Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission (Sept. 1, 2009): Tuesday marked the start of Local Food Month in Ann Arbor. Tuesday also was the start of a three-year term for the newest member of the city’s Public Market Advisory Commission, who’s also a vendor at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market: Dave Barkman, of TJ Farms in Chelsea.
By way of introduction, Barkman noted that he’s been selling at the farmers market for 28 years. He said he knows a lot of stories, though he didn’t tell any at Tuesday’s meeting. Others did have stories to tell, however – about weddings at the market, medicinal sweet buns, “enthusiastic support” for the Sept. 12 Homegrown Festival and more.
Market manager Molly Notarianni told commissioners that over the past month about a dozen different vendors had applied to sell their products at either the Wednesday or Saturday markets, or both. [Link to vendor application form.] Two photographers had applied, she said, as had several farmers and other food vendors. Several wanted to sell products that were already available at the market, including fruits, vegetables, flowers and other plants.
Other applicants offered less usual fare. An applicant for a food cart vendor described selling items that incorporate traditional Chinese medicine, including “steamed healing sweet buns” and “sweet lotus rolls.” Another person hadn’t yet filled out an application, but had queried whether he could sell fish at the market. “I’ll do some more research on that,” Notarianni said, “but it could be great.”
Notarianni asked commissioners whether they had any feedback on the current batch of applications. Diane Black wondered whether it made sense to add vendors who were selling essentially the same product as current vendors. “It seems like adding more of the same is making less profit for everyone,” she said. Dave Barkman pointed to the volume of produce that was donated by vendors each week to the nonprofit Food Gatherers at the end of the market day. He said it would make more sense to point some of these applicants to smaller markets in the region that need more vendors, specifically, farmers markets in Dexter, Chelsea, Northville and the Westside Farmers Market at Zingerman’s Roadhouse.
Commissioners also discussed the need for more shoppers, especially at the Wednesday market, and how offering a wider variety of products would be one way to draw new customers.
Molly Notarianni briefed commissioners on several upcoming events at the public market. On Saturday, Sept. 5, the nonprofit Peace, Love & Planet will be collecting plastic garden pots and trays to recycle. Thursday, Sept. 10 will be the season’s final Trunk-a-Palooza, a weekly event where people sell all sorts of things out of the back of their vehicles. On the following night, Sept. 11, the Ozone House will hold an open-air fundraising dinner at the market, with most of the meal provided by Kerrytown restaurants and food businesses.
On Saturday, Sept. 12, the second annual HomeGrown Festival will take place at the farmers market from 5-10 p.m. The event’s chair, Shannon Brines of Brines Farm, is also a member of the Public Market Advisory Commission, though he did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. The commission did pass a motion at the meeting declaring their “enthusiastic support” for the event.
Notarianni also mentioned that two weddings had been held recently at the market. She said she’d gotten feedback from people who had happened upon the events, and who remarked on how delightful it was to see weddings at that location. This prompted commissioner Diane Black to say, “If I ever marry again, I’ll hold my wedding there!” Commissioner Peter Pollack said he’d hold her to that promise.
Notarianni updated commissioners on renovations at the market. The surface underneath the roof has been repainted, and the posts supporting the roof will be repainted soon. Decorative stripes will be painted on the aisles in different colors to be used for wayfinding, and new fluorescent lights recently arrived and will be installed later this month. All of these renovations should be completed in the next few weeks, she said.
Working Session: Goals for 2010
Commissioners scheduled a special working session on Tuesday, Sept. 22 to discuss their goals for the coming year. Peter Pollack, who chairs the commission, said he hoped the group could be more proactive in their efforts regarding policies, education and other areas. He noted that the Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation have expressed interest in what happens at the public market, and that the commission should reach out to others who have a role to play in how the market is used. He proposed using the working session to put together a list of what they’d like to accomplish, to identify tasks for each of them to do, and to then get moving.
One possible project, Pollack said, might be to look at how the farmers market can connect with entities that make land conservation purchases, like the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County or the Legacy Land Conservancy. The idea would be to support a possible farm incubator, with the market providing a venue to sell produce from the farm.
The Sept. 22 working session will be open to the public and held at the market office, a building located within the farmers market at 315 Detroit St. It’s scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m.
Molly Notarianni reported one complaint she’d received from a vendor who was upset about being charged a $55 inspection fee. The vendor had two concerns: 1) the fee was too high, and 2) she hadn’t been aware of the charge until she got the bill. This is the first year that vendors have been charged for the mandatory inspections made to verify that their products are grown or made locally. Notarianni said she sent out a notice to vendors reminding them of the inspection process and the fee. Commissioner Dave Barkman suggested that when the inspector calls to make an appointment with the vendor, he can mention the fee at that time.
There were two opportunities for public commentary during the meeting, but only one person – Glenn Thompson – spoke during the general public commentary time at the end of the meeting. Thompson made two points: 1) Though he’d seen improvements in vendor identification at the market stalls, there wasn’t as much improvement as he’d like, and 2) many vendors don’t display prices on their products, which causes customers to spend time asking questions about pricing. To expedite sales, he asked the commission to encourage vendors to mark their prices clearly.
Present: Commissioners Dave Barkman, Diane Black, Genia Service, Peter Pollack. Molly Notarianni, market manager.
Absent: Shannon Brines
Next meeting: The commission will hold a working session on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 at 6:15 p.m. at the market office, 315 Detroit St. The meeting is open to the public. The commission’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009 at 6:15 p.m. in the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [confirm dates]