City council discusses potential farmers’ market changes

City council discusses potential farmers’ market changes
Flower stalls at a recent Old Town Farmers' Market (Photo Credit: Jonmark Nailor)

By Missy Schrott |

At Tuesday night’s legislative session, council members discussed potential improvements for the Old Town Farmers’ Market. Mae Carroll, Old Town market manager, and Al Coleman, deputy director for the department of general services, adressed everything from recent changes to market hours to an overview of the vendor application process.

The status update and ensuing discussion were prompted by a request at a previous city council meeting to have a generic, broad policy discussion about the farmers’ market. After recent frustration from vendors, such as Together We Bake, seeking permanent places at the market, the discussion veered toward stall turnover, the application process for new vendors and possible solutions to introduce new vendors into a market dominated by stall veterans.

Coleman reported most vendors have been at the market for an average of 10 years. Since 2014, only five permanent spaces have turned over. When there is an opportunity for a turnover, applications for the spot are considered by the Old Town Farmers’ Market Rules Committee, composed of seven voting members. Spots are filled depending on the type of product the committee and market manager are seeking.

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson asked if the committee has discussed increasing the turnover of stalls.

“We’ve heard both sides,” Coleman said. “We’ve heard from vendors who say, ‘It’s great for me to have a continual customer base,’ and we’ve heard the same from customers, that they like seeing the same vendors, but at the same time, there are plenty of new vendors who want to come into the market.”

In general, the rules committee determined that it’s not worth it in the long run to turn over stalls more quickly, since so much of the market’s success depends on relationships between vendors and repeat customers. Since kicking out old vendors was not a possibility the committee was willing to consider, a discussion began about other ways to introduce new vendors.

Coleman proposed two key solutions: (1) host another farmers’ market on Sunday mornings, or (2) expand the Saturday market to either the 100 block of North Royal Street or to Tavern Square.

Councilmembers agreed that expanding to North Royal Street to host more vendors was the most doable solution.

Mayor Allison Silberberg suggested a more reasonable response to last minute vendor cancellations. The current policy is vendors have to cancel within two weeks if they cannot attend the market so that others can fill in. This, however, leaves empty stalls if a vendor has a last minute cancellation. Silberberg suggested the committee create a system so that local vendors who can be ready on short notice have a chance to fill in.

Council is expected to further discuss potential changes in future meetings.