BERILN — As a result of continued talks between the Mayor and Council and the Berlin Farmers Market, a “market master” has been named to act as arbiter and director for the vendors and an advisory group will soon be formed.
“We really look forward to having an advisory group,” said Market Master Susan Wood.
In recent years, the market has been self-managed by the vendors with help from the Chamber of Commerce. By adding an official Advisory Board, comprised of vendors, town representatives and business and community members, Wood hopes that there will be much more communication with the town so that they are operating together instead of outside of each other’s vision.
However, Wood also made it clear that she still believes that the people best qualified to make decisions for the market are those who understand it the best, meaning the vendors. That was her reasoning behind requesting that earlier ideas to have a “governing board” evolve into the current Advisory Board.
Representatives from the town agreed that the farmers need to have control on how the market is run, but there are times when an outside opinion might be prudent, according to Director of Economic and Community Development Michael Day.
“I’m a little hesitant of the market master being a farmer,” he admitted, explaining that it would be difficult for the market master to be impartial when asked to address a situation with a fellow farmer.
The farmers disagreed.
“I don’t think it will work having someone who isn’t a vendor,” argued vendor Phyllis Wimbrow.
According to Wimbrow, the only people qualified to serve as market master are those who know the ins and outs of how the market is run. Having an outsider serve as market master would mean that they would be fighting against a hefty learning curve, she reasoned, an opinion that was supported by her fellow farmers.
Day didn’t press the matter further and said that he was only offering an opinion.
Mayor Gee Williams told the vendors that he approves of the way the partnership between the town and market is heading, but he did stress the need for transparency regarding applications to join the market. Williams underlined the need to document every step of the process from receiving an application from a potential new vendor to the inspection of their farm and the process used to decide whether or not to add them to the market.
“It needs to be explicit so favoritism cannot be thrown out there … In most small towns, including this one, it was who you knew,” said the mayor, asserting that such a system won’t work in a modern Berlin.
That was Wood’s feeling as well and she told the group that by having rules and policies firmly in place, as well as the outside perspective from the Advisory Board, she expects the market to grow with the town in the next few years and looks forward to continuing in its current location at the parking lot at the corner of Main and West streets.
“Our primary responsibility is to prepare the community for the next 20 to 30 years,” Williams agreed.
After last week’s meeting, a special subcommittee was formed to work on finalizing the market’s rules of order. Some of the earliest issues that the Advisory Board will likely look into include how to best manage the current space available to the market, the application process for perspective farmers and the consideration of adding artisan vendors on a very limited guest basis, which will likely be by invitation only and only for a few markets over the course of the year.