Derry Town Administrator John Anderson said he didn’t understand why the Town Council was “going after” the Derry Farmers Market.
Councilors voted, 4-3, last week to slash funding for the market by 77 percent, from $21,800 to $5,000.
Anderson was the voice of doom in the debate. The budget cut would mean the end of the market, he said.
The market will continue this summer, once a week for four months, just as it has the past three years.
But that will be it, the town administrator warned, the market can’t continue on such a small budget.
Many residents expressed surprise that market manager Beverly Ferrante had $20,800 at her disposal, plus an additional $1,000 for a “concession attendant.”
Ask Jane Lang, the volunteer manager of Salem’s Farmers Market, which operates on exactly $5,000 a year, all generated from vendors’ fees.
The idea of a farmers market, Lang said, isn’t to make money, it’s to provide residents with fresh produce and give local growers a place to sell.
That’s what Phil Ferdinando of J&F Farms thought, too. He was in at the beginning. But even before the budget cut, Ferdinando had opted out of this year’s market. It has quickly gone downhill in its three years, he said.
There’s plenty of blame to spread around. Location may top the list. When the market moved to the town office parking lot last year, it lost its Broadway visibility. But there’s more. Fresh produce was almost as scarce as customers. Crafts and jewelry dominated.
The vibrant atmosphere of 2010, when customers wound their way around vendors with fresh eggs, raw milk, cut flowers, plants, and lots of locally grown fruits and vegetables was sadly missing last summer.
The atmosphere was, frankly, a little sad. Choices were limited, fresh choices even more so.
A farmers market needs freshness - fresh vegetables, locally grown plants and flowers, fresh bread, lemonade, honey, maple syrup, the list could go on. Too much that isn’t fresh can turn a market into a craft fair, fine in its place, but not the same.
Anderson argued councilors had already cut the budget to a point where there will be no town tax rate increase. But that’s not really an argument for fiscal responsibility. If there’s bloat in any budget line item, it should be cut.
Councilors who voted for the reduction said they wanted the market to continue, but the cost was too high. They were correct.
While $21,800 may not mean much in the context of a $37 million budget, it’s simply too much to pay for a market that operates a few hours a week in the summer and twice a month December through March.
There’s part of the problem. The winter market may have been a nice idea, but it didn’t work.
Anderson tried, once again, to jab at Taylor Library, now in its 135th year, that he tried to zero fund. He claimed the farmers market brought people downtown, more than are served by the little library on the hill.
Perhaps his allegiance to the market got the best of him. To suggest the farmers market serves more people than the library that has nearly 3,000 card-holders and welcomed more than 5,800 children through its doors last year is simply ridiculous.
It’s time to close the book on the library battle and start a new chapter for the farmers market. While Ferrante is no doubt well intentioned, the market isn’t working.
With the season about to open next month, there’s an opportunity to make changes. Those who bemoan its potential loss need to step up - now. Volunteer, share ideas, look for a better location.
Talk to vendors who have left. See what they and customers still loyal to the market believe needs to change. The market operated at a $9,000 deficit this fiscal year. Something’s not right and the budget was the place to start.
Now it’s up to local growers, consumers and town leaders to make changes and restore the market to the success it realized in its inaugural year. Look to Salem for some advice. If that community can run a successful market with no town funding, Derry ought to be able to do as well with $5,000 a year.