Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A follow up on the Liberty Market closure

This entry was edited slightly but significantly around 10:15am, in regards to the typology and the difference in goals between market sponsors, market operators, and market participants.

Michael Rupert from the DC Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs writes:

The event that was taking place near the corner of 7th & K streets last week was not a farmers' market. Farmers' markets are for farmers selling their own homegrown fresh products from the region and are exempt from licensing requirements for events on public space.

The event that was taking place was a collection of vendors of which very few, to our knowledge, were farmers.

Secondly, the "raid" as described in a release from the event's organizer was actually a single police officer asking for basic information about the products and for documentation giving permission to operate on the private property. The organizers could not produce any documentation. And although DCRA was not present during the event, the organizer told the police officer the food vendors were not farmers.

We have been in contact with the event organizers and have told them exactly what they need to do to continue to operate their market.

Many of the food products being sold were also products we believe were not grown by the region's farmers including Columbian coffee, oranges and other items. In addition to these suspect food items, the event included vendors selling t-shirts, crafts and other items not covered under the farmers' market exemption.

We are huge supporters of farmers' markets and have been lauded by D.C. Hunger Solutions and the D.C. Farmers' Market Collaborative for our efforts to simplify regulations that encourage new farmers' markets and differentiate them in regulations from other events.

We will work closely with them to come into compliance. But based on the products offered at this event, it would not be considered a farmer's market.

I hope this information is helpful and clears up some of the misunderstanding about this market.

My response:

I do understand the need for regulations and protections, and perhaps there are some issues with this market in terms of getting all documents in order, but...

Note that your definition of a market follows the freshfarm market definition, which is overly restrictive. I wrote comments up a couple years ago about the proposed regulations. It happens that my email account stinks in terms of being able to search and find what I wrote though.

Basically the point comes down to recognizing that there are at least eleven reasons to open a market, and while the purposes intersect at times, it means that decisions about what is allowable to sell need to vary according to the purpose of the market. Plus, the goals may vary according to whether you are a sponsor, operator (sponsors and operators are not always the same), or participating vendor.

Potential reasons to have a "farmers" market

1. Provide fresh food that is locally grown, supporting local and regional food security and policy;

2. Provide access to less expensive food

3. Build rural incomes

4. Provide fresh food in an area that otherwise has few stores selling fresh food

5. to promote health and wellness (this is why hospitals and health organizations may get involved such as Kaiser Permanente, which supports markets in the DC region, but is actively engaged in market activities in California, their home base)

6. to aid commercial district and/or neighborhood revitalization by building activities and a reason for people to come out, gather, and resample the place (placemaking)

7. to promote entrepreneurship and local business development (e.g., some businesses, such as the Chateau Animaux pet store on 8th St. SE grew out of Eastern Market)

8. to promote a business and/or add additional revenue streams to a wholesale or retail business (e.g., Atwater's Bakery, based in Baltimore County, with three or four retail stores in the City and County, has a major presence in many markets throughout the Baltimore-DC region; Uptown Bakery, based in Hyattsville, is a wholesale bakery, but they allow their employees to sell products at farmers markets--while I don't know of many instances where they do it, Uptown products are sold at the Waverly Market in Baltimore)

9. to promote economic, environmental, and energy "sustainability"

10. as a property management tool/to generate rental income

11. as a for profit business venture

(10) and (11) might not be considered by some to be "legitimate" reasons for running markets, but the markets in Mt. Pleasant, U Street, and Bloomingdale are run by a for profit operator, which in part is an indicator that the sponsor of the market might have different goals from the operator of the market.

If the DC regulations fail to recognize and support these various purposes, then they are flawed. Note that I wrote "market" not "farmers market." When you are pursuing goals (6) and (7), promoting revitalization and entrepreneurship, it is then acceptable to mix the sales of craft items (items produced by artists, etc.) with the sale of food.

And, if the point is to strengthen commercial districts and promote entrepreneurship, then it is reasonable to sell prepared foods as well to round out the offering, and to help businesses develop, perhaps into storefront-based businesses.

For example, Qualia Coffee, a coffee shop located in the Petworth neighborhood, got its start by selling their fresh roasted coffee at markets in Adams-Morgan and Brookland. With regard to Qualia's presence at the Brookland Farmers Market, we followed the rule of foods having to be "grown" within 100 miles in order for a "farmer" to be able to participate in our market. While we understood that coffee is not grown locally, we decided that roasting coffee locally qualified Joel to sell at the market.

Note also that we let a Southern Maryland farmer producing fruit and vegetables to also sell dairy products produced by a nearby Amish farmer--and speaking of sustainability, since the Amish don't drive motor vehicles, they aren't likely to be representing their products beyond the distance that a horse-drawn wagon can conveniently travel.

But shouldn't the purposes of (3) building rural incomes; (1) promoting locally grown foods; and (9) promoting sustainability mean that we should take steps to allow these goods to be sold in a farmers market in DC?

Note that I came up with this basic idea and a subset of the typology about three years ago at a private conference sponsored by Project for Public Spaces in association with a grant project that they were doing that was funded by the Kellogg Foundation.

The typology is important because it helps decide about the local producer issue, as well as what may be acceptable to offer in terms of the retail mix, i.e., prepared foods. E.g., it's probably acceptable for a market in Anacostia to sell citrus fruit (by definition not produced locally) because of the lack of availability otherwise, if the primary reason for having the market is making fresh food available, "fresh food," but food that is not necessarily "locally-grown". This is in line with purposes (4) making fresh food locally available and (5) promoting health and wellness, but not with (1) promoting locally grown foods--not to mention, ideally, promoting (2) making less expensive food more available. But it wouldn't be acceptable to sell citrus fruit at a market elsewhere in DC, where such goods are readily available in grocery stores--in those places goal (4) making fresh food locally available is already being achieved.

Note that if you are a farmer in a FRESHFarm Market, and your next door neighbor produces cheese, while you grow apples and peaches, instead of the two farmers sharing resources, one selling his apples and the next door farmer's cheese, and vice versa, they are each expected to travel to, cover, and sell at multiple markets.

I think this is a waste of resources, and in terms of the possible goals of "building rural incomes" and "promoting sustainability" this doesn't make sense.

The other problem with the overly restrictive model is that it leads to really expensive food. This violates reason (2) providing access to less expensive fresh produce.

For the most part, I don't shop at FreshFarm Markets because the produce is way too expensive, and while I like to believe I make ethical consumer decisions for the most part, I do not make so much money that I can afford to pay double or triple the cost of fruit and vegetables priced at local supermarkets OR at farmers markets in the Baltimore region (e.g., a very interesting question is why, compared to markets in DC, does fresh food--not bread--cost significantly less at the Waverly Market, Baltimore Farmers Market, or Towson Farmers Market?).

Note too that somehow, because they are on federal property, the farmers markets at the US DOT and the USDA operate differently, and they offer prepared foods, which are not legally offered at farmers markets licensed and regulated by DC.

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