By Alvin Tsang
After being prohibited from selling to other shops and grocers, The Merry Dairy teamed up with them to sell ice cream in their parking lots instead.
“Pints Across Ottawa” was a two-day thank-you tour and fundraiser that took place Aug. 19-20. The unofficial slogan of the event was “where you can pick up a pint, where you might have once picked up a pint.”
Businesses that participated included Herb and Spice, Thyme & Again, Around the Block Butcher Shop, Jacobsons, and more.
Marlene Haley, owner of The Merry Dairy (located at 102 Fairmont Ave.), was baffled when an inspector for Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) walked into her ice cream shop on July 28 to halt their wholesale operations.
“The officer informed us that because we weren’t a dairy plant under the Milk Act, we could not sell wholesale, this despite the fact that our custom mix is prepared in a licensed dairy and delivered to us weekly,” The Merry Dairy wrote on Twitter July 28.
Haley researched the Milk Act following OMAFRA’s visit and understood it as a law designed for large distributors. According to Haley, the law served to regulate dairy products being shipped across the province and allowed for the tracking and tracing of dairy products between wholesalers. The protections are in place for when the supplier is removed from the product, and there is a case of safety hazard.
“How could it be that we could safely sell our ice cream directly to a customer who comes into our shop, but it wasn’t safe to sell to a customer across the street?” Haley said in an interview with Kitchissippi Times.
“We were selling to other businesses that were two or three blocks away,” Haley added. “We’re very, very local, and everything that the Milk Act stands for, it isn’t meant for us.”
Effective the day OMAFRA arrived in their shop, The Merry Dairy pulled all of their ice cream off the shelf.
“We even drove around town to take all the ice cream back from the other shops,” Haley said. “It felt like we were letting down all those independent shops, but we needed time to figure out all these rules.”
After they shared their story on Twitter, the local business caught the attention of the community.
“We put out a Twitter message that night (July 28), to explain what had happened to us, and, by the next morning, Twitter had become a crazy place,” Haley said. “It got really good traction, and it made us realise that people care, and that there were a lot of ice cream shops across the province just like us, who had been affected by the Milk Act, who just stopped selling, who didn’t have the energy to try to fight back or change anything.”
Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden, Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi and many others took notice and got involved.
A few weeks later, on Aug. 12, The Merry Dairy sent a letter proposal to OMAFRA to request for change.
“We’re asking them to work with us because it’s the fine wording and fine print of the Milk Act that’s the issue here. Let’s look at this rule and refine it. Let’s make it relevant to small businesses in 2022. Do we have to go backwards to the way things were before? Or can we look forward and be innovative?” Haley said.
The letter proposal can be read on the Merry Dairy website at themerrydairy.com/proposal