Freeport farmer vows to create a market with local emphasis
FREEPORT — Disgruntled farmers will participate in the Cumberland Farmers Markets Association in Freeport this season, but say they will form their own market for Freeport, Pownal and Durham vendors next year.
At a Town Council meeting on May 5, Ralph Turner, owner of Laughing Stock Farm, said many local farmers were not aware there would be a Freeport farmers market, and said he felt local farmers should have a place at the market in town. He also said the farmers were not aware the CFMA took over the market from Sue Mack of the Freeport Community Center's Food Pantry, and were denied CFMA membership.
Pam Harwood, CFMA president, said the market was filled by the time Turner applied for membership, but they made agreements with him anyway.
"Ralph is a farmer, has joined other markets in the past and should have known the deadlines," Harwood said. "We have to be firm with our deadlines because when we let people in on a rolling basis, it becomes chaotic. Even with all of that, we have been committed to finding a way to get Ralph in the market this year."
As a response to Turner, negotiations were held between the CFMA, the Freeport Economic Development Corp. and Town Manager Dale Olmstead. They agreed to give Turner and other Freeport farmers the opportunity to sell their products at the farmers markets on Fridays.
At their May 5 meeting, town councilors approved moving the farmers market from the corner of West and Main streets to the Town Hall parking lot. The council also agreed to close off the driveway to Town Hall, which will allow more space for Freeport vendors to participate in the market.
"The plan in place is not perfect, but we reluctantly agreed to participate," Turner said at the council meeting. "We will compromise for the 2009 season."
After that, Turner said, his plan is to create a farmers market for 2010 that would include Freeport, Pownal and Durham farm and seafood vendors.
"If Freeport businesses want any part in the (farmers) market, we have to do this ourselves," he said. "We will do everything we can to give people what they want. This compromise will do for the summer, but there are a lot of issues that are not satisfying."
According to negotiated agreement, Durham and Pownal farmers and seafood vendors are not permitted to join the Freeport market.
Turner said his Freeport market will not limit vendors to just Freeport, Pownal and Durham, but will give preference to those towns.
"(CFMA's) vested interest is to their members," he said. "Our vested interest is to our community. That is the main difference. I think we can make it better than it is now."
The problem, according to Turner, started when the CFMA took over the Freeport farmers market from Freeport Community Services and did not open the invitation to Freeport farmers who were not already members of the organization. Then, Turner said, when he asked to be told about the market timeline so he could plan for the following year, he was not informed and as a result, missed the application deadline.
"If a market is going to be held in Freeport, then we should have the ability to participate in the process," Turner said. "I don't think it is fair."
The Freeport farmers market grew out of a community forum held last year, where residents expressed interest in buying local produce and seafood from area farmers. Mack made arrangements for a market to be held at the Thos. Moser parking lot. Then, Mack said, she mailed postcards to area farmers inviting them to participate.
But Leslie Fitzgerald, marketing manager of the CFMA, said many farmers did not respond. In order to fill the lot, she said, eleven members of the CFMA joined the Freeport market.
"I thought by this year, we had all the parties from Freeport who were interested," she said. "If we didn't, that was my mistake, but we assumed that if they were there, they were interested. If they weren't, they weren't."
Harwood said the purpose of the organization is to help farmers get their product to the public and although Turner missed the deadline, the CFMA offered him the opportunity to become a day-table vendor. That option, Harwood explained, is for people without a full membership and without board voting power. It costs $50 each day for the first three days, and then $10 for every market after that.
She said Turner was offered a rate that was higher than a regular membership, but lower than a day table. She also said the day-table option was changed to fit the Freeport vendors' needs, and when the memberships are full, there are usually no exceptions.
At $295, Turner said he was paying more than he wanted for a limited arrangement, when regular, full memberships are only $250.
Fitzgerald said the CFMA has increased its vendors from 14 to 40 and will open another market in Gray in addition to their Yarmouth, Falmouth, Cumberland and Freeport locations.
"I don't want ill feelings," Fitzgerald said. "I hope he knows we have tried very hard to find a way to make this work, and I do understand his frustration."
Harwood said she supports Turner's goal of creating a Freeport market, but is concerned about participation, since so few Freeport farmers answered the call to participate a year ago.
"He is a farmer and his focus is on the growth of the farm," Harwood said. "I see him starting an organic farmers market for Freeport, Pownal and Durham residents. I just hope others join with him and show interest."