Ann Arbor Public Market Advisory Commission (Dec. 1, 2009): The absence of market manager Molly Notarianni resulted in a somewhat abbreviated meeting of the Public Market Advisory Commission on Tuesday, with no votes or action items on the agenda.
Two people – Glenn Thompson and Luis Vazquez – spoke during the time set aside for public comment, criticizing what they view as a lack of enforcement of the market’s rules regarding, respectively, organic products and made-from-scratch baked goods.
Also, Peter Pollack, chair of the commission, reported that Notarianni was ill, but he was sure that if she had been there to make her report, she would have highlighted the Dec. 4 KindleFest at the public market.
Pollack also gave an update about the work of a subcommittee that’s reviewing market policies and procedures.
In conjunction with the Dec. 4 Midnight Madness shopping event in downtown Ann Arbor, the Kerrytown District Association is hosting its first annual KindleFest, which will run from 6-10 p.m. in the public market space next to Kerrytown Market & Shops. There will be artists and other vendors, live music – including carolers – food, drink and fire pits for roasting s’mores. Peter Pollack, chair of the market advisory commission, said the idea is to attract people to the Kerrytown area, which doesn’t typically get much traffic during Midnight Madness.
Policies & Procedures
Commission chair Peter Pollack gave a report on work of the polices and procedures subcommittee, consisting of himself and commissioners Shannon Brines and Dave Barkman. The current market rules have been in place since the summer of 2007, he said, and since then the commission has been keeping track of questions, observations and other feedback from vendors and customers. The subcommittee is now reviewing the rules – a review that was spurred by the commission, not the city administration, he said.
There are two tracks, Pollack said. First, they are revising the vendor application and vendor inspection form, with an eye toward giving more clarity to both of those documents. The commission can make these changes without getting city council approval, he said, as long as the forms conform with market rules. The subcommittee hopes to have drafts by early next year, then bring in vendors for feedback before finalizing the changes. The goal is to have the revisions completed for the 2010 market season, Pollack said.
A longer-term project, Pollack said, was to review the market’s policies and procedures, and ultimately make recommendations to the city’s administration and city council. He said that the subcommittee would next meet on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. at the market office, 315 Detroit St.
During the time set aside for public comment at the end of the meeting, Glenn Thompson said he was surprised to hear about the subcommittee meeting. Given that three commissioners served on the subcommittee, which formed a quorum of the five-member advisory commission, Thompson wondered when and where they planned to publish the minutes from the previous meeting, as required by the Open Meetings Act. He said it was unfortunate that they were conducting meetings outside of the public sphere – it seems like a poor approach and poor policy for a body that claims to be working for transparency, he said.
Pollack responded to Thompson’s comments, noting that the commission itself had only five members. To take advantage of the experience and knowledge of commissioners, the subcommittee had three members, he said, likening it to a working session. The meetings are noticed in advance, and open to the public. [A mention of the Nov. 23 subcommittee meeting was reported in The Chronicle's coverage of the Nov. 3 meeting of the full commission.] “We’re not hiding,” Pollack said. “We’re not doing anything behind closed doors.”
Competition for the Market?
During the time set aside for commissioners to raise items for discussion, Dave Barkman said he’d heard of several instances in which developers and landlords in the area are trying to rent facilities to vendors that currently sell at local farmers markets. He said if vendors are offered better facilities, such as a location that’s indoors, they might decide not to return to the farmers market. It’s something to be aware of, he cautioned.
Peter Pollack noted that there was a time when the Ann Arbor farmers market was unique. That’s not the case anymore, he added, and it’s important to stay competitive. One advantage, he said, was that the entire Kerrytown neighborhood is a destination, not just the market.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Pollack mentioned the vacant retail space at Liberty Lofts as one location that has been cited as a possible market. Barkman said there’s possible interest in a market for workers on the University of Michigan medical campus – similar to a farmers market held on the grounds of the Chelsea Community Hospital.
Glenn Thompson: In addition to his criticism of the subcommittee reported above, Thompson urged commissioners to address the fact that some vendors were misrepresenting their products as organic. The Organic Food Production Act makes it a federal offense to label food as organic if the producer hasn’t been certified, Thompson said. Michigan has a similar law as well. Current market rules would be sufficient to address this, he said – such as enforcing the requirement that vendors submit all licenses and certifications to the market manager, including organic certification. Market rules also prohibit misrepresentation, he said: “Organic at the market must mean as much as organic at the supermarket.” If the commission wants to adopt new rules specific to this issue, Thompson said, he has already provided market manager Molly Notarianni with examples from other Michigan markets in Holland and Lake Orion that regulate the use of the word “organic.” The Ann Arbor market should adopt similarly high standards, he said.
Luis Vazquez: Vazquez also spoke twice, at the beginning and end of the meeting. Holding a sign in the shape of a giant-sized slice of pie with “No Faked Goods” written on it, he began by highlighting an article in the recent issue of Current magazine – “Knowing What You’re Getting” – which looked at claims that certain Ann Arbor farmers market vendors aren’t making their products from scratch. Vazquez noted that market manager Molly Notarianni isn’t quoted in the article. Instead, Jeff Straw, the city’s deputy parks manager, is quoted as stating that the definition of “produced” isn’t specified and is a decision of the market manager. If that’s the case, Vazquez said, and if Notarianni has decided that Kapnick Orchards meets that definition, then “shame on Molly.” If she were at the meeting, he said, he’d wag his finger at her. [Vazquez has raised this issue previously, most recently at the commission's Nov. 3 meeting. See Chronicle coverage: "Public Market Seeks Clarity on Vendors"] He brought copies of signed petitions that he had collected earlier this year from shoppers at the market supporting his position. Markets in dozens of other cities have baked-from-scratch rules, he said, as does the Westside Farmers Market in Ann Arbor. He said he doubted that Kapnick would be accepted as a vendor for the westside market, because of those rules.
During his second public comment speaking turn, Vazquez picked up on Glenn Thompson’s remarks about organic certification, saying that it was a watershed moment because he actually agreed with Thompson. He recalled that Ken King – a former market commissioner and owner of Frog Holler Organic Farm, who died earlier this year – had talked to him several years ago about how difficult and expensive it was for small farms to become certified as organic. Vazquez said he thought that organic farmers should be supported even if they aren’t in compliance with federal statutes. He said it would be more helpful for him if he knew what kinds of pesticides were being used on non-organic produce. Finally, he said he didn’t find the claims of organic produce as egregious a misrepresentation as the more blatant misrepresentation by Kapnick.
Present: Commissioners Dave Barkman, Shannon Brines, Peter Pollack, and Genia Service.
Absent: Commissioner Diane Black and Molly Notarianni, market manager.
Next meeting: The commission’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 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]