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Concerns remain for Amherst Farmers Market in 42nd year

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>These heirloom tomatoes were for sale in 2007 at the Amherst Farmers Market which opens for its 42nd season April 20 amid continuing concerns that it excludes some vendors from town.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    These heirloom tomatoes were for sale in 2007 at the Amherst Farmers Market which opens for its 42nd season April 20 amid continuing concerns that it excludes some vendors from town. Purchase photo reprints »

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>These heirloom tomatoes were for sale in 2007 at the Amherst Farmers Market which opens for its 42nd season April 20 amid continuing concerns that it excludes some vendors from town.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    These heirloom tomatoes were for sale in 2007 at the Amherst Farmers Market which opens for its 42nd season April 20 amid continuing concerns that it excludes some vendors from town. Purchase photo reprints »

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>These heirloom tomatoes were for sale in 2007 at the Amherst Farmers Market which opens for its 42nd season April 20 amid continuing concerns that it excludes some vendors from town.
  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>These heirloom tomatoes were for sale in 2007 at the Amherst Farmers Market which opens for its 42nd season April 20 amid continuing concerns that it excludes some vendors from town.

Even with Choice Farm, J&J Farm, Wentworth Farm and Queen’s Greens all becoming part of the market, now entering its 42nd year, and with another Amherst farm, Swartz Family Farm invited to join, members of the Agricultural Commission and Town Manager John Musante are continuing to ask for more options for customers.

“We have a shared goal of working collaboratively to position the market so it can thrive and be a bigger success and contributor to downtown vitality, but also have direct engagement of as many Amherst area farmers as possible,” Musante said.

Bernard Brennan, a member of the Agricultural Commission, said he is working toward enlarging the 30-vendor market while at the same time ensuring Amherst farmers have access to it. The market uses the Spring Street parking lot each Saturday through Nov. 23. It runs from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The addition of four Amherst farmers indicates progress, Brennan said, but he considers it minor since the market is not expanding, but rather replacing two farmers who left.

“It’s insufficient to address the constructive criticism that has been ongoing for many years,” Brennan said.

Ideally, Brennan said, the market would enlarge its area and add workshops, children’s entertainment and other events that would attract different people.

“Having a farmers market is terrific and awesome. We don’t want to see it go away, we’d like to see it evolve and become better,” Brennan said. “My overall view of this is we should find a comprehensive way to make it possible for the market to evolve into something better.”

John Spineti of Agawam, president of the market committee, said the farmers market is an independent business and has used a successful model for more than four decades. Spineti dismissed the notion that Amherst farmers are being kept out, noting it was started by Amherst farmers and that Amherst farmers, like Sunset Farm, have played a key role over the years.

“We have not tried to exclude Amherst producers,” Spineti said. “We have never rejected an Amherst farmer.”

Still, Brennan said, many believe that it does. He praises Spineti for attempting to attract new farms, but said the market’s governance remains secret, policies haven’t been updated and the market committee remains philosophically protectionist.

“There are producers and farms who haven’t applied because of this history,” Brennan said.

Brennan said a local breadmaker was denied access to the market because she doesn’t grow her own wheat.

Select Board member Diana Stein said she supports including additional farmers. “I hope more progress will be made to be inclusive,” she said.

Spineti said it is important to preserve what he calls a “class A” market, where all products are grown by the farmers and anything they make is grown on the farm. The market, depending on the time of season, includes dairy products, produce and meats and is trying to recruit a winery. “Effectively we’ve tried to cover every base in the current footprint of the market,” Spineti said.

He said the sales have been stagnating or decreasing, with farmers bringing two to three times more produce than is sold. “Supply and demand does limit what we can do in terms of expansion,” Spineti said. “The profits we’re working on are very marginal.”

Spineti said he supports the ongoing discussions with Musante and the Agricultural Commission, as the market wants to work cooperatively. But he doesn’t want to see a change in governance.

“To have municipal government involved would be a big issue. It could be an ethical issue,” Spineti said. “Farmers markets need to operate independently.”

Brennan said a study to determine the market’s growth potential should be done. Musante said it could be grant funded and would provide data, not just suppositions, about what a larger market would look like.

Legacy Comments2

I wish the Northampton Tuesday market had more people selling local produce and fewer vendors with manufactured goods and non-locally sourced products. I've never been to the Amherst market and I've never heard of "Class A" but I like the sound of it.

What defines a "Class A" market? Where are the other Class A markets in the Commonwealth? Is it really the case that an Amherst resident was denied entry to the market because that person did not grow the wheat used in the bread to be sold? If so, does Bread Euphoria or the baker from the weest part of the state grow the wheat used? Does the person offering tea grow the herbs and tea use in the drinks sold? Could the Selectboard check the rules for a Class A market to see if growing ones own wheat is a requirement for a bread vendor?

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