2012-05-25 / Front Page

City market opens despite some bumps

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer

Marianne Russo, left, owner of Nellie’s Tea and Gifts, raises a glass of her Moroccan mint tea with her friend and volunteer Deborah Schofield. (Jack Flagler photo) Marianne Russo, left, owner of Nellie’s Tea and Gifts, raises a glass of her Moroccan mint tea with her friend and volunteer Deborah Schofield. (Jack Flagler photo) When the South Portland Farmers Market opened for the first time this season on May 17, Hinckley Drive did not look like the scene of a controversy. A group of approximately 10 vendors set up shop on the street beside Mill Creek Park on a beautiful spring day, and a slow but steady stream of customers made their way from booth to booth.

But earlier in the week, the city of South Portland denied the licenses of four vendors to sell their goods at the farmers market because the vendors did not comply with a city ordinance.

Caitlin Jordan, manager of the South Portland Farmers Market Association, said the source of confusion was language in the city ordinance that defined vendors as being able to sell “farm and food products,” then defined exactly what those farm and food products were in a separate section of the ordinance.

She said there is no set definition for what a market can and cannot include, and that each town’s definition is “all over the map.” For example, she said Brunswick’s market is called a “bazaar” because of the broad range of offerings it has.

South Portland City Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis said the farmers market is still a “work in progress,” but the city was operating under state restrictions that limit what types of vendors can operate at what is defined as a farmer’s market.

“It’s not that we don’t want certain vendors this year that we did want last year; it’s a learning curve for all of us. I don’t think there’s any malicious intent here,” said De Angelis, who also expressed her frustration at the communication breakdown between the South Portland Farmers Market Association and the city.

“I think the more the city has done for the market, the more criticism the city has received. The city has done cartwheels to get this market to its new location,” De Angelis said.

Marianne Russo, owner of Nellie’s Tea and Gifts in South Portland, was one of the vendors denied a license. She said after participating in previous markets in South Portland, she is disappointed she can’t return

“I love the other vendors. The farmers market is sort of a whole little community of its own,” Russo said.

“Vendors get to know one another and customers and vendors develop relationships, so it was a great experience in both those ways, so I was very sad to hear that I wouldn’t be able to participate this year,” she added. “Down the road I hope I can be back.”

Russo said while she isn’t a person to go to court at “every little blip,” she will cooperate with the other vendors in asking the city to amend its ordinance.

Despite the denied licenses, most vendors who were present at the market said they were hopeful and excited about the upcoming season.

“We didn’t do very well here last summer,” said Sheldon Bubier of Bubier Family Farm in Greene. “We wouldn’t have come back to that location (in Thomas Knight Park), it was horrible over there. Business was very slow. I lost money every week over there.”

Bubier said he thinks the poor season was a combination of the location and the weather. It rained 10 out of the 12 days the market was open last year, but said he thinks this year will be much improved, despite Hinckley Drive being closed to traffic the afternoon the market is held.

“(The customers) are going to see this one. That was kind of the idea of the people who were familiar. If we get it over here, they’re going to know we’re here. They may be mad the first time the roads close, but maybe the next time they’ll come to the market.”

Kristen Dillon described herself as the “marketing punk” for Treble Ridge Farm in Whitefield, owned by Rufus and Alice Percy. The farm is participating in the South Portland Farmers Market for the second consecutive year. Dillon, who sells a variety of sausages and fresh produce from her stand, said she, too, is encouraged by the location change.

“I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, but I can tell you it’s about 50 million times more pleasant,” Dillon said as she gestured toward the view of Mill Creek Park. “I think we have solved most of the issues. The only thing we haven’t solved yet is signage around the city. I mean, if every one of us had a sign that we dropped off in a specific location it would help.”

Jordan shares in the vendors’ optimism. She said customers came to her saying they didn’t know the market was opening, but happened to be in the area and stopped by. “That was the idea” of the location change, said Jordan, who hopes that as vendors scheduled to join throughout the summer come in, business will increase.

The South Portland Farmers Market is held every Thursday on Hinckley Drive from 3 to 7 p.m. Hinckley Drive is closed to traffic those days from 2 to 8 p.m.

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