We’ll be asking and talking to them and hopefully they’ll say yes,” McKay said.

Though McKay says she wants the city to allow vendors like Canzona to operate as they normally would, she’s grateful the market is open at all.

“We’re just thankful that we’re here.”

She says city councillors and Toronto Public Health department worked hard to get the markets open, and that she doesn’t want to be kicked out. “I’m not bulldozing anyone.”

But as a farmer herself who participates in four other city markets, McKay acknowledges how crucial summer farmers’ markets are to the success of the growers.

“If you don’t make it now it’s not a good winter,” she said. “The crops don’t wait. You don’t but it in a jar.”