On Friday, October 12th, during dinner, I received a somewhat panicked telephone call from a multi-year vendor of the Berlin Farmers’ Market telling me of a letter she had received from the Berlin Chamber of Commerce stating that the Market would be forced to vacate their present location in about 30 days. Apparently, long-standing, downtown parking issues were the reason. This was confirmed that same evening in conversation by our Town Administrator – Tony Carson, during Berlin’s ‘Roctoberfest’. Yet later that evening, another upset vendor sent me a copy of that letter.
At first surprised at the somewhat abrupt action, I was delighted to learn that instead of a blanket market ‘closing’ as first informed; the letter offered a reasonable solution. Relocation to a larger space at the Stephen Decatur Park – just .07 of a mile further down Main Street was suggested – something that I, as a long time supporter of both Berlin market customers and local growers/producers, thought would be of great benefit to both. Fine – right? Nope!
Just days later, at the regularly scheduled Berlin Mayor & Council meeting, forces in protest of this action appeared unbidden, en masse. I happened to attend that night to listen to the new storm water plan. At the end of the meeting, during the public portion, the farmers/vendors spoke. Lots of drama ensued, including the wearing of hastily printed protest t-shirts, a banner or two saying GO GREEN and a not so nicely veiled threat of a Berlin Farmers’ Market boycott by one long time vendor. I listened to more than a few imaginable and some unimaginable reasons not to move the market from some of the vendors and a few downtown customers. The word ‘tradition’ was oft cited. Finally after listening for over an hour, the Mayor ‘caved’ by saying he’d put the final decision on the back burner for two months – though the original action to move the market had come as a directive, straight from Town Hall to be put forth through to the Berlin Chamber as the Market umbrella to the vendors. Poorly handled, in my opinion.
As of this writing, and after a few less public meetings, I’m told the Mayor has promised that the BFM will continue in the over-crowded, downtown point lot through the 2013 season.
On a personal level, being someone who has publicly declared her preference for moving the market for some time, I seemed to have become an instant pariah. Market vendors, whom I’ve known, worked beside, visited and supported, with both time and money for years, suddenly became silent, refusing to answer simple and timely advertising questions; instead I’ve been referred to a seldom-present spouse of a long time vendor for clarification.
It must be known that over the 12+ years I’ve been involved with the Berlin Farmers’ Market I’ve listened to the often-repeated complaint of ‘we need more space’ from most of the very same vendors who are now fighting the move. What gives?
There is multitude of reasons why the Berlin Farmers’ Market should be moved to a larger space –
- The Town of Berlin did not make the initial decision to move the Market without first taking a good look at what a growing and more vibrant Market would need. The space at SD Park is ideal – larger with room to grow. The Town has offered both access to electric – and water. Water being important for many vendors to comply with State and Local Health Departments for sanitary services needed to sell cheese and other locally produced but perishable items. For some years the BFM has been told they cannot offer samples of their products without compliance to the hand-washing rule. Electric service is needed for refrigeration of some proffered items, which are not currently available. And, there are port potty’s for the convenience of both customer and vendor – a long-standing lament from those vendors who must stay all day without a break. The Town has offered to build a pavilion to offer shelter from the hot sun and occasional rain. Finally, the Town has offered to provide abundant signage, redirecting current users to the new Market site. What more could one ask?
- Parking is the main issue – it’s limited. With the increase in number and popularity of Berlin businesses, the same parking footprint remains. Being a supporter of the BFM, I often query my friends encouraging them to partake of the FRESH/LOCAL/HEALTHY available here on Market Fridays. Friendship notwithstanding, I’m told…’sorry, we don’t come, there’s no place to park’.
- Unfortunately several past BFM managers have chosen to deny or overlook applications from other local producers due to available space – several of these actually growing their product closer in distance to Berlin than some of the already existing vendors. This denial has caused some disappointed vendors to go off to other, more distant markets to sell. One even started a new market location on Saturdays at Whitehorse Park in Ocean Pines. Ironically, several of the existing Berlin vendors are now selling up there as well. The OP Market is becoming very popular, offering many variety vendors – and, while only operating 17 – 20 weeks a season, it has an ideal location including comfortable PARKING. Also, yet another nearby (West Ocean City) fresh market is in the planning stage – it too will have more and better parking with which to serve the consumer. With more space, the BFM could offer the consumer a wider variety of products.
- The current BFM vendors pay only a fraction of an annual fee compared to other area farmer’s markets. Yet, they are insisting on remaining on a prime, Town-owned parking area in the center of Berlin, year round. Additionally, they are not required to have a license to do business here as are other folks doing business in the downtown area – nor are they members of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, or except for one, tax-paying Berlin MD citizens. Again, what gives?
Sadly, I see that without the move to a larger area, allowing more variety, with better facilities with which to serve the customer, the Berlin Farmers’ Market will eventually cease to exist. The Market will die on ‘tradition’ – unable to acknowledge the need to grow and change with the needs or the times.