BERLIN — Town leadership and vendors appear to have mended any fences that may have broken last month when the Mayor and Council requested a re-location of the Berlin Farmers Market.
Following their confrontation in October, both groups have been working together to develop a new, agricultural-based town event as well as form a nine-member Advisory Board composed of vendors, town officials and business and community representatives.
“I think that we’ve come to some really good agreements,” said Paul Wood of A & W Farms, a vendor whose family has been with the market since it was founded nearly 20 years ago.
Since last month, when farmers and residents packed the normally quiet council meeting at town hall to protest a request to move the market out of downtown, Berlin officials and vendors have set up regular meetings to ensure that a line of communication remains unbroken between the two groups. A lack of communication was the biggest complaint expressed by the Mayor and Council during that initial meeting last month.
With the decision in place to keep the farmers market where it is currently for the foreseeable future, the town and farmers last week discussed what kind of partnership needs to be established to show that Berlin and the market are committed to each other.
“I believe everyone at the meeting found that we have much to gain by working together, and much to lose, if we do not,” said Mayor Gee Williams. “I am confident that within the next couple of months and well before next spring, we can accomplish much because our discussion enabled all parties to share all the ways we can benefit Berlin’s residents, visitors and the larger business community by building on what we already have in common.”
Everything from how the town promotes the market to the rules that dictate how the farmers operate was on the table. Some concerns that the town has expressed in the past center on the limited amount of space at the downtown market and how to make sure that new vendors are given a fair opportunity to join. Issues such as that are where the new Advisory Board will come in.
“The Advisory Board will be key for kind of overseeing some activities as we go forward,” said Susan Wood of Sassafras Meadows Farm.
The board will consist of two vendors, a market master, Councilwoman Lisa Hall, Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day, two business representatives and two community representatives. According to Susan Wood, besides organizing events and managing the vendors, the board will exist to address “any concerns or grievances” put forth by anyone in regards to the market.
Along with the Advisory Board, plans are in the works for an unscheduled new town event — “Agricultural Heritage Weekend.” The event would be annual and, according to a release from the mayor’s office, exist to jointly promote “the market and the town, to celebrate the community’s past and continuing agricultural heritage.”
By all accounts the town and vendors seem to be on a co-operative path moving forward, though Paul Wood admitted that it was “touch and go” last month. In the future, he added that the farmers are optimistic about becoming a more active cog in the town machine.
“We, as a market, are looking forward now to a new partnership with the Main Street Berlin program,, while maintaining the character and high quality of our downtown Berlin farmers market and continuing to self-govern within established rules and regulations, in addition to having an active Advisory Board,” Wood said.