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Amherst Farmers Market opening up to more producers



Tuesday, March 24, 2015
AMHERST — When the Amherst Farmers Market begins its season April 18, more farmers and producers who live in the community will be able to participate.

As part of negotiations between town officials and the private Amherst Farmers Market Committee, which has run the market on Spring Street for more than 40 years, several bylaws have been amended to conform with public appeals to make the market more open and welcoming to Amherst vendors.

The amendments not only won support from the Select Board Monday, which granted the market the right to close portions of Spring Street and Boltwood Avenue every Saturday between 7 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. through Nov. 21, but from the town’s Agricultural Commission, whose chairman, Bernard Brennan, said transparency, fairness and open competition will lead to a more vibrant market.

“We’re looking forward to a renewed sense of cooperation going forward,” Brennan said.

Four changes were made to the bylaws that Brennan said “fully address” the criticisms levied by the commission.

First, the revised bylaw states that “Amherst producers will be accepted as new or continuing vendors in the application cycle for which they apply.”

Second, valued-added producers — people who use ingredients grown in state within 50 miles of Amherst — will be allowed. Certain ingredients are exempted. Brennan said those baking bread and making jams, for instance, won’t be kept out.

Third, the market will no longer restrict products that may compete with an existing vendor. If someone who typically sells cut flowers wants to also sell tomatoes for a few weeks, that will be OK.

“We think that’s a great change,” Brennan said.

Finally, the Agricultural Commission will have one of its members be part of the private committee.

The changes came about as the result of a meeting with Town Manager John Musante, Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and Select Board member Andrew Steinberg that followed a February meeting in which the Select Board expressed worry about the market’s rules and regulations.

“Issues of concern were laid out on the table. It was a good opportunity for everyone to have good dialogue about it,” Musante said.

The market has 30 vendors at the height of the growing season, but only eight are Amherst farmers, said market manager Tammy Ryan. Those returning Amherst farmers are Old Friends Farm, Simple Gifts Farm, Sunset Farm, Queens Greens and Choice Farm, with the newcomers from Amherst being Wheelhouse Farm, a prepared-food vendor that buys produce from Brookfield Farm, Fungi Ally and Deepening Roots.

“We have approved all Amherst vendors who applied before our general meeting on March 10,” Ryan said.

Besides the anticipated wider selection, the most noticeable change for shoppers will be expanding the footprint to encompass a section of Boltwood Avenue between Spring Street and the entrance to Amherst College’s Porter dormitory for the entire season. This area was used for a brief period in 2013, when the market changed its rules to give “strong preference” to Amherst farmers, but was not used last year.

Ryan said this area will include musicians, classes and workshops, cooking demonstrations and permanent places to sit down and eat.

“Just creating a bigger market and more community involvement, that’s what we’re hoping to do this season,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the market will also invite community organizations and businesses to set up information tables.

Brennan said many of the changes won’t be immediate, as the long-standing reputation of exclusion still exists. The Agricultural Commission, he said, will focus on advertising to both established and new producers to let them know they are welcome.

“I expect it will be a gradual process, taking several years, as more Amherst producers join and the customer base expands,” Brennan said.

Steinberg said he would like to see the Select Board plan a subsequent meeting in the fall with Agricultural Commission to assess how things go.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com