Public Market Seeks Clarity on Vendors

What's it mean to be "made" – and who gets to decide?
Louis Vasquez

Luis Vazquez spoke during public commentary at the Nov. 3 meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission, raising issues about whether certain vendors are abiding by market rules.

Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission (Nov. 3, 2009): Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission focused on vendors. Market manager Molly Notarianni wanted feedback before making decisions on new vendor applications. And Notarianni presented a financial report that showed most market revenues come from vendor rental fees.

During public commentary, former market commissioner Luis Vazquez questioned whether one vendor actually makes from scratch the products sold at their booth – it’s an issue Vazquez says might be litigated, if the city doesn’t enforce its own rules. During the meeting, Peter Pollack, the commission’s current chair, gave an update on efforts to more clearly define what being “made” actually means.

It was also announced that plans are being made to hold a special market event on Dec. 4 to complement downtown’s annual Midnight Madness.

Potential New Vendors

Molly Notarianni, the city’s market manager, asked for feedback on a half-dozen vendor applications that had come in over the past month, both for stalls and food carts. Proposed products included mini-pies and other baked goods, hot dogs, cider, French pastries, all-purpose seasoning and corn roasted in its husk.

The consensus among commissioners seemed to be that the market had plenty of baked goods. Shannon Brines said that the roasted corn was in the spirit of the market, but was a bit “mono.” Peter Pollack suggested giving priority to vendors who wanted to sell on both Wednesdays and Saturdays, rather than just Saturdays only.

Peter Pollack and Diane Black of the Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission. Black is using the double moss stitch to make a strip that will become part of a larger tapestry and sold at Rudolf Steiner School fundraiser later this year.

Peter Pollack and Diane Black of the Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission. Black is using a double moss stitch to knit a strip that will become part of a larger tapestry to be sold at a Rudolf Steiner School fundraiser later this year. (Photo by the writer.)

One additional application was somewhat unusual, Notarianni said. Salomon Jost, a current vendor who sells primarily greens, has asked to reapply as a vendor selling cider and apples from Almar Orchard in Flushing. Almar is an organic orchard, where Jost works. Notarianni pointed out that during the winter months, about a quarter or more of the vendors sell apples – did they want to bring on yet another one?

Diane Black noted that no other vendors in the winter sold organic apples and cider – that was a crucial distinction, she said.

Pollack said it was important to understand the relationship between Jost and Almar Orchard, since the application was actually under the name of that business. It needed to be more than just a verbal understanding, he said.

During public commentary at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Luis Vazquez gave a thumbs up to bringing the orchard into the market, saying that Ann Arbor deserves to have more organics, especially in the winter.

Glenn Thompson, also speaking during the public commentary portion of the meeting, said he always tries to stop by the orchard when he takes US-23 to northern Michigan. He pointed out that while many growers claim to be organic, Almar is certified as an organic grower. Thompson also noted that Almar makes a great hard cider, but acknowledged that it might be difficult to find a way for them to sell it at the market, alluding to restrictions on selling alcohol.

Events and Special Projects

During her market manager’s report, Molly Notarianni said she was collaborating with Kerrytown Market & Shops on a Dec. 4 event, as part of the downtown’s annual Midnight Madness. Typically, the Kerrytown area doesn’t enjoy much activity during Midnight Madness, when many downtown shops extend their hours and offer special sales. This year, they’re planning to offer food, live music and other activities in the market space, Notarianni said, hoping to draw more people to Kerrytown.

Notarianni also noted that last week was the final one for an “apple museum” that had been exhibited at the market. [The exhibit was described in the October farmers market newsletter this way: “This museum is a space for storytelling and exploring Ann Arbor’s heritage in relation to its agricultural past as told through its apple trees … Apple-centric presentations, ranging from making applesauce to apple pie, will accompany the museum space each week.”]

Peter Pollack said the project provided an intriguing opening to other potential topics related to the history of the market and agriculture in Washtenaw County. He said the area used to have a lot of sheep, for example, but that’s not the case today. Notarianni noted that the apple museum was an MFA project that the student wanted to share. Shannon Brines suggested they should put out a call to all the local history buffs who might want to volunteer to do such a project.

Finally, in what Notarianni characterized as exciting news, the Ann Arbor District Library has agreed to archive the market’s oral history project on the library’s website. She said the library will also help edit the recorded interviews, which are being gathered from vendors and customers who share their memories of the market.

Finance, Policy Issues

Commissioners had previously asked market manager Molly Notarianni to begin providing quarterly financial reports, so that they could better track revenues coming into the market as well as expenditures. At Tuesday’s meeting, she gave her first report. The one-page summary listed line items from the city’s Fund 0046 – revenues and expenses for the market, which is part of the parks and recreation budget. The bulk of the $114,267 in revenues for fiscal 2009 came from vendor rentals.

Peter Pollack suggested that the information be organized so that items directly related to the farmers market are grouped together – separated out from other line items, such as revenue from rental of the market space for wedding and special events. The goal, he said, is to have a better understanding of the relationship between money coming in from vendors, and how that money is being spent.

Commissioners also requested more details on the expense line items. Notarianni said she’d make those changes and bring back a revised report at the commission’s Dec. 1 meeting.

Policies and procedures

Peter Pollack reported that the policy subcommittee was working on two tasks: 1) reviewing the market’s rules, application form and inspection form, to ensure consistency, and doing the same for its bylaws and enabling legislation; and 2) examining the language of the market rules to see whether they need to be clarified, expanded or reorganized. He said they hope to meet with vendors and the general public in February or March to discuss possible changes. Ultimately, their suggestions would be sent as recommendations to the city’s administration, he said.

The subcommittee’s next meeting will be held on Monday, Nov. 23 at the market office, 315 Detroit St., beginning at 6 p.m.

During public commentary at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Luis Vazquez said he was curious to know about possible changes to the market rules. He said he’d spent years working on rules, only to have them tossed aside by Jayne Miller, the city’s community services administrator. [Vazquez previously served on the market commission, which he also chaired.]

Public Commentary

Two people spoke during public commentary, and both spoke twice – at the beginning and end of the meeting.

Luis Vazquez: Vazquez said he’d come to talk about market policy and to continue to voice complaints he’s been making about the enforcement of market rules. He read from an email sent by market inspector Matt Demmon in June of 2008, in which Demmon states that all of the products he had inspected up to then were made from scratch. Vazquez then read from an inspection report that Demmon had filed in July 2008, which stated that Kapnick Orchards was making products from mixes and frozen dough. “I find this to be distressing,” Vazquez told the commission.

Every vendor signs an affidavit stating that they are following the market’s operating rules, Vazquez said, yet when there are violations, nothing is done about it.

Vazquez also took issue with a letter he’d received in August 2009 from Jayne Miller, the city’s community services administrator, telling him that his complaint against Kapnick had been dismissed. He characterized the letter as a kind of threat, and wondered why she’d written it, given that he hadn’t appealed the issue to her.

“I’m going to continue to raise this issue again and again until I get some kind of resolution out of it,” he said. [Vazquez raised similar concerns against Kapnick Orchards at the Aug. 5, 2009 Ann Arbor city council caucus.]

In addition, Vazquez mentioned a complaint he’s filed against two other vendors, J&T Gracia and Island Farms, charging that they are not properly licensed as growers of perennial plants. He said he hoped that the market management would ensure that all vendors have the proper licenses.

Vazquez told commissioners to expect to hear from a community group that would have legal standing and would possibly file a lawsuit against the market and the city for not enforcing its rules.

Glenn Thompson: Thompson said that for years, the market has operated under a set of easy-to-understand rules that applied to all vendors. Now, there’s a proposal for rules to apply to just one group, he said. [The commission is developing new policies to define what it means to "make" a product, for different categories of vendors. See Chronicle coverage of the commission's October meeting: "How Much Do You Spend at the Market?"] It would be better, Thompson said, to focus on the market’s long-term health, ensuring a diversity of products, with more than one vendor selling similar products so that there are more choices for shoppers. In general, he said, the market is functioning well.

Present: Commissioners Dave Barkman, Diane Black, Shannon Brines, and Peter Pollack. Molly Notarianni, market manager.

Absent: Genia Service.

Next meeting: The commission’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 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 date]


  1. By Luis Vazquez
    November 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm | permalink

    Wow, finally something that Glenn Thompson and I actually have some agreement on! Increasing the number of vendors who attend the winter market is a great step, especially if a vendor of organic apples were to show up regularly. It also may encourage other orchards to go organic if Almar is successful at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

  2. November 10, 2009 at 7:26 am | permalink

    I believe that new state legislation, either in the works or recently passed, permits licensed Michigan wineries to sell and offer tastings at farmers’ markets, with appropriate controls. Since orchards that make hard cider or apple wine normally have these licenses, that may allow Almar to sell its products at the marker. Those involved may want to look into this — the person to contact is Mike Beck at Uncle John’s Cider Mill & Winery, up in St. Johns.

  3. By yet another
    November 12, 2009 at 8:33 pm | permalink

    First off, I want to take a moment to add my voice to the rising chorus of unanticipated agreement on the future efficacy of having organic apples in our downtown, open-air marketplace. Will cherish this fleeting memory of near-consensus among the players.

    That aside, it’s good to know that there are a few locals who keep an eye on the market and its commission, which I do appreciate. It’s useful community work to look after the quality of what’s sold there, and whether or not these items are consistent with shoppers’ expectations. In any public venue, it’s important to follow developments in governance, along with advocating for fairness in rules and how they are applied and enforced.

    Some notes on an older matter not directly related to the agenda for this meeting:

    Based on my rather limited knowledge of recent market history, an opportunity to do a substantial redesign for the market has most likely been lost. It’s my understanding that a proposed full remodeling for the site would have arranged farmers & sellers in a single large circle or rectangle. This would have done away with the current T-like setup, which leaves a number of sellers stuck along what’s known as dead man’s alley (or if I may suggest a cleaner, non-gender alternative: corridor of inert sentient activity). A steady traffic flow all around a market area that has no ‘start’ or ‘finish’ point sounds great in terms of fairness to all sellers and ease of access for shoppers. So, why not?

    From the sketchy details in my head, I recall that budget issues and cost overruns ultimately set aside the larger redesign ambitions. Yet we can continue to dream on, can’t we? In one of my recent dreamscapes, the following headline miraculously appeared at the ‘top of the fold’ over at the home page:

    The City’s One Percent for Art program underwrites creation of The Farmers Market Crop Circle

    In this not-so-outrageous flight of fantasy, construction costs get covered so as to facilitate creative development for a more circular market outside Kerrytown. Plus, think of the fun local artists will have while they go about adorning this project. All and all, a far more practical use of public art funds (and better to look at) than the $1 million, color-flecked variation on Kubrick’s 2001 obelisk now proposed for outside the new city hall building.

  4. By wordtothewise
    December 12, 2009 at 7:48 am | permalink

    Having organic apples to purchase at the market would be great! However, I am of the understanding of the market rules regarding transference of seniority, stall space. A business cannot just give away their seniority to another business entity just because the public wants organic apples. Solomen Gardens is not selling or transferring their business to Almar Orchards. Why doesn’t Almar Orchards just file their own application? Will be interested in finding out how market management handles this. Keep us informed Chronicle.

  5. By wordtothewise
    December 17, 2009 at 1:01 am | permalink

    for Yet Another..
    After speaking with several vendors, it was noted that 2 gentlemen one Glen Thompson and one vendor Scott Robertello were insrumental in the city’s decision to cancel the remodeling after several thousands of dollars were spent on an architect. It is said that Mr. Robertello, came to meetings with his own architectual plans. They told the public that the city was getting rid of the market, and had several hundred people sign a petition to keep it a market, Far from the truth,as it was just a reconfiguration with more space for customers. What a shame for both vendors and citizens.