Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission meeting (Oct. 6, 2009): Shoppers at Wednesday’s Ann Arbor Farmers Market might have encountered a few things they hadn’t seen before: 1) Five easels with questions about how customers use the market, 2) three new vendors and 3) a film crew for the movie “Naked Angel.”
The first two were among several items discussed at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Public Market Advisory Commission. The group also talked about Halloween plans for the market – it falls on a Saturday this year – and reviewed its recent working session, which focused on policy issues and outreach.
During her market manager report, Molly Notarianni told commissioners that the Michigan Farmers Market Association would be conducting a “rapid market assessment” at Wednesday’s market. [.PDF of a technical report outlining RMA techniques.] About 10 volunteers would be estimating attendance and conducting surveys of vendors and shoppers. One of the ways they planned to survey shoppers was through “dot voting” – the easels set up near the market office on Wednesday asked five multiple-choice questions, and shoppers indicated their answers by placing a colored sticky dot in the appropriate spot.
The questions (with an unofficial indication of votes, as of late Wednesday morning):
- How did you find out about today’s market? (flyers/posters, newspaper ads, online/website, farmers market email, word of mouth, regular shopper): “Regular shopper” was by far the most frequent answer.
- What was your primary form of payment? (cash, Bridge Card, Project Fresh, other): Cash was the overwhelming choice of payment.
- How many adults are in your shopping party? (1 through 6+): Most people answering the survey came by themselves or with one other adult.
- What was the most important reason you came to the market today? (food items, arts & crafts, atmosphere & experience, buy local, purchase organic, none of these): Most shoppers chose “food items” or “buy local.”
- How much did you spend at the market? (In $5 increments, from 0 to “$50 or more”): Dots were fairly evenly distributed between $5 to $25, with a few outliers.
Notarianni said that the Michigan Farmers Market Association had received a grant to study Electronic Benefit Transfers, or EBTs. The program uses Bridge Cards, which act like debit cards and have replaced food stamps. [We first wrote about the market's use of Bridge Cards a year ago.] The Ann Arbor market is one of several being studied for this grant, she said. Though market assessments of this kind typically cost several hundred dollars, because of the grant, the Ann Arbor market would be getting a comprehensive report from the assessment without charge.
New Vendors, Halloween
Notarianni said that three vendors had joined the Wednesday market over the past month: Pasta é Pasta, which sells pasta and pasta sauces; Café Japon, which also operates a store at 113 E. Liberty in Ann Arbor; and Stephen Kinnard, a local photographer.
At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Notarianni also gave an update on plans for Halloween. The market is coordinating activities with Kerrytown Market & Shops, which plans to have storytelling, cider and donuts, and trick-or-treating at stores within the two-story complex. Notarianni said the market might have a pumpkin-carving event, and encourage kids to come in costume and trick-or-treat at the vendors.
Commissioner Genia Service relayed a suggestion from the owners of the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, who proposed having the vendors dress up in costume. Shoppers could vote on the costume they like best, she said. Commissioner Dave Barkman, owner of TJ Farms in Chelsea, wryly suggested that costumes for vendors be optional. Commissioner Shannon Brines of Brines Farm in Dexter said he wasn’t sure what kind of costume he’d put on at 5:30 in the morning. “I wear a costume every week as it is – as a ‘tired vendor’.”
Peter Pollack, who chairs the commission, noted that the partnership with Kerrytown Market & Shops, located next to the public market, had broader implications for more coordinated events throughout the year.
Recap of Working Session
Commissioners held a working session on Sept. 22, and Pollack reviewed what they’d discussed at that meeting. Notarianni had outlined her main goals for the coming year: 1) to increase participation in the EBT program, 2) to better promote the farmers market and public market space, and 3) to engage the commissioners more fully.
Pollack said those goals led to a discussion that focused on two areas: policy, including operations and procedures for the market, and outreach.
At their working session, commissioners talked about several topics related to market policy, Pollack said. They agreed to start a schedule of receiving regular financial reports, in particular to track the money that comes into the market account and to see how that money is spent. Notarianni plans to provide the first one at the commission’s November meeting.
Commissioners discussed the content of the vendor application, and the need to make sure the application is up to date.
They also looked at the issue of tracking complaints, and talked about possibly adjusting market policies. During Wednesday’s meeting, Brines suggested that the commission consider publishing a procedure for handling complaints, so that people can understand the process. He wondered if there were a uniform, citywide procedure for handling complaints that they might use. People who complain usually just want some sort of response, he said, even if it’s not the one they’re looking for.
Notarianni said there used to be an official complaint procedure, but it had been eliminated several years ago. Pollack added that the complaint procedure was removed when the city restructured the commission, taking away its administrative authority. It was judged inappropriate for the commission to handle complaints, he said.
Brines said he wasn’t suggesting that the commission respond, but they could provide information about how to file a complaint. Perhaps it was something that their policy subcommittee could deal with, he said.
Pollack noted that the commission is not an administrative body – they provide advice and suggest policy. He said they have very little to do with complaints, except as it relates to tracking them and developing policies.
Pollack reported that another policy issue emerging from the working session related to the definition of “made.” They’ve received some complaints alleging that certain vendors didn’t make the products they were selling. Genia Service noted that the issue of “thaw and bake” products kept resurfacing. [The Chronicle previously reported on a specific complaint voiced during the Ann Arbor city council Sunday caucus meeting on Aug. 5, 2009. At that meeting, Luis Vazquez, a former public market commissioner, contended that baked goods sold by Kapnick Orchards are prepared using a thaw-and-bake product.]
At Wednesday’s market commission meeting, Notarianni reminded commissioners that they’d discussed plans to define “made” and “significant effort” for each category of goods at the market. Pollack said that it was rare to have a producer-only market like the one in Ann Arbor. “That’s an aspect of the market that’s absolutely worth protecting,” he said.
The policy subcommittee, which includes Pollack and Brines, plans to meet sometime within the next month.
One of the things that came out of their discussion about activities and events at the market, Pollack said, was the fact that on market days, Notarianni doesn’t have time to manage special events. That means that commissioners or other volunteers need to take responsibility on those days, he said. This prompted commissioner Genia Service to volunteer for Halloween, vowing to wear a costume and help organize the pumpkin carving.
Pollack said he thought it would be a good idea to compile a year-long calendar of events. Notarianni said that putting together such a calendar would be a good wintertime project – the market was slower and she’d have more time to do it.
At their working session, commissioners also discussed how to cultivate volunteers, Pollack said. Notarianni said she liked the idea of some kind of regular volunteer orientation. At the Portland, Ore. market, where she previously worked, they gave monthly market tours for volunteers and anyone who was interested, she said.
Pollack said that an orientation might be one way to use the oral histories that are being collected at the market. Another option might be to play those recordings in the market office during certain hours, he said, adding that it’s important to get the most use out of all of the activities and events they did.
Tossing out another marketing idea, Notarianni said she’d been to a market in New York where each stall had a sign with a photo of the vendor, a short write-up about them, and a map indicating where their farm or business was located within the state. She’d like to do something similar in Ann Arbor. Genia Service suggested asking volunteers to help out with collecting the information, and she agreed to do the layout for it herself.
Commissioners scheduled a meeting for the outreach subcommittee on Oct. 13, 2009 at 6 p.m. in the market office, 315 Detroit St. The meeting is open to the public.
Notarianni reported that the first phase of market renovations were nearly complete. The structure covering the walkways had been painted, and new fluorescent lights were installed. Vendors in particular like the new lights, she said, because they are much brighter than the previous ones. Eventually, induction lights will be installed down the center of the ceiling – those lights are more energy efficient, and will be lit when the market isn’t in use. Also, the installation of a new stereo/intercom system is almost finished.
Peter Pollack asked if she’d heard any information about the next phase of the market renovation, which hasn’t yet been scheduled. Notarianni said she did not know how soon that would move ahead.
Later in the meeting, Dave Barkman asked whether the city could replace some of the signs throughout the market, which were looking tattered, he said. Pollack said it might be an opportunity to look at all the signs in the market – he suggested inquiring about possible funding from the Downtown Development Authority.
Present: Commissioners Dave Barkman, Diane Black, Shannon Brines, Genia Service, Peter Pollack. Molly Notarianni, market manager.
Next meeting: The commission’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 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]