Market suspends season to address challenges

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The Five Corners Farmers' Market plans to take off the 2017 season to re-envision the market's future. (File photo by Oliver Parini)

The Five Corners Farmers’ Market plans to take off the 2017 season to re-envision the market’s future. (File photo by Oliver Parini)

The Five Corners Farmers’ Market has postponed its 2017 season to focus on drumming up new leadership amid challenges faced by the market and its vendors, manager Julie Miller-Johnson confirmed earlier this week.

The announcement comes after several market board members resigned their posts, Miller-Johnson said.

“In the absence of any new members joining the board of directors, they felt they couldn’t continue,” she said, adding if no new volunteers emerge, the market will fold.

The market was typically held Friday nights from June to November.

Many residents were shocked by the decision, taking to the market’s Facebook page to voice their displeasure. Some called it “ridiculous” while others said the postponement showed poor planning and wondered why the market couldn’t undergo revisions while operating as normal this year.

Miller-Johnson, who took over as manager last year, responded by imploring those with concerns to share what they love about the weekly events and any ideas they may have. She’s only had a few responses so far, she said.

“There’s a lot more involved in organizing a market than people realize there is,” Miller-Johnson said.

Sugartree Maple Farm’s Amy Yandow, a Williston vendor who joined the market’s board of directors a couple years ago, testified to this claim.

“I didn’t realize how much work goes into making a market successful,” she said. “I had to give up a lot of my hours to be on the board to keep the market going as long as it’s gone.”

That includes following the various laws on farmers’ markets, adhering to state programs for coupons and setting up and tearing down the market every week.

Market leaders usually begins work in January to prepare for the June opening. Without a full board in place, Yandow said the remaining members decided to take the year off and focus on the market’s future.

Five Corners Farmers' Market organizers hope to find volunteers to join the market's board of directors. Failure to do so could mean the market has seen its last days in Essex Jct. (File photo by Oliver Parini)

Five Corners Farmers’ Market organizers hope to find volunteers to join the market’s board of directors. Failure to do so could mean the market has seen its last days in Essex Jct. (File photo by Oliver Parini)

The board tasked Miller-Johnson with building this new support. A meeting in early May will serve as a benchmark. There, she hopes to find handful of people willing help create a plan for 2018.

The meeting will also address issues currently plaguing the market, questions like if a new, bigger location is required for a more sit-and-stay environment, or if the village’s growing restaurant scene means Friday nights are no longer the best option.

Yet one of the biggest threats, and perhaps most difficult to address, is vendors’ fiscal health, since many struggled to turn foot traffic into sales over the last few years, Miller-Johnson said.

Yandow thinks this may be due to markets’ reputation of being too expensive for young people, a perception she admits she’s not sure how to correct.

“I don’t make a lot of money myself,” Yandow said. “But have learned if you buy local and spend your money local, that money stays local.

“I don’t know if people realize how important that is,” she added.

Some onus falls on organizers, who need to mix up vendors to create a sense of novelty the market is currently lacking, Miller-Johnson said. It’s also on the community, however, “not just to visit, but also to buy,” she said.

Miller-Johnson hopes the May meeting can identify how local consumers wish to spend their time and money.

A redesigned market will ideally be less dependent on volunteers, too, requiring vendors to pick up some of the work. That means revised contracts and applications, Miller-Johnson said, all of which requires a board of directors.

“We need people who are willing to take the time through a series of meetings to do the work,” she said.

Thus, the next few months will prove vital for the market’s future. Miller-Johnson admits she has a personal vision but said the final direction must be what the community wants.

“The way I see it is we have an opportunity now,” she said.

Yandow shares her optimism.

“I do think something could happen. Fresh board members and fresh community members could really be helpful,” she said.