'We're Not Agin You'

Published 2:18 pm Tuesday, November 26, 2013

FARMVILLE — The Town of Farmville and the Farmville Farmers Market Association will hoe the same row but the Town will have its hand on the plow regarding management of the farmers market facility.

Town Council affirmed its decision to take over operation of the market, while expanding usage, but pledged to work with the association.

“We’re not agin you,” council member Sally Thompson would tell association members in attendance, “we’re on your side.”

Email newsletter signup

Town officials and association members agreed to meet and discuss how to make more opportunistic use of the facility constructed by the Town at a total cost, including property acquisition, of $733,795 in local dollars, with another $102,000 contributed by the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

Town Council voted in October to take over operation of the farmers market facility—not the association—in order to pursue its goal of expanding use, including opening up the farmers market to more people from across the region.

The decision, which was made without association input, did not sit entirely easy with everyone within the association.

But the vendor who addressed council this month, and who suggested scheduling a meeting, would find himself in cordial agreement with Thompson’s aims to improve the farmers market.

Local craftsman, Richard Altice, asked Town officials during the public comments portion of the meeting how they could “make a decision on the farmers market without talking to the vendors?

“Primarily, I come with a question—what do ya’ll plan on doing?” asked Altice, who sells his crafts, which include canes, at the market.

A strong advocate of the market, Altice described it as “a place for people to get locally grown food which, in my opinion, is the best food you can get. You get to talk to the people who grew it. You get to see crafts made by local people, of which I am one, and, again, you get to talk directly to the person who made the stuff.”

Items sold in the big “box stores,” he said, are shipped an average distance of 1,500 miles, by comparison.

Town Manager Gerald Spates offered the first explanation before council member Thompson gave what amounted to a passionate declaration of the Town’s intent.

“Yes, we do plan on including all the vendors there, if they wish to participate,” Spates told Altice, and several other association members in attendance.

The town manager then addressed what caused the Town’s decision to take over operation of the facility.

“I think the concerns that came up about the farmers market is the fact we have spent an awful lot of money down there at the farmers market to develop that area for a farmers market,” he said. “Before, we had the farmers market (facility) we had the farmers market at the train station and it really interfered with a lot of activities we had down there.

“And maybe we are at fault for not getting as involved in the farmers market as we should have,” the town manager continued, “but we’ve been receiving a lot of complaints from people who feel that they’re left out of the farmers market just because they don’t live in a certain area or the fact somebody else is selling similar products and they’re restricted from coming in and doing this. These are complaints that I know I’ve gotten and I know council’s gotten.”

The Farmville Farmers Market Association, on the other hand, has not heard any complaints, according to Altice.

“Nobody’s come to us,” he said.

Looking to promote communication between the Town and the association, it was Altice who suggested a meeting “where we can hash out” various issues and address complaints.

Thompson jumped right in at that point.

“I agree that when we have a meeting I think there should be a representative from the (association) at our meeting. I think that’s important…I’ve been to the farmers market many times…I come frequently…And I want to open the farmers market up to more people,” she said.

“I want to see us draw from surrounding counties. I think competition is good. That’s the name of the game. If you’ve got the best food products, if you’ve got the best vegetables, then I’m going to buy your vegetables,” Thompson continued. “If you’ve got the prettiest flowers, I’m going to buy your flowers. The name of the game is competition. So, let’s open it up.”

Thompson said she has received positive feedback from the Town’s decision to take over management of the farmers market facility and expand its use.

“I’ve had people from other counties say to me, ‘Boy, we’re so exited that we’re going to have more vendors,” she said, before knocking a rumor out of the back 40.

“No, this is not going to be a yard sale…I’ve had people say, ‘Sally, I hear this is going to be one big yard sale.’ No, sir, this is not a yard sale,” she said emphatically. “…No, this is a farmers market. We will sell things that are made or grown by people in this community.”

Which was music to Altice’s ears.

“Exactly,” he said in total agreement, then expressing his lament for a lack of participation in the farmers market.

Not to worry.

“You will get participation,” Thompson declared. “…We’re going to use the money from this to help pay off our debt and maintain our building and we’re going to open it up to you all, to your friends, to people within this county, and surrounding counties. And we will do what is best for the people of this (community).

“And I’ll try to please you,” she said from her enthusiastic soapbox, “but I don’t promise to please everybody. You can’t please all the people all the time. But, we will work with you…The market will continue. We’re not agin you, we’re on your side.”

Continuing, Thompson enthused, “we’re going to make it better. I want music in there on Saturdays. I want the high school kids or the elementary school kids who play, I want them to bring music and to be a part. I want to have other things to draw people. I want food out there that we can snack on. I don’t want just one vendor selling food. I’d like other vendors selling food. We can utilize the parking lot. We’ve got a terrific facility.”

Total concurrence from Altice ensued.

“I agree with everything you said because, like you said, competition is the key and if we can just get the word out and get more vendors in,” he said.

Thompson said, “we want you to tell your friends. We want the newspaper to tell our friends that this farmers market is for all the people.”

“Can we schedule a get-together at some time?” Altice asked.

“We will meet with you, we will have a meeting including you…so we can, let’s put our ideas together. We need to publicize this,” Thompson said.

“Exactly,” Altice agreed.

“We need to get the word out,” she added.

“Exactly,” Altice replied.

“And I look at other farmers markets and they’re full,” Thompson went on, she and Altice now working the same row together.

“Yeah, like you say, you look around and the other markets are flourishing. I don’t understand why this one is not,” he said.

“Me, either, and that’s the whole point,” Thompson said. “We’re going to flourish. Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Altice added.

At which point, Spates was able to ask the Farmville Farmers Marketing Association members “would you be willing to meet with us and discuss it?”

“Just give us a time and place,” Altice enthused.

Thompson’s passion for the farmers market drew praise from fellow town council member David E. Whitus before the meeting proceeded with its agenda.

“I’d like to commend Ms. Thompson for her enthusiasm and zeal for the farmers market, and the farmers market people should be very excited to have someone of her enthusiasm and zeal on their side,” he declared. “You’ll have the best farmers market in the area.”

Spates has said the Town’s recreation department will assume responsibility for the farmers market facility beginning January 1.