Vergennes Farmers’ Market to open with more vendors

VERGENNES — The growing Vergennes Farmers’ Market will make its 2011 debut on Thursday on the city’s downtown green with an expanded variety of local fresh produce, flowers and even crafts.
The market will open earlier this year than in the past, said coordinator Rhonda Williams, and will run from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays through the fall.
While the city council has debated what type of vendor to allow at the market, Williams said the number of vendors has doubled in the past two years, during which the market has also officially incorporated with a board of directors.
Currently, the vendor roster includes Green Street Gardens, Fresh From Vermont, The Farmer’s Table, Flower Power, Shellhouse Farm Fresh Chicken Eggs, VT Green Meadows, Good Companion Bakery, Waisted Reversible Belts, Boundbrook Farm, and Jackson’s Chicks, Eggs and More.
More vendors are welcome to sign on for the annual membership fee of $25, Williams said. The market does not charge a weekly table fee, and will allow vendors to see if the market is a good match for them without risking the membership outlay.
“If someone wants to try their hand as a vendor for a week or two without making a commitment, I am fine with that,” she said. “We are here to serve our local growers and producers.”
The city council debate centers around whether some vendors might pose unfair competition to downtown restaurants. Williams had suggested recruiting a pizza maker, for example, but some aldermen, including David Austin, said at their April 12 meeting that allowing hot prepared food to be sold would draw customers away from firms that pay year-round taxes or rent.
Restrictions exist elsewhere. The only prepared food the summer Middlebury Farmers’ Market in the Marble Works allows to be sold must be packaged to be cooked offsite.
Alderman Randy Ouellette, a woodworker, is the council’s assigned liaison with the market. Ouellette said there are two schools of thought on whether to restrict the market.
He and Mayor Michael Daniels have lobbied for a more inclusive market that could lure more visitors, arguing it would create a greater benefit to downtown.
“The mayor and I and Rhonda and other people feel it should be a more open thing,” said Ouellette, who plans to join the vendor roster with some of his wares.
Ouellette said at least one eatery owner agrees, but that Ouellette planned to ask around more to see if there was a consensus downtown.
“He said, ‘The more foot traffic we have, the better,’” Ouellette said. “I’m going to walk around and ask people at other stores and see what they think.”
Periodically over the years the council has debated how to respond to commercial requests on the green. Ouellette would like residents and shopkeepers to contact him at [email protected] with their thoughts on the market and the green.
“What I would like to know from the people is what they think the park should be used for and what we should do for the market,” he said.
Williams said given that the market is only open afternoons one day a week for a few hours, she does not see it taking business away from downtown shops. And she worries that limiting its options could stunt the market’s future.
“We have been pleased with our growth, but it has taken being welcoming and open to new vendors, (a new) market day, (new) marketing approaches, etc. If we put limitations on vendors, that will make it much harder to serve the community with a vibrant market,” she said.
What the market does do in at least a small way, she said, is bring people into the city’s downtown.
“The market serves to promote Vergennes and to link customers with what they are looking for. Many times tourists ask questions of vendors on where they can find this, eat that,” she said. “We are pleased to help steer them to our area businesses and restaurants. We don’t see the market as competition but rather as a complement to what the city and its businesses (and) organizations have to offer.”
Even with the current question marks, Williams said the Vergennes market is going strong. Moving from Monday to Thursday last summer helped, she said.
“Mondays turned out not to be a strong shopping day despite the appeal of the Vergennes concert in the park series. Thursdays, however, allow us to not compete against area farmers markets and to create an end-of-the-week niche for stopping by and shoring up on fresh produce, flowers, desserts, etc.,” she said.
Williams believes the growing popularity of the concept has also boosted the Vergennes market.
“Farmers’ markets are important to filling the role of supplying local, fresh foods,” she said. “They serve as that connection that many people are looking for with and through their food choices.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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