Ann Arbor public market advisory commission meeting (March 10, 2011): A nighttime farmers market in Ann Arbor is in the works as a pilot program to start on Wednesdays in July.
Market manager Molly Notarianni is proposing a producers-only market from 4:30-8:30 p.m., operating as a separate entity from the existing Saturday and Wednesday daytime markets. The significance of having a separate application process is that it would eliminate the seniority system that exists at the other markets. The seniority system makes it difficult for new vendors to get spots in those markets.
Members of the city’s public market advisory commission seemed generally supportive of the idea – they’ll likely weigh in officially at their meeting in May.
The group also discussed revisions to the market vendor application form – including a proposed requirement for lease verification.
The commission is still short two members, a situation that has presented some challenges in the last few months. All three current members need to attend in order to achieve a quorum, and scheduling difficulties have led to cancellation of several of their monthly meetings. The March meeting was rescheduled from Tuesday to Thursday of last week – because of that change, the meeting was not broadcast by Community Television Network (CTN).
Openings remain on the commission for the category of: (1) a market shopper; and (2) someone who lives or works in the Kerrytown district, where the market is located. Applications are available on the market’s website. They must be sent to the mayor, who makes nominations that are then voted on by the city council.
Night Market Pilot Program
Molly Notarianni began her presentation about a potential night market by saying it’s been a vision she’s had to expand use of the market space, and a way to address the demand from vendors and shoppers for additional market hours. The public market space is underused, she said, and adding a night market would be one way to capitalize on the location.
Her proposal is to create another farmers market on Wednesday evenings, from 4:30-8:30 p.m. The market would run for a shorter season, launching this year on July 1 – the start of the city’s fiscal year – and running through September or early October.
Wednesdays are best because the area is already blocked off for the daytime farmers market, she said. The Wednesday daytime market runs from May through December, from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Because she was concerned that a night market will take up the market’s parking spaces (which would otherwise be available to downtown visitors), Notarianni said she talked about the idea with two stakeholders: Karen Farmer, manager of Kerrytown Market & Shops, a complex of stores adjacent to the public market; and Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which oversees the city’s surface parking lots – including the one at the public market.
Both Farmer and Pollay were enthusiastic about the proposal, Notarianni reported. They felt that a night market would draw more people to that area, which would benefit the stores and restaurants in Kerrytown.
The night market would have the same spirit and basic premise as the Saturday and Wednesday daytime markets, Notarianni said. But rather than have a combination of food producers and artisans, her proposal calls for a focus at the night market on small-scale food producers and growers . She also proposes that the night market be a new, separate venture – that is, with a separate application and set of rules. This would disconnect it from the seniority rules of the existing markets, which give preference to long-time vendors. [.pdf of draft night market rules and vendor application]
The plan would make the night market more accessible to new vendors who have difficulty getting into the existing markets, she said. There would be an annual application process and evaluation – just because you were accepted the previous year wouldn’t guarantee you a spot.
Night Market: Commissioner Discussion
The three market commissioners were generally supportive of the idea. Shannon Brines noted that the draft rules were much shorter than existing market rules. That’s what happens when you eliminate the seniority system, Notarianni said – it becomes less complex.
Lindsay-Jean Hard asked how potential vendors would be notified of the opportunity. Notarianni said she had a stack of applications from vendors that haven’t been able to get a spot at the daytime markets – that would be one place to start. Word would likely spread quickly, and she noted that existing vendors are welcome to apply, too.
Dave Barkman said he thought it could be a benefit, to bring new people to the market. He asked whether the new market would also be under Notarianni’s management, and if the fees would help pay her salary. Yes, she would manage it, she replied, but her salary wouldn’t increase. Barkman – who owns TJ Farms in Chelsea and is a market vendor – said existing vendors wonder whether the fees they pay are subsidizing other programs at the market, by paying for Notarianni’s overtime, for example. Will their fees go up or down? [Currently, fees are $25 per stall, per day, or $300 per stall annually.]
Revenues from the night market would be extra, Notarianni explained, and might allow them to hire a part-time staff person to help manage it. The additional money could also be used for promotion and outreach for all of the markets, she noted, which would benefit existing vendors. She didn’t feel the new market would undercut the existing markets in any way.
Brines of Brines Farm, who’s also a vendor and chair of the commission, suggested that they get more information about the financial piece of it – about how the additional revenues would be used. He said he talked with some vendors about the idea, and got generally positive responses, though they wanted more details.
Barkman said he assumed the night market would bring in new customers, not divert business away from the daytime market. He wondered how the logistics would be handled in the transition – getting daytime vendors out and night vendors in between 3 and 4:30 p.m. Notarianni said the logistics would have to be worked out, but that many vendors in the day leave before 3 p.m. anyway.
Brines floated the possibility of using Lunasa, an online system that allows shoppers to place orders for local food vendors and pick up their food at a central location. The current Lunasa pick-up site in Ann Arbor is at a Jackson Road warehouse.
Notarianni noted there were lots of creative possibilities. Pollay had suggested selling ready-to-eat food that could be used for picnics or taken to other venues, like evening events at the nearby Kerrytown Concert House. The night market might also be attractive for food carts that will be operating during the day at Mark’s Carts, a new food court that’s being developed by Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home & Garden at Ashley and Washington streets.
The commissioners discussed extending the market into October. Even though it might get dark by 8:30 p.m., the market area is lit to accommodate vendors and shoppers.
Next steps in the process would be to get feedback from vendors and additional feedback from commissioners, Notarianni said, then they’d vote on the proposal. For accounting purposes, she suggested starting it in July, after the start of the city’s next fiscal year on July 1.
Brines proposed voting on it at their May meeting, to give more people a chance to find out about the idea and give input. Notarianni also plans to included information about it in her next monthly market newsletter.
Revised Vendor Application
The farmers market vendor application is updated annually. Notarianni noted that last year, the commission had gone through an extensive revision process, including public meetings with vendors. This year, she proposed three changes: (1) a lease verification form; (2) a form for vendor information that will be available to the public; and (3) a revision stating explicitly that resale of products not produced by the vendor is prohibited. [.pdf of draft 2011 revised vendor application form]
The resale prohibition isn’t new, she noted – Ann Arbor has always been a “producer’s market,” meaning that vendors can sell only products they have made. This change is intended to make it even more clear, she said.
The form for publicly available vendor information is to clarify for vendors that the contact information they give will be available to the public, if requested. In the past when people have requested information under the Freedom of Information Act, there’s been confusion about what information could be released. This form is intended to clarify that, she said.
In response to a query from Brines, Notarianni confirmed that the applications are in paper form – only the original copy is kept on file in the market office. There are no copies made except in response to a FOIA request, and the information isn’t entered into a database. She said that when she worked at a market in Portland, they used an online application process, which resulted in a searchable database. She didn’t think they could require that in Ann Arbor.
Brines said he suspected that from vendors they’d hear the most response about the new lease verification form. He noted that some vendors conduct business on a handshake, and might not have the documentation required – which is a copy of the lease for any land used to grow or produce products. The form also asks for both the vendor and the landlord of the leased property to sign it. Brines wondered if this might be a challenge. What if the landowner lives out of town?
He noted that the market operating rules don’t mention leases, but that the lease verification is in line with being a producer-only market.
Notarianni said this is just another piece of information they’re requesting, in addition to items like the amount of acreage a vendor uses or the types of produce that they grow.
The next step is to put the draft application form on the market’s website for review, Notarianni said. It is important to get the word out, she said, especially since the March commission meeting wasn’t being televised. Per the market’s operating rules, vendors must complete their applications for the following fiscal year by May 15. [.pdf of market operating rules] She suggested that the commission vote on the changes at their next meeting. [These changes are made administratively. The commission is an advisory body to the market manager.]
Misc. Updates: Looking for New Commissioners
Thursday’s meeting included several updates from Notarianni and some of the commissioners. Before the meeting, Notarianni and Lindsay-Jean Hard of Real Time Farms – the commission’s newest member – discussed the two remaining openings on the commission. Over the past year, terms of two commissioners – Diane Black and Genia Service – expired. And Peter Pollack, who chaired the group, passed away last year.
Openings remain for the category of: (1) a market shopper; and (2) someone who lives or works in the Kerrytown district, where the market is located. Applications are sent to the mayor, who makes nominations that are then voted on by city council. [.pdf of application for public market advisory commission] Notarianni said she hasn’t been informed by mayor John Hieftje about any applications he’s received.
Notarianni also asked for feedback from commissioners about whether to bring back the nonprofit Peace, Love & Planet, which last year came to the market to collect plastic garden pots and trays to recycle. She said the group wanted to do it again, but was requesting funding and possibly volunteers to help with the collection. Commissioners expressed some ambivalence about it, and asked Notarianni to get more details about how much funding was needed.
Notarianni reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will be installing more bike racks in the market area. Commissioners suggested locating them in a spot that’s visible – possibly near existing hoops at Catherine and Detroit streets, or between Detroit and Fifth.
A program called Double Up Food Bucks, which provides coupons for fresh food to people who get food assistance benefits, will be returning to the market in May, Notarianni said. The program is administered by the Fair Food Network, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit.
Brines reported that the recent Local Food Summit, a March 1 event he helped organize, was a success. More than 300 people attended, he said, reflecting a lot of energy in the local food movement. “In general, that means the public market advisory commission should promote that in as many ways as we can,” he added.
Present: Commissioners Dave Barkman, Shannon Brines, and Lindsay-Jean Hard. Also: Molly Notarianni, market manager.
Next meeting: The commission’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. in the fourth floor of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]