Farmers market changes eyes
MARQUETTE – The Marquette Downtown Development Authority board is set to begin a process that could result in food from beyond the Upper Peninsula being sold at the city’s weekly farmers market.
The board is looking to review policies related to the Downtown Marquette Farmers and Artists Market and voted last month to review a farmers market “guidelines, policies, administrative mechanisms and fee structure,” according to authority Executive Director Mona Lang.
Reworked policies could also allow for resellers and wholesalers to obtain booths at the market.
In a presentation to the Marquette City Commission this week, Lang indicated the board would likely review the need for regulations that require vendors be residents of the U.P., as well as those that mandate their produce or products be made, grown or harvested in the U.P. Additionally, the board will review the necessity of a regulation banning resellers and wholesalers from the market.
“The DDA board’s perspective is that the market needs to be as inclusive as possible,” Lang told the city commission. “They see those exceptions as exclusionary.”
The market started in the late 1990s and has been held in the downtown Marquette Commons each Saturday during the season since 2007. Lang said the DDA has been responsible for the market since 2009, but that the regulations haven’t seen a substantial update since at least 2006.
She said she DDA board recently began discussing the overall purpose of the market.
“Is it to support and promote local food and farmers or primarily support downtown businesses with a secondary opportunity for farmers?” she said during the commission meeting. “The DDA, as an organization, does not see this as a cross-purpose.”
The market should serve both goals, she said.
Lang said some state programs define local food as being from the state of Michigan and, in some cases, neighboring states. When researching other comparable markets, she found that some require a certain percentage of a vendor’s produce – 90 percent in some cases, 75 percent in others – to come from Michigan.
She said most markets she looked at require vendors only to be residents of the state, though some give preference to local vendors or those from neighboring counties.
The DDA board has strong support for the market, she said, but is looking to make the market more inclusive, while also making the operation more self-sustainable. That shift could include vendor fee increases for a market that this year received more than 80 applications for 41 available spaces.
Though increased inclusiveness may result in more applications, Lang said it should balance out.
“I think part of it is demand. Part of it is access. Part of it is that it’s only $60 to participate in our market. Some of that will be controlled with fees,” Lang said. “As fees go up, you’re going to have some that just aren’t interested in participating in the market because it’s just not worth their while.”
Lang said any revisions won’t take place until later in the year and likely won’t take effect before the summer of 2014.
Under current market regulations, all vendors must be U.P. residents and all food and items sold at the market must be grown or created in the peninsula.
According to the regulations, “no jobbers, resellers, or wholesalers are permitted to sell at the market.”
There is, however, a subsequent exception to that rule allowing Farmer Q’s, a downtown produce reseller, to sell at the market. Farmer Q’s food products are not required to come from the U.P., though the regulations indicate the business “must be able to provide information to the consumer as to which farm(s) produced the products and where each farm is located.”
Spiessl Produce Inc., which used to sell at the market, receives the same exemptions.
Susan Brian, owner of Farmer Q’s, said her business has taken part in the market for about a decade. She would welcome a policy shift eliminating both the specific exception for Farmer Q’s, so long as it is coupled with the elimination of the ban on resellers.
“I’d be more than happy if they change the rules,” she said. “I am all for that.”
Brian said a shift wouldn’t really impact Farmer Q’s, so long as the new regulations include an expansion of acceptable produce to include that grown throughout the state.
“That’s all we have ever brought to the market – Michigan fresh produce,” she said. “We sell all types of things in our store, but Michigan produce, whatever is in season, that’s what we bring to the market. That’s all we bring.”
Brian said that due to their presence at the market, Farmer Q’s has received push-back from local farmers for years.
“It’s become this weird political thing when it is just supposed to be a draw for downtown Marquette and to complement the downtown businesses,” she said.
A discussion about reworking the market regulations to possibly eliminate any bans on resellers hasn’t helped that relationship.
During the city commission meeting, Marquette Township resident and farmer Mike Hainstock read a letter written by fellow farmer Jeff Hatfield, on behalf of the Marquette Area Farmers Guild.
Hatfield’s letter said local farmers should not be forced to compete with wholesalers and resellers at the market. Hatfield is one of the owners of the Seeds and Spores Family Farm in Chocolay Township.
“A weekly farmers market is just that – a place for farmers to bring their produce to town to sell for local consumption,” the letter stated. “A market should be a place where they are not forced to compete with a grocery store.”
Before reading the letter, Hainstock said he understood that the issue may be beyond the jurisdiction of the commission, but that he was hoping to raise awareness of the issue.
It is unfair for a reseller to sell beans while local farmers try to sell their own, the letter stated.
“It takes a lot of effort for the local farmers to plant, weed and harvest their beans. They should not have to compete with a grocery store reselling beans at the same market,” Hatfield said in the letter. “The grocery store beans were grown on a larger scale, in a warmer climate, bought at wholesale prices and trucked into Marquette to be resold at our farmers market. It does not make sense and is, in fact, at odds with the encouragement of local food production.”
In the letter, Hatfield said the farmers guild has previously approached Farmer Q’s with a request that the business only sell produce complementing what is in season locally. The guild did not receive a positive response, he said.
Brian said she never had that conversation with guild representatives.
“They never approached us,” she said. “No. Never happened. I don’t know anything about that.”
The DDA board meets at 7:30 a.m. the second Thursday of each month in the DDA office at 203 S. Front St. in Marquette. The next meeting is Aug. 8.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org