Demand for public farmers markets in and around Montreal continues to grow, along with consumer frustration about what’s for sale and who’s selling it.

“Consumers complain because they only want to see local products in the market,” said Andre Plante, general manager of the Quebec Produce Growers Association.

“It doesn’t work because the dealer who rents space can’t afford to wait for Quebec-grown lettuce or tomatoes,” Plante said.

“To attract shoppers and make money, he has to increase his offering. That includes imports.”

The only solution, he said, is to ask tenants to clearly distinguish between local produce and imports.

“Then the consumer has a choice,” he said. “If they only want to buy local product, they can. It’s the only thing we can do.”

Consumers also want to see the grower behind the counter, he said, but fewer growers want to sell their produce at retail, citing a lack of time, so they sell their stall to a dealer.

“If you look back at our La Prairie market 15 years ago, 20 of the 27 tenants were growers,” he said.

“Today we have 27 stalls and only five growers. It’s the only way to do business today if you want to stay in business.”

La Prairie, which opened in 1968 on Montreal’s south shore, is the oldest of three public markets the QPGA owns.

“On the weekend, the lineup is so long on the big boulevard in front of the market, it can take 10-15 minutes to enter,” Plante said.

Plante said the association plans to become a financial partner in its new Longueuil market, also on the south shore, when the city builds a permanent year-round market there in 2014.