Bristol Farmers’ Market set to restructure its management
BRISTOL — The Bristol Farmers’ Market is poised to undergo what some board members said are some necessary changes in order to improve its structure in the coming months.
As the localvore movement sweeps the state, Bristol’s market has had to mature to keep up with an influx of new area vendors, as well as increased competition from other regional farmers’ markets, which affects both its customer and its vendor base. Community Supported Agriculture programs (or CSAs) also complicate the equation by getting local produce and food products to customers without bringing it to market.
The 2013 market season began with changes to try to address the evolving needs of vendors and customers, board president Ken Pohlman explained, though the changes seem to have not panned out the way planners had hoped.
First, an additional market day was added on Wednesday nights with the goal of reducing competition, particularly among produce vendors, on Saturday mornings. Longtime market regulars, including Bristol’s New Leaf Organics and Monkton’s Last Resort Farm, began selling on Wednesday nights. But Pohlman said the additional day has not quite “taken off,” and that he “would be surprised if it survived past this market year.”
Longtime vendor Eugenie Doyle of the Last Resort Farm, who used to sell on Wednesday nights in the earlier years of the Bristol Farmers’ Market (before the board eliminated that day several years ago), said that this year Wednesday nights have been extremely slow — “slower than in years before.”
A second mid-season change came last week, when the board decided to let go of its paid manager, who had been promoted to two full days of work per week (up from one) earlier this year. Vendors dues went up to pay that cost. Midway through the market season, Pohlman says, the board is seeing vending dues down by about one-third this year, at $2,100. In 2011, the farmers’ market netted $3,400 in vendor dues and in 2012, $3,200. In response, the board eliminated the manager position and is working to distribute managerial duties, such as staffing the debit/EBT machine, among volunteers.
Doyle, who has been with the market since its first season in 1996, says she has seen many of her friends drop out of the market over the years. Despite changes in the state’s broader local food markets, Doyle and Pohlman both believe that Bristol’s market will be sustainable in the long term.
“We are never going to be a Middlebury, and we don’t really want to be,” Pohlman said, referring to the larger market held in Middlebury’s Marble Works twice a week.
Despite the Bristol market’s smaller size — it only fills a portion of the town park — Pohlman said it has become a Five Town Area community hub, a place for people to socialize as well as to buy products. Farmers’ markets in general have taken off in Vermont in the past several decades for locals and tourists alike, and Bristol’s board is confident that they will continue to see success and growth once they work out the administrative kinks.
“There is a lot of young, new energy coming into the market that lets all of us know there’s a future for it,” said Pohlman. “I think Bristol and the Five Town Area is very special place even within the state of Vermont…We have a lot of things that bring people in our community together. I think there’s place for a farmers’ market within that.”
Despite the fact that this year’s changes may have initially backfired, Pohlman characterizes the need for further changes as “a little bit of a bump in the road” on the way to making Bristol’s market the absolute best it can be for the Five Town Area.
Doyle said that few board members — most, like her, are farmers and vendors themselves — have the time and energy to devote to advertising, but that everyone would do their best to step up to fill the manager’s shoes and to make the market run with decreased revenue (which is generated entirely from vendor dues).
“I think we are kind of at a juncture, and the board is going to try to put in as much energy and promotion as we can possibly muster,” she said.
The juncture for each vendor is personal and individual, she said, as each business must decide how best to sell their product and spend their time and effort.
For the board, Doyle said, “The juncture is this retooling and refueling stop, to see how well we can do this wit
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