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New rules to help regulate farmer’s market

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In an effort to better organize and provide security for the Yellow Springs Farmer’s Market in Kings Yard, this year market organizers have for the first time created a set of guidelines for vendors. Among the new rules are that vendors must apply for and pay for a space, they must have liability insurance, and they are limited to selling items that were either grown or made in their home county.

The reorganization of the 30-year local market is something Kings Yard owner Cathy Christian was compelled by her insurance company to do, and market coordinator Michele Burns said that formalizing the market could serve to strengthen it. But though some vendors will continue to come to market as usual, the changes will discourage and even prohibit others from setting up a booth this year.

The farmer’s market, which officially opens from May 2 through Oct. 30, currently has room for approximately 25 vendors in a slightly expanded space in the parking lot behind Kings Yard. According to the guidelines that were distributed several weeks ago, all vendors are required to fill out an application with proof of general liability insurance coverage of $1 million. Vendors must also pay between $5 and $10 a day, or $32 a month, for an assigned space, and they must commit to being there between 6:30 a.m. and noon. Vendors may only sell items or produce that were made or grown in their Ohio county of residence, and all items are subject to approval by Christian, who owns the yard under the business name Upland Corporation.

Last spring when Burns, who owns Flying Mouse Farms with her husband John Dewine, volunteered to coordinate the market, she found that at its peak with 23 vendors, the space became overcrowded. Former yard owner Roger Hart, who died last month, never regulated the market, and vendors set up on a first-come, first-serve basis. But that system sometimes caused conflict between vendors vying for a spot, Burns said, and it also resulted in complaints from nearby residents who were disturbed by vendors showing up at 4 a.m. to claim their favorite spot.

According to both Burns and longtime Yellow Springs market vendor Leslie Garcia of Peach Mountain Organics, most farmer’s markets in the area are regulated and require insurance from the vendors. Many markets also require that their vendors sell only locally grown produce because that is what customers expect, they said. Selling produce purchased wholesale or at auctions runs counter to the spirit of a local farmer’s market, and the lower prices of mechanized produce tend to undercut local growers. Besides, Burns added, shoppers can buy produce from bigger distributors at Tom’s Market next door.

The cost of commercial insurance averages about $250 a year, according to Burns, who said that some people may be able to get event-specific insurance for less, or piggyback it onto their home or car insurance. That still may prove too steep for local bread makers Manzara and Chad Reed, who sold at last year’s market for the first time. The cost of renting the space and securing insurance would significantly cut into their modest profits, and they are considering moving to the Thursday evening South Town Farmer’s Market at Dollar General parking lot and maybe to a farmer’s market in Xenia, which Chad Reed said does not require insurance.

Local grower Suzanne Patterson, who has sold produce at the Yellow Springs market from her Rabbit Run Farm for over 15 years, is not likely to participate in this year’s market, she said this week. She doesn’t want to pay for insurance, and she doesn’t like that the new regulations will likely squeeze out the smaller operations and nonprofit groups that come to educate residents about important issues.

The fact that some vendors will no longer be able to participate has spurred Susan Fecteau, a grower from Jamestown, and Alicia Caulfield, maker of Caulfield and Sons natural skin care products, to look for alternatives. They like the diversity and folksiness that the unregulated market allowed, and feel that greater rigidity would take away the color and flavor that makes the market local, they both said last week. They are considering organizing a more open market at a different location to complement the one at Kings Yard.

But at least one local grower, Jessica Wyant of Purple Moon Farm, has chosen to avoid the Yellow Springs Farmer’s Market for the past several years precisely because of the problems Burns cited. She took her berry and soap making goods to sell at Springfield and Columbus markets because without well-organized procedures of operation, the “free-for-all” at the Yellow Springs market drew too many vendors, who weren’t necessarily committed to growing their own produce and were selling wholesale items.

“We’re very thrilled that we can come back home and sell here again,” Wyant said. “We feel that a local farmer’s market is the proper outlet for local growers — that way consumers know what they’re getting.”

The new farmer’s market rules are “certainly fair,” said Garcia, who felt that Roger Hart was “overly gracious” to allow vendors to use his property without any compensation and probably some headaches. “We are there at the good graces of Roger, and now his daughter Cathy,” she said. “To us, it all seems pretty reasonable.”

Though the new guidelines have been established for this year, both Christian and Burns said they are open to discussing changes vendors feel would make the process better. They are committed to having a strong farmer’s market, and they also want to help those who may have trouble complying. Burns knows of some markets whose board of directors carries insurance for the whole market.

“Cathy is committed to keeping the market here and supporting it,” Burns said. “It’s a matter of having the space accommodate the market.”

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