Vendors Weigh in on Farmers Market Rules

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Bill Bankhead, a long-time vendor at the Chestertown farmers market, speaks at the town council meeting Sept. 4

Vendors from the Chestertown farmers and artisans markets filled the room Tuesday night as the Chestertown Council discussed proposed new rules for the markets.

Chestertown’s Farmers Market is open every Saturday morning from 8:00 am til noon in Fountain Park.  The market is open year-round though it is busiest with the highest number of vendors from late spring through the fall.  Originally only carrying locally grown produce, the market has expanded in recent years to include artisans with colorful displays of various arts and crafts and a section for non-profit organizations such as the Humane Society and 4-H.

Fountain Park has been the location for a local market almost continuously since Colonial days –with a few years or decades off every now and then.  The current farmers market was established in 1981 after the previous market had faded away sometime in the ’60s. The market has operated under a one-page set of regulations since that revival in the early 1980s.  With a larger number of vendors and a wider range of products now being sold, the town decided to update the rules in 2012. But while a new set of rules was drafted, it was not put into practice at that point. This year, with the death of long-time farmers market manager Owen McCoy, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper undertook a revision of the rules to provide guidance for the market. She said she took the rules for the artisans market, which were more recent, and produced a combined set for all three groups–farmers, artists, and non-profits–using the market. The draft rules were introduced at the August 26 council meeting.

Chestertown Councilwoman Linda Kuiper describes proposed updates to farmers market rules

Among the issues Kuiper identified were the need for liability insurance for vendors at the market, enforcement of parking regulations, regularization of the fee schedule for vendors using more than one space, and a clearer definition of eligibility to participate as a vendor or non-profit organization.

Kuiper said the need for liability insurance was one of the largest issues. She said she looked into the budget for the farmers market, to see if it generated enough income to allow the town to add a rider to its insurance to cover the market. She said she needed a more detailed breakdown of the expenses of maintaining the park before she could be sure the revenue could cover a rider to insure vendors.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town has $1 million in liability insurance for town-sponsored events in the park. He said the only issue he could think of was negligence, such as a vendor leaving something sticking into a walkway that a patron could trip over. He said vendors would need to be insured to cover their own negligence. “I think people should protect themselves,” he said, citing an incident 25 years ago that cost a vendor $20,000 for negligence.

Kuiper said she had been “inundated” by an email campaign on the market rules that arrived the day of the meeting. She said many of the writers said the market should be expanded to include a wider range of products. “I’m not against expanding the market, but it’s not my choice,” she said. “There are only so many spaces down there.”

Mayor Chris Cerino said the main issue arose from the farmers market’s popularity. “It’s a great problem to have,” he said. “We’re trying to fix something that really isn’t broken.” He said he went to the market last Saturday and was impressed by the number of people there, the “great produce,” and the foot traffic at other downtown businesses from people who came for the market.

Chestertown Farmers Market

Cerino said there were five “bullet points” he took from the email writers’ suggestions, all related to adding “more stuff” – which would require adding more area to the market space. He said the other side of Park Row was one possibility, though it would complicate access along that street. Several years ago, the town expanded the sidewalks on the High Street side of the park, adding about five more feet of brick to make room for more vendors, specifically for the artisans and non-profits. “and then they just migrated back” to the grass nearer to where the farm vendors are set up, so as to take advantage of the foot traffic there. “That sidewalk [on High Street] is empty,” during market hours, he said.

The bullet points included relaxing the requirement that vendors come from Kent and northern Queen Anne’s counties. Others suggested adding ready-to-eat foods or relaxing the requirement that vendors be non-commercial. Broadening the requirement that non-profits using the park be 501(c)(3) organizations was also suggested. Noting that all the requests essentially involved increasing the number of vendors allowed in the market, Cerino asked, “How much more can we do? The park gets the hell beaten out of it” by the foot traffic, he said, noting that sod laid down three years ago is now gone. “The park gets loved to death,” he said. “Are we willing to make it bigger?”

Kay MacIntosh, the town’s director of economic development, said she had been hearing a lot of requests from people wanting to get into the market for the last year. She said those who commented were trying to make sure that their viewpoints and opinions were taken into account before the town passed new rules for the market. She said there wasn’t “some conspiracy” to flood the council with emails. “It really is an honest effort to participate in this wonderful small-town thing.”

Councilman David Foster said he had been approached by people asking questions when he went to the market the last couple of weeks. He noted that while the rules are for the benefit of the farmers, artisans, and non-profits using the park, the market also benefits the whole community. He said the town has “a wonderful resource” in the market, and that it needs to work collectively to make it the best it can be.

Cerino then opened the floor to questions from the audience. Bill Bankhead, who has been a long-time vendor at the market, said this was one of 19 markets he has attended over the years. He said Chestertown was the only market that required “payment by the tent,” which he characterized as “counterproductive to someone trying offer an attractive display.” He said variety is one of the major appeals of the market.

Bankhead said nobody had informed him of the council meeting or the rules until the previous Saturday. He asked what vendors had been asked for input on the new rules. Also, at successful markets, the market manager is there to solve problems at all times, from before opening to after closing. “I don’t think it’s good to just get the money and go,” he said. He said he attends the market 52 weeks a year, except when farm work such as baling hay needs to be done, and sometimes in the winter there are “four people there.” He said charging the full price to vendors in those circumstances was not good policy. “We’re the ones that are making the market, and you’re trying to suck out another 20 bucks? Some people sit there and don’t sell a thing, myself included.”  The current fee is $10 per assigned space per week.  Two spaces costs $20 per week.

Bankhead said the vendors do a lot of maintenance work at the park, such as shoveling snow and applying ice-melt in winter weather. He said he would like “some courtesy” from the town to recognize their efforts. He cited being asked to leave the park on short notice a few years ago for the Harry Potter festival. “Why wasn’t I told?” Cerino said that was an oversight, for which the town had apologized.

Kuiper asked whether other markets require advance notice from vendors who

plan to set up two tents. He said he sets up two tents at every market, most of which are conducted on paved surfaces. He objected to a rule prohibiting vendors from changing spaces. He said he does so when there are vacant spaces, or a very small number of vendors, so as to make the market more compact.

Wayne Lockwood of Lockbriar Farms said that other markets he has attended have a meeting of all their vendors at the beginning of the year. He said that was the best opportunity to hash out how many spots are available, who’s going to attend, and other issues. “I don’t think you need to invent the wheel again; the farmers market’s a great place.” He said it was a good idea to use more of the sidewalk around the park.

Kuiper noted that Wanda Gorman, the artisans market manager, holds an annual meeting.

Jen Baker, head of the Downtown Chestertown Association of business owners, said many prospective vendors who can’t find a place in the markets come to the association seeking assistance. “We’d love to see that extend a bit because all [the vendors] bring a lot of business into Chestertown.” She said the market can act as an incubator for local businesses, citing Evergrain Bread Company’s transition into a storefront business after starting off as a market vendor. She said the rule requiring vendors to be “non-commercial” was unrealistic.  “I think every single business owner in the room right now has commercial interests.”

The criteria for defining “non-commercial” have not been explicit although it is usually interpreted to mean vendors who do not have a local storefront and whose products are generally home-grown or hand-made by the vendor and not merely purchased by the vendor for resale in the market.   Also, Baker said, the DCA would welcome vendors who fill gaps in the local business environment, such as a fishmonger or coffee roaster, two prospective vendors whose applications were turned down recently. She said the local business community doesn’t see the market as competition. Finally, she said she would like to see the sale of prepared foods allowed, adding to the variety available in town. “We’re hoping we can expand the footprint a little bit to offer more great things and hopefully more business for all of us here in the community.”

Artisans market manager Gorman said the group has a meeting every year to review the rules, invite new vendors, and see which vendors plan to return. She said there was a lot of negative response to the new rules, especially about the need for insurance. She said she checked with her homeowners’ insurance carrier and was told it would cost her $320 a year for liability coverage. “Personally, I don’t feel that’s an exorbitant amount if you’re there April through December,” she said. However, she said she would be interested if the town does put a special policy for vendors together.

Bill Kelly, who said he’d been doing the farmers market for Redman Farms for 15 years, said he never heard of the new regulations until Saturday before the meeting. His reaction was, “My God, six pages of regulations?” He said he was unable to find the regulations on the town website. The draft rules are posted on the Chestertown website. Kelly said vendors should have been given a chance for input. “Call a meeting of the vendors, we’re more than willing to work with you.” He also said the farmers market does not kill grass in the park. “We do everything we can to protect that park.” He complimented the council for supplying a porta-potty for the vendors. Kuiper said Roy Mears had paid for the toilet.

Richard Crane, who sold honey in the park for three or four weeks this summer, said provisions need to be made for products that are time-limited. He said it was gratifying that people enjoy local honey and that many spoke to him about the danger honeybees are in. He said the other vendors constitute “a community unto itself,” and said he regretted only being there for a short time to sell.

Deb Layton said the National Farmers Market Coalition has insurance available for $275 a year. She said she would send information to the town so it can see if it could apply to the local market.

Dolly Baker thanked McCoy’s daughters for their work to manage the market after his death, and Kuiper for her work on the rules. She said many of the vendors came to the meeting after seeing a newspaper article about proposed changes, concerned that new rules might be passed without any input from them.

Bankhead said someone needs to enforce the boundaries between the vendors’ territory and the non-profit section of the market. Kuiper said she and Gorman do so when they see someone in the wrong section.

Cerino thanked the vendors for coming to the meeting. “The farmers market is a great, great thing – I think we all recognize that. I appreciate your input.” He said he would synthesize the vendors’ comments and make decisions on necessary changes. He said he would try to have the rules ready as an agenda item for the next meeting, Sept. 17.

Here’s links for the websites for the Chestertown Farmers Market and the Artisans Market.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Recently someone told me that no drinks of any kind can be sold at the Farmers Market.
    I understand that stipulation was put in place to benefit Dunkin Donuts.
    Could this possibly be true and why?
    I don’t understand.
    Rich Bolton Rich’s Dog Days

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