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Local farmer has beef about not being able to sell his organic eggs and chicken at farmers' market

'I have a unique product that customers want,' says Gerry Stephenson of his certified organic eggs and poultry

A local organic farmer is questioning why the Guelph Farmer’s Market won’t let him sell his organic eggs and chicken when he says there is clearly a demand from customers.

Gerry Stephenson is a farmer in Arkell who has been selling his produce, prepared products, poultry and eggs at the Guelph Farmer’s Market off and on for years.

Everything Stephenson grows at Drumlin Farm and sells at market is organic.

Recently, Stephenson said the market sent him a cease and desist notice by email stating he could no longer sell eggs and poultry.

The market’s way of correcting the problem was rude, said Stephenson.

“They don’t talk to you, they email you a cease and desist letter, with the City of Guelph written on the top. What am I supposed to think about that?” he said.

The market’s bylaws restrict the sale of eggs and poultry by more than three vendors, said Stacey Dunnigan, manager of culture and tourism for the city of Guelph.

“If there are already three or more vendors selling that product, then that request could be denied by the market clerk. The vendor still has the ability to go to the vendor executive and make a formal request to overturn the clerk’s decision,” said Dunnigan.

“In this case, Gerry did follow that process and the vendor executive at the time declined the request for him to sell his graded eggs and chicken,” she added.

Stephenson said he is the only vendor at the market selling certified organic eggs and poultry.

“I have a unique product that customers want,” he said.

Currently, the market’s bylaws do not differentiate between eggs and poultry that are organic with those that are not.

Many farmers, even organic ones, do not go through the expense Stephenson does in bringing organic wares to market, said Dunnigan.

“We know that is not a cheap endeavour to go through the (organic certification) program, but our rules don’t currently differentiate,” said Dunnigan.

Stephenson said he was up front with his intention to sell organic eggs and poultry when he applied to return to the market and was selling them successfully for a time.

“You don’t want to have 30 people selling eggs, sure I get that. But if there is a demand, there is a demand. The customers should decide,” said Stephenson.

Although he cannot sell his poultry and eggs at the market, Stephenson is allowed to sell value-added products, like chicken soup, that use the same poultry he is not permitted to sell by itself.

“It’s not like I’m going to take over the market with 14 chickens,” he said.

Stephenson installed a kitchen in the cellar of his barn, which he said is regularly inspected, where he produces other value-added products like soups and pasta sauces.

Dunnigan said the city is currently undertaking a full review of the market bylaws, and hopes Stephenson will participate in the upcoming public consultations. 

“We are actually just at the very beginning of that process for it to go in front of the new council in 2019 for approval,” said Dunnigan.