Council OKs New Rules for Farmers’ Market

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Farmers’ Market vendor Jane Malone reads a suggested rule revision to members of the Chestertown Council.

The Chestertown Council, at its meeting December 17, agreed on new rules for the town’s farmers market after accepting input from vendors and other stakeholders.

Mayor Chris Cerino opened the discussion by noting that the council had been working on the revised rules for several months. An initial draft, presented to the council at the end of the summer, drew vendors to the Sept. 6 council meeting to comment on issues they were unhappy with, and the council agreed to circulate a revised list of rules for the vendors’ input. The responses, Cerino said, ran to seven single-spaced pages, which didn’t all agree with one another. The key suggestions were incorporated in a new version, which was again submitted to vendors for their comments. A number of vendors appeared at the Dec. 17 meeting to make their concerns known.

Cerino quickly summarized the main differences from earlier drafts. There will be no fee increase, and no vendors will be asked to move from their customary spaces. Non-profit groups using the market will not be required to obtain 501 C3 status. And priority for spaces in the market will be given to vendors from Kent County, with Queen Anne’s- and Cecil-based vendors next in line, as space allows. “Nobody’s going to be kicked out,” he said.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll added that vendors will not be required to have liability insurance, although it is strongly recommended. Also, he said, the town will try to meet vendors half-way on whether to open the market in bad weather, such as a hurricane or snowstorm by consulting with them before making a decision. He noted that it’s difficult to know very far in advance just what the weather will be on a given Saturday.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether the rules should designate reserved parking for vendors on High Street. He said the town had widened the sidewalk along the street a few years ago with the intention of putting vendors there.

Cerino said that overflow vendors could be moved to High Street if there was “a ton of demand” for market space. He said the market manager should be the initial judge of whether the High Street space would be needed. He thought it would be an issue primarily in the prime season, from April to October.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, whose ward includes the downtown area where the market is held, said she had spoken to representatives of the Chestertown Garden Club, which was studying whether to replace the sod on the Park Row side of the park. She said it might be necessary to move vendors from that area to High Street if the re-sodding project takes place. She said she had asked the Garden Club to put their request in writing and possibly send representatives to a council meeting to discuss their plans.

The grass in the park is in the worst condition in years, Cerino said. The park was re-sodded two years ago, but with heavy foot traffic and shade from the trees, he said it’s hard to get grass to grow. It basically needs to be re-sodded every couple of years, he said.

Kuiper also said that the rules should state that annual application fees are due January 1 of each year.

Farmers market vendor Dolly Baker asks about new market rules at the Chestertown Council meeting.

Cerino then turned to the audience for comments. Dolly Baker, a long-time vendor, said she would like to see the deadline for applications extended to Feb. 1 this year, because of the new rules coming into effect. Also, she said, there needs to be a provision for seasonal members, vendors whose products are only in season for a short time each year.

Kuiper said there is always a spot for seasonal vendors; “It’s never been a problem,” she said. “They’ve been worked in.”

Cerino suggested adding a sentence to the rules stating that seasonal vendors would be accommodated as needed.

Baker said she had filled out applications with the Kent County Department of Health. “Does the town get a copy?” she asked. She said representatives of the county came around and checked that vendors were displaying their certificates. “We just didn’t know if there was any communication to you,” she said.

Ingersoll said he hoped the health department would let the town know of any issues. He said returning vendors shouldn’t have to worry about being approved.

Baker also questioned the meaning of a rule stating that the market manager can ask a vendor to leave if they aren’t making “a significant contribution” to the market. She asked whether that would be a matter of monetary contribution, the manager’s opinion, or something else.

The rule was in the context of a vendor whose produce was found to be sub-par, Ingersoll said. “It means they’re making an effort to improve,” he said. He said the rule might be rephrased to that effect.

Jane Malone, another vendor, asked about a rule referring to licenses. She said the language is technically inaccurate, in that vendors don’t have licenses per se. Cerino suggested changing the reference to state that vendors must comply with “all applicable federal and state laws.” Malone said that would satisfy her request.

Malone asked about parking for vendors whose slots are on the grass inside the market, and therefore don’t have curbside slots. “It’s a haul for those of us bringing in produce,” she said, noting that allocation of spaces is “a tricky subject.”

Cerino said the town could reserve High Street spaces if three or four vendors got together and requested them.

Baker said nonprofit groups often take up parking spaces along the High Street perimeter before vendors get to the market. She asked if there is a way to reserve nearby spaces for market vendors.

Kuiper said the artisans’ market manager tells vendors they’re not allowed to park at Fountain Park. She said High Street is reserved for farmer vendors if there is any demand for the spaces.

Ingersoll suggested that nonprofits not be allowed to set up until an hour after the market opens, so as to allow vendors a chance to park close to their spots. Baker called that “a great suggestion.”

Cerino asked the council if they were prepared to pass the rules, contingent upon the suggested revisions discussed at the meeting. Councilman David Foster so moved, and the motion was passed unanimously. Town Clerk Jen Mulligan will work with Ingersoll and Kuiper to finalize the updated rules.

Baker thanked the council for its work. She said she would ask the market managers to call a meeting of vendors so everyone could get on the same page.

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