Revelstoke farmers market divided over Wild Flight fight

A split emerged in the Revelstoke Farm & Craft Market after news emerged that Wild Flight Farm had its membership revoked.

Hermann Bruns (right) serves a Wild Flight Farm customer.

Hermann Bruns (right) serves a Wild Flight Farm customer.

A split has emerged in the Revelstoke Farm & Craft Market after news emerged that Wild Flight Farm, arguably the market’s most popular vendor, had its membership revoked by the board over the winter.

“I think people should know this is something the board has done on their own without consultation from the membership, as far as I know,” said Terra Park of Terra Firma Farm. “I feel that if this was something that happened at an AGM we wouldn’t be in this position.

“The majority of the members that I’ve spoken to are not in favour of the board’s decision.”

There was rumours of a split in the market over the winter but it only became public knowledge last week when the Revelstoke Current broke the story.

For the farmers market board, there were two issues at hand, said director Dan Meakes. One is that Wild Flight Farms had grown too big for the market and was crowding out smaller farmers.

“In the North Okanagan he’s the largest vegetable producer and has had probably the greatest longevity in the market world,” said Meakes. “When you have a multi-million dollar business and you’re competing with little family organized farms that are living on a shoe string, it becomes very difficult to grow the market for Revelstoke.”

The other issue, said Meakes, is Wild Flight was selling products purchased elsewhere at the market — a violation of the BC Association of Farmers Market policies. This caused a risk to the market’s insurance.

“We all become liable when (Wild Flight Farm) hasn’t grown it. That we’ve debated for four years,” said Meakes. “Year-by-year, people who were kind of new or crafters have not discovered that so exceptional resolutions have been made to leave (Wild Flight) in a privileged position. He’s the only one who imports stuff.”

Wild Flight Farm is owned and run by Hermann and Louise Bruns on 20 acres near Mara Lake. They have been coming to the Revelstoke market for more than 20 years and are its biggest vendor.

Every year, Hermann Bruns asked permission to sell products from other farms in the spring to bridge the gap until there was local produce available. The members have said yes, he said.

“We made a point of making sure we brought it (to a vote) each year so it would be totally up front and the other vendors would have a chance to vote on it,” said Bruns.

The BC Association of Farmers Markets (BCAFM) has a policy that vendors must grow, bake or make what they sell. It allows some flexibility by permitting 20 per cent of what a vendor sells to be from another local producer, but it leaves it to individual markets to define what is local. Bruns said he adhered to the restriction when he imported food.

Last summer, Bruns was president of the market’s board of directors, but a revolt took place at the fall meeting and a non-confidence vote was held and a new board was elected.

The new board, consisting of Tamaralea Nelles as president, Bob Lahue as vice-president, Dan Meakes, Marilyn Hart, and Inge Anhorn, didn’t send Bruns a membership application. Bruns’ sent one in any way but it was rejected and returned with a letter from a lawyer, he said.

Meakes said Wild Flight was as much a farm as it was a wholesaler for other farms.

“It’s a very different model of business. It’s not that we have difficulty with that, it’s that we don’t believe it’s part of the farmers market,” he said.

Sharon Bailey from Mayfair Farm supported the board.

“He would bring vegetables in from Mexico and their organic restriction is way different than Canada,” she said. “We’ve been trying for the last four years to get him to stop it and he wouldn’t.”

Allowing Wild Flight to import food put her at a disadvantage. “I’m a cucumber greenhouse grower and I come in with cucumbers in May and he comes in with cucumbers from Mexico. How unfair is that?” said Bailey. “I go home with cucumbers.”

Bruns said he would have stopped importing produce if that’s what the market decided. His issue is the membership wasn’t consulted and he wasn’t even allowed to ask the question this year. “If the rule now is you can’t do it and if the market decided not to do it, then I wouldn’t be able to do it,” he said.

Photo: The first summer market of 2017 is scheduled for May 20. ~ Revelstoke Review file photo

The BCAFM got involved by sending in a letter to the market explaining the “grow it, bake it, make it” policy and the benefits the market received from BCAFM membership. The Review contacted the BCAFM to find out if the Revelstoke market was at risk of getting kicked out of the association, but the BCAFM did not answer our questions.

“Although we define eligibility for BCAFM farmers’ market membership and work to support, promote and build capacity of our member farmers’ markets through our key focus areas, individual member farmers’ markets make governance and operations decisions about how to fulfill their organizational missions, including dedication to the B.C. make, bake, grow philosophy,” wrote Georgia Stanley, the BCAFM’s membership manager, in an e-mail. “The intention of the B.C. make, bake, grow mandate is to provide an authentic experience and venue where B.C. farmers can sell the goods they grow, raise and harvest in B.C. directly to the public. This supports BC’s small farmers, food producers and artisans, and provides British Columbians with access to local, BC, in season goods, direct from producers.”

The controversy has Bruns considering starting up his own market on the 200 block of Mackenzie Avenue that would be held at the same time as the current market. He said this is at an exploratory stage.

“It would look like the market had expanded, and isn’t that a cool thing,” he said. “That would be a way of making the best of a bad situation.”

Meakes said the plan since the fall was to have two markets. “Hermann was clear and those two markets would do business in different ways and those two businesses would jointly market,” said Meakes.

On this, his account differs from Bruns’, who told the Review last week he was still hoping to take part in the market, but on Monday wrote a letter to his customers saying he was out.

A second market would have support; Terra Park said she would join Bruns’ market.

“We are considering joining Hermann’s alternative market but we really hope it is resolved and it doesn’t come to that. As farmers and vendors we need to support each other,” she said.

The City of Revelstoke said it has not received any applications for a second market. Such a move would require a street closure and business licensing, and would require consulting with the businesses on Mackenzie Avenue.

The farmers market AGM is on April 8 and it will be a contentious affair.

“I haven’t seen a justification for kicking Hermann out of the market and I haven’t seen due process in place that would be required by our bylaws for kicking Hermann out,” said Mark Hartley of Stoke Roasted Coffee. “I’m concerned about the governance of the market and I’m hoping at our AGM the members will resolve the issue.”

The AGM is only open to vendors and Bruns said he is asking his allies to have him reinstated. He questioned the make-up of the board and market membership, and said it should be opened up to include members of the community.

Bailey said Bruns should move on. “He’s big enough that he should get a store and then there’d be no issues,” she said. “He could bring his vegetables in from wherever.”

Stuck on the sidelines of the dispute is the community. If reaction on social media is any indication, people stand firmly behind Wild Flight.

Melissa Hemphill, the food security coordinator for Community Connections, said she is in discussions with both sides to come up with a solution.

“All I want to say I’ve been working hard on it and we’re working towards a solution,” she said. “My approach is from a food access lens.”

Meakes said there are five new vendors coming to the market this year.

“We have five new young farmers who are going to engage the market. They’re all people who are a few years open, they’re young, and they’re trying to make a living by growing things,” he said. “I’m disappointed the community doesn’t know there’s a pile of new young farmers coming to town. I’m disappointed we haven’t been able to market as much food in Revelstoke as possible.”