The Chestertown Mayor and Council discussed new rules for the Chestertown farmers and artisans markets with an audience including a number of vendors at the markets at the Sept. 17 council meeting.
Mayor Chris Cerino began the discussion by outlining several “bullet points” he derived from the discussion of the market at the Sept. 4 council meeting as well as from emails received from the public:
Expand the space available for vendors
Expand the geographic area from which vendors will be accepted
Relax a rule requiring vendors to be non-commercial
Change or eliminate a requirement that non-profits have 501(c)(3) status
Allow prepared ready-to-eat foods to be sold
Allow vendors of seasonal items to have space for part of the year
Settle questions about insurance coverage for the market and vendors
Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, whose ward includes the Fountain Park area where the market is held, gave a summary of her research on the market rules, which she had prepared a revision of. She said there are some 25 types of 501 non-profit organizations, and she suggested expanding the market’s requirements to include all of them. She said the market already allows prepared foods, subject to inspection by the Kent County Health Department, and that vendors of seasonal items are already being accommodated. She said the suggested provisions in the 6-page draft she had prepared were already in a shorter version of the rules prepared in 2012. Kuiper also noted that vendors in the artisans market pay a $20 application fee, but no such fee has been imposed on farmers market vendors.
Councilman Marty Stetson said the pavement on the High Street side of Fountain Park was widened several years ago to make room for more vendors, but nobody currently uses it. He said the artisans want to be close to the farmers because that is where the most foot traffic is. He suggested moving some of the farmers, especially those who have sites on the inside of the park, to High Street, where they will be able to park their vehicles by their space and have more room than they now do. He said putting farmers on both sides of the market would benefit artisans because more customers would walk from one side of the park to the other, going past all the vendors in the middle. It might be necessary to close one lane of High Street to traffic on Saturday mornings when the market is on, he said.
Councilman David Foster asked if vendors would be required to move or be given a choice.
“Nobody will move voluntarily,” said Kuiper. However, she agreed that some vendors who don’t currently have curb space might make the move in order to park a truck next to their assigned site. The plan might also allow the market to add more vendors.
Cerino said the market could begin expansion by placing new vendors on High Street. He said the town should work with a new market manager, replacing the late Owen McCoy, to encourage other vendors to move. He said the town would also have to “step up” to ensure that the High Street side of the park is clear for vendors to use. He opened the floor to comments from the vendors in the audience.
James Lockwood of Lockbriar Farms noted that there were “a lot of experts in this room,” referring to the many vendors who sell both at Chestertown and other farmers markets. He said the market manager and vendors should work together with the town to decide on the rules.
Cerino agreed that the vendors should be more involved in the market rules. He said he would welcome an annual meeting with vendors to work out issues. He said the town has a stake in the market because of liability issues, since it is conducted on town property.
Other audience members had more specific questions. Bill Flook of the Kent County Democratic club, which sets up a tent in the non-profit area of the park, asked about the 501(c)(3) requirement.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town has never required non-profits to show such credentials. “Local and non-profit is all I ask about,” he said. He said the only problem would be with a “church-state issue,” with a religious group proselytizing on town property.
Ingersoll said the town should submit any proposed rules to the vendors using the market for comment and suggested revisions. “Let us know what works for you,” he said to the vendors.
Vendor Bill Bankhead raised an issue with a rule against the idling of gasoline engines for more than five minutes, noting that he uses a generator to keep his produce at a safe temperature. Kuiper said the proposed rule was based on Maryland state law and intended to avoid exposing the public to fumes, but could possibly make an exception for small generators.
Cerino then went down the list of bullet points, asking the council for their take on each. Council members agreed that expanding the area of the market to High Street was worth exploring and that the geographic range should be expanded to include vendors for Cecil and southern Queen Anne’s counties. The 501(c)(3) requirement would be dropped, making any local non-profits eligible to operate in the park during farmers market. Vendors of prepared foods and short-term seasonal vendors will be permitted.
At the end of the discussion, the council unanimously approved a resolution instructing Ingersoll and Kuiper to work up a draft set of rules based on comments at the meeting and focusing on the bullet points Cerino identified. The complete draft will be forwarded to market vendors for their input.
Also at the meeting, Nathan Shroyer made several recommendations concerning parks and playgrounds in the community. Look for a full account in an upcoming Spy story.