Julia King is the new manager of the Chestertown Farmers Market.
Councilwoman Linda Kuiper introduced King at the town council meeting Oct. 21. King, who works at her brother’s mushroom farm in Barclay, said she has been going to farmers’ markets for about five years and has been regularly at the mushroom booth in the Chestertown market for the last year. She also works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, which administers programs including loans, credit, conservation, and disaster relief for farmers.
King was the only applicant for the position. The council approved the appointment unanimously.
“I’ve always been involved in the ag community, ever since I was little,” King told the council. She helped her brother establish his business, King Mushrooms, which involves taking the product to about 20 farmers’ markets around the state and region. “So I have quite a lot of experience dealing with farmers’ markets, and vendors, and market managers. We’ve always done Chestertown Farmers Market – I think it’s a very good market, and I think it has done very well for itself.” She said she thought the only thing the market needs is “a little bit of leadership right now.” She said she thought the transition would be easy once she starts working.
King added in an email on Oct 23, “I was a member of 4-H from ages 8-18 and during high school/college I worked at Godfrey’s Farm in Sudlersville. I am originally from Church Hill but I live in Centreville now. I graduated from the University of Maryland and now work for the Department of Agriculture.”
She added, “Chestertown Farmers Market is very fortunate to have producers grow a diverse array of products in various ways (regenerative, organic, conventional, etc) that are beneficial to the local economy and the customers. People that come to the market are able to buy food that supports the local economy, have a better understanding of where their food comes from, and participate in an event that brings the community together. I believe that my job as market manager is to continue to ensure that both vendors’ and customers’ needs are being met through leadership and organization. By communicating well with vendors, customers, and the town, I think that the market will continue to be the success that is today.”
Councilman David Foster praised her brother’s mushrooms. “I hope you know what you’re getting into,” he said. “Yes, I’m very aware of what I’m getting into,” King replied with a smile.
Councilman Marty Stetson asked if King had been at the market the last two Saturdays when the vendors have worked both sides of High Street and Park Row instead of setting up on the Fountain Park grass. He asked what she thought of the new setup.
King said that the new setup is “a little inconvenient” for some of the vendors who were used to having a specific spot in the park every Saturday, but she thought it would work to get the grass established. “I just think it needs a little cooperation from all sides, but I think it can be successful.” She said it might be worth trying to set up vendors on all sides of the park instead of on both sides of the two streets. “I think you have enough vendors” to set up all around the outside of the park, she said. Another advantage of that setup would be to open up parking for customers on the other side of Park Row form the park, she said.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he hoped the new configuration would work out for everyone, including local merchants. He said he had received no complaints at this point. “I’ve got my fingers crossed,” he said.
Wanda Gorman, manager of the artisans’ market, said the overall consensus of her vendors was that they loved being on both sides of High Street. Customers’ reaction was also positive, she said. “I guess I never realized how narrow those sidewalks (in the park) were,” she said. In the new setup, customers have room to spread out and to stand and look at displays without blocking others from getting past, she said. She also praised the town police for doing a good job in closing the streets, noting that they were done well before she comes to the market – “and I get there very early.” She said the new setup “is like a street fair, every Saturday.”
Kuiper also called up the issue of the Farmers Market’s GoFundMe account, created by former market manager Sabine Harvey to help support the market’s program of accepting WIC and SNAP payments for market goods. She said the account currently sits at just over $800. The market received a $2,000 Maryland Markets grant early this year to support the program. “We went through that in nothing flat,” she said. She said the market could apply for another grant next year. She asked the town to match the $2,000 already granted from the vendors’ fees at the market, which have totaled $14,500 so far this year.
King said she would apply for the grant next year. Maryland Markets also supplies training for running the program, she said.
Cerino suggested that the town match the amount donated to the GoFundMe account, up to $2,000. “That lets the public step up” to support the program, he said.
Stetson objected to allocating tax dollars to a charity, as he characterized the SNAP and WIC programs. He said the vendors’ fees from the market were designated for maintenance of Fountain Park.
Kuiper said the fees are not tax dollars, but “come out of the vendors’ pockets.” She said the budget estimated the fees at $10,000 at the beginning of the year, so there is $4,500 more than anticipated. Ingersoll confirmed that $10,000 would be adequate for maintaining the park.
Kuiper said that if the market remained on the two adjacent streets instead of in the park proper, the farmers and artisans would not be responsible for damage to the grass. Foster moved to make a matching contribution, up to $2,000, to the GoFundMe account. The motion passed by a 3-1 vote, with Stetson opposed and Kuiper abstaining because of her connection to the market.
There was also some discussion of whether the new Farmers Market configuration with booths on High Street would affect the upcoming Halloween and Christmas parades. Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown said there should be enough room for the parades to come through, although she said it would be good to move the reviewing stand to the 200 block of High Street, where it usually sits for the Tea Party parade. Police Chief John Dolgos indicated from the audience that the police would have no problem with the arrangement.
Also at the meeting, Dolgos delivered the monthly police report; a group received permits for a “Sober October” event in Fountain Park, and former councilman Jim Gatto addressed the council on the future of the police department. Look for coverage of these issues in a future Chestertown Spy report.