By Kim Jackson
Special To The Standard
A few Market on the Green vendors are still not satisfied with the new rules and fees set by the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce for the farmers’ market this year, but Chamber officials and market committee members continue to maintain that the changes were necessary in order to offer a quality, agriculturally-driven market each Wednesday on The Green.
“What we were up against is there were people sneaking other lines of products in, new product lines that upset the proportionate mix that we had pledged to the town,” said Chamber President David Kanal. The Market on the Green, a chamber-created event, established a 60/20/20 rule when it was originally founded five years ago—60 percent of the products must be agricultural, 20 percent can be prepared foods and the other 20 percent, crafts. “Every market across the United States is run differently. Some are, in fact, vendor-owned and operated. This one was set up through the chamber.”
In March, the Woodstock Market on the Green Committee, which Kanal as well as Cathy Emmons, a farmer and co-founder of the market, are members, established a new fee structure and rules for vendors where if vendors chose to offer more than one type of product line, there would be an additional fee. According to the chamber’s website, season-long vendors, who choose to vend for all 18 Wednesday markets, pay $220 for their first product category. Then if they choose to sell in additional product categories, there are added charges: $60 per product for the full season or $30 per product for a half a season. To have a second product for the 18 weeks, it would cost a vendor an additional $2.50 per week, Emmons said.
“We have never said they couldn’t bring things,” said Emmons. “There were just extra fees for extra categories because a lot of vendors were starting to bring lots of different things like t-shirts, knit hats, etc. We have tried really hard to maintain the 60 percent agriculture, 20 percent prepared foods and 20 percent crafts. We have a definition as to what agricultural products are.”
Emmons said that definition is anything that farmers grow or produce on their own land and then make something from that product. A prepared food is something created either from another farmer’s products or was purchased. For instance, if a farmer wanted to sell pies, but buys the berries from another farmer, he didn’t grow those berries so that product would fall into the prepared foods category. “We’re not saying that they can’t do it, we’re just saying that it’s not the same,” Emmons said.
But a few vendors, who classify themselves as diversified farmers, disagree. They believe that the chamber is not looking out for the best interest of the farmer, and that today’s farmer must diversify in product offerings in order to make ends meet. Tina Tuckerman, who owns One Chicken at a Time farm in Barnard, attends various farmers markets and sells anything from lettuce to homemade wares. Tuckerman, along with Suzy Krawczyk of Thymeless Herbs in Woodstock who has had a strong voice on the issue but chose not to comment for this story, and a few other vendors who have been a bit more silent but no less discontented, have suggested that the Chamber is trying to make money off the farmers.
“All vendors should have the same fee, and it’s not only a flat fee but also an affordable flat fee,” said Tuckerman, who chose not to vend on The Green this season because of the increase in fees. “$250 is somewhat affordable. At the Mt. Tom Farmer’s Market on Saturday I only pay $75 for the season from mid-May through October. It’s board run, selected by our peers and the coordinator has been the same forever. We only have one page of rules and that’s pretty much be fair, be nice, have a great time. It doesn’t matter who does what. We don’t say you’re a craft vendor, you can’t join us this week because we have too many craft vendors. We’re all farmers but we’re all very different farmers. We kind of have a rule there so that as long as 90 percent comes off your farm, 10 percent can come off someone else’s farm. It would be more appropriate if somebody was looking out for all our best interest instead of their own best interest, instead of the chamber using it to fatten their wallets.”
The chamber and market committee have attempted to address these concerns about the financials and the new rules with a series of letters to vendors, including one that was sent in early May to discuss the various new rules and another one which was sent a few weeks ago releasing financial information about the market.
“This is not a thing where we’re trying to milk every penny out of farmers and agricultural people,” said Kanal. “For the trouble we go through, it is a tiny, tiny money maker. The reality is last year we lost money on it but it’s a commitment to the agricultural community and to a bigger extent the Woodstock community. There’s nothing to stop a group of vendors from doing this. It’s a huge undertaking.”
According to the letter the market committee sent in May, “the market committee did some research into definitions and guidelines that other markets use for these category definitions. The definition of an agricultural vendor at this market is ‘a vendor who sells food, fiber, plants, or flowers that were grown by the vendor. It also includes value-added agricultural products that are composed of 50 percent or more of ingredients or products that were grown on their own farm or property.’”
Tuckerman argues that farmers work hard and at the end of the day paying almost $350 to vend is just too much. At the Mt. Tom Farmers Market, she said, sometimes a farmer can’t always swing the $75 fee so vendors double up at a booth to save. “We’re all kind of a cooperative,” she said. “I will not go back no matter what this year. Next year a lot of things have to change.”
Kanal, Emmons and the committee are working on some changes and trying to work with vendors to gather feedback and move forward. Kanal did a walk-through of the market last week to gauge response to the most recent letter that included, according to Kanal, gross receipts and a copy of the budget. He said that other than one or two people, the comments were positive. Emmons agrees that she would like this whole issue resolved so that vendors are happy. She said that the list of concerns presented by vendors in April for the most part has been addressed.
“There are a couple of vendors who don’t want to compromise,” said Emmons. “And that’s too bad. We’re defining things by categories of farmers. It’s the product. It’s not who you are. We love for people to buy local goods whenever they can if they’re a vendor. But we’re just saying that if somebody is not growing that stuff themselves then they are a prepared foods vendor.”
Kanal said the reality of the whole issue is that the Market on the Green is a chamber event. But, he said, the committee is working with vendors to come up with solutions and compromises to some of the issues. One item on the table for discussion is to have a flat fee for all vendors. After the last market, the committee plans to host a dinner for the vendors so that vendors will all be in one place to discuss suggestions for making the market work for everyone.
“We’re working on these things,” said Kanal. “There are probably one or two people who will never be happy.”
This article first appeared in the July 14th print edition of the Vermont Standard.