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Amherst Farmers' Market pledges to address criticism

To the editor:

The Amherst Farmers’ Market started its 42nd season on the common April 20.

In those 40 years, we have created a strong hub of community activity. This event brightens the Saturday mornings of many in town. The market is the largest weekly community event in town, provides a vital livelihood for farmers and vendors, brings shoppers into town and is a vibrant social activity.

We are excited that another great season is under way.

In recent years, the market has also received some criticism based on a perception that there are many Amherst farmers that have been refused the right to sell at the market. Some have also criticized an unclear governance structure and process.

This year, we are working hard to address and learn from these criticisms. We have started this process by re-writing the market’s rules and bylaws, finding ways to open the market up to more vendors, and making all of our processes and communications as systemized and transparent as possible. We also sent out a survey to the public with questions addressing various ways the market could be improved.

This past winter, the Amherst Farmers’ Market Committee sent out a call for new vendors through several channels including a list of Amherst farmers maintained by the Amherst Agricultural Commission.

We received many applications, and are pleased to be inviting six new vendors including three farms from Amherst. All of the Amherst farms that submitted applications were accepted. The product diversity of the new and existing farms will provide for a high level of selection for our customers.

The new rules/bylaws, and new vendor application are both available on our website,
AmherstFarmersMarket.com.

We recognize that a successful farmers market is like a healthy garden. It needs constant tending, care and attention.

There is still much to be done, as the garden is ever changing and evolving. The idea has come forward that the market should be governed by a nonprofit group that includes other stakeholders. Another idea is to expand the physical space the market occupies in order to accommodate more vendors.

We also recognize that there is a contradiction in our rules. The bylaws dictate that only products and ingredients grown on the farm can be sold, yet we have vendors selling items for which they did not grow all of the ingredients.

These are all issues which deserve careful consideration, and which we did not fully address this winter. We met in April with the Amherst Town Manager, and have been generously offered help in pursuing grant funding to hire a consultant to investigate these issues.

We would also look to answer other questions about how to make a great market even better, how to be more responsive to customers’ needs and help provide a living to more local producers. Our goal is to intelligently lay the groundwork for the next 40 years of the Amherst Farmers’ Market.

What will this garden look like in 40 years? It is up to you!

We are very excited about the market, and look forward to seeing you at the market.

Jeremy Barker Plotkin

Jeanette Fellows

Casey Steinberg

John Spineti

Amherst

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