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Farmers corner new market

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Can there ever be too much locally grown, fresh fruit and vegetables in one town? Vendors at a new Yellow Springs farmers’ market think not, and they aim to give shoppers more variety by opening in the Corner Cone parking lot on Saturdays, just down the street from the farmers’ market at Kings Yard. Both markets open on May 2 and will continue Saturday mornings from 7 to 11:30 a.m. through the summer.

For almost 30 years the farmers’ market in Kings Yard has been a loosely organized, come-one-and-all operation in the parking lot off Walnut Street run mainly on tradition and the good will of Yard owners Roger Hart and Cathy Christian. But this year, Christian and several market vendors wanted to formalize the market, to better manage the overcrowded space and for liability protection, market director Michele Burns said this month. The new market regulations require vendors to rent their spaces and be covered by a $1 million liability insurance policy, standards that some backyard growers and recreational vendors say they won’t be able to afford. Though the Kings Yard market has filled up with 22 vendors this year, some of those previously involved wanted to create a new market that is more open and more loosely organized — a market that functions more like the old one, they said.

“For me, it’s about economic diversity, and understanding that not everyone’s in the same place economically,” market vendor Alicia Caulfield said. “There’s nothing wrong with the current market, but we believe there should also be a market that’s more inclusive.”

Vendor Richard Funderburg, who has sold items from Funderburg Greenhouses at the Kings Yard farmers’ market for many years, feels strongly about keeping the new market free of restrictions in order to maintain its most important qualities of diversity and openness, he said. He remembers seeing a photo perhaps 25 years ago of Shelley Colbert and her two young boys selling a small pile of cucumbers and a few zinnia plants at farmers’ market. The image captured the purpose of the local farmers’ market for Funderburg, who immediately fell in love with the community spirit that welcomed even the smallest growers to try their hand at farming.

“It was their experience of growing and coming to market to sell,” he said. “Farmers’ market is kind of a celebration, where you go downtown on Saturdays to meet and talk to all variety of people, young children and older people, too.”

He would like to be able to maintain a market that allows a professional farmer to set up next to someone like Evelyn Greene, a Mills Lawn student who sold her homemade dog biscuits at the market several years ago. And he wants those who come not necessarily to make money, but for the pure enjoyment of the Saturday morning atmosphere, to be able to set up a booth and be part of the community.

“I doubt if one guy makes more than $25, but he enjoys it, and people always go to see what he has,” Funderburg said. “It’s just part of what farmers’ market is about.”

The nonprofit organizations whose volunteers have traditionally set up booths at market are especially important to vendor Suzanne Patterson, who sees the market as an effective venue by which grassroots groups can communicate directly with community members about critical issues. She wants these groups, who aren’t likely to get insurance, to have a free space to set up on Saturdays. And they are now most welcome at the new market by Corner Cone.

Playing with the idea of calling it the Nonstop Farmers’ market, organizers of the new market have about 13 spaces available and intend to make room for those who either can’t afford the King’s Yard space or prefer to participate the old fashioned way, Patterson said.

Though he isn’t involved with the market at all, Corner Cone owner Bob Swaney is open to the idea of having vendors in the business’ parking lot on Saturday mornings.

“We don’t open until 11:30, so the parking lot is available, and my attitude is, why not?” Swaney said. “We’re very flexible at this point.”

For almost three decades the Kings Yard market was the only one in town, until 2007 when the South Town Farmers’ Market began operating on Thursday in the Dollar General Parking lot. But even then the Saturday market was crowded with both vendors and shoppers, Caulfield said. She and Patterson believe that the village could benefit by having a public location for all vendors at one big downtown farmer’s market. Short Street, for instance, has surfaced in the past as a central space with potential for community-wide gatherings. The group had considered other spaces that have potential for such a weekly event, Caulfield said.

But unifying may also mean less freedom for organizers to operate in unique ways. At Kings Yard this year, for instance, Christian has come up with a list of new events and ideas for her market. This year the Kings Yard market will have an information booth and a bi-weekly newsletter with recipes, a featured farmer and an events list. Events currently include a Customer Appreciation Day in June, an August Heirloom Day featuring products made the old fashioned way, and an October Kids Day with pumpkin carving and apple games. Other events Christian is hoping to organize in the future include a “top chef” competition and a food show limited to only farmers’ market ingredients; a market breakfast concession stand run by the Tavern; and entertainment in the yard, including a didgeridoo group, banjo players and a dance troupe. She also plans to start weekly raffles, including discount coupons for the market and the Tavern, she said last week.

So if three separate markets can coexist in the village this summer, perhaps by next year all will have a better sense of the village’s open air market needs and the best way to fill them. Until then, new market vendors say, it’s three’s company.

“It will just create more space all around,” Patterson said. “I just think it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

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