2013-09-13 / Front Page

Market close to having final home

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – As the South Portland farmers market nears the finish of its third summer in the city, the question of its ultimate location that has followed the market since it opened in 2011 appears to be nearing a conclusion.

Representatives from the farmers market met with city councilors in a workshop Monday, Sept. 9 to discuss the longterm future of the market’s location in what Mayor Tom Blake called a “proactive” discussion to avoid the “11th hour” decisions of the last few years.

The council authorized the market to begin a second year on Hinckley Drive, adjacent to Mill Creek Park, in a decision reached in March, about a month before the market opened for the summer season. The market began in 2011 in Thomas Knight Park, where vendors say it struggled through a rainy and slow first season. Thomas Knight Park is not being considered for relocation.

Although city staff recommended the council move the location because of traffic issues resulting from the weekly street closure, market vendors and citizens strongly supported leaving the location as is.

While councilors allowed the market to remain on Hinckley Drive in 2013, members did not resolve the long-term location of the market at their March meeting. Instead, they asked market representatives to gather more concrete data on the number of attendees at the market and their opinions of the location.

Ruth Price, a South Portland resident who has experience as a research analyst with Oldham Innovative Research in Portland and the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., volunteered to collect the data. Price presented a nine-page report analyzing the findings to the council Monday.

The report included data from 179 patrons who visited the market this summer and responded to the voluntary survey. The patrons provided answers to general demographic questions, then were asked about their opinions concerning the market and the location. Finally, the patrons were allowed to provide written comments and suggestions.

The responses showed the typical customer at the South Portland Farmers Market who took the time to fill out a survey was a Caucasian woman between the ages of 50-60 with a household income of more than $100,000. A significant majority of the patrons – 78.2 percent – were South Portland residents.

Almost all responders, 94.3 percent, were in favor of keeping the market at Hinckley Drive, and 78.3 percent of responders said they had a “very positive” overall experience with the market.

“Support for the Hinckley Drive location and the market itself was overwhelming. It is clear that participants of this market strongly desire to have the market remain on Hinckley Drive,” Price wrote in the report.

A few responders did provide suggestions that indicated they were unhappy with the Hinckley Drive location, even if they supported the vision and purpose of the market itself.

“How about Mahoney Middle School field please? Traffic is crazy,” wrote one responder. “I do live in the area of Mill Creek and reside right next to the farmers market. The traffic does become a concern at some times,” wrote another.

Market manager Caitlin Jordan told the council the data collected through the survey may skew slightly because regular visitors of the market, generally older individuals, are more likely to take the time to fill out the survey than patrons who visit for the first time.

However, Jordan said in general, the market continues to grow at the Hinckley Drive location. According to data in the survey collected by vendor Tom Adelman this summer, the market drew an average of approximately 290 patrons per week.

“We are constantly seeing customers every week making connections with the farmers, which is fabulous,” Jordan said.

Councilor Patti Smith called the data collected in the survey a “great start” for the council in its review of the long-term location of the market. However, council members were not prepared Monday night to call a vote to keep the location at Hinckley Drive for the 2014 season and beyond.

Councilor Linda Cohen noted a section of the report stated that the responses to the survey only reflected the views of patrons who visited the market, not the city as a whole. Cohen suggested opening the process up to the entire city to continue collecting data before a vote is scheduled to determine the time and location.

The council decided Cohen and Smith work with Price to establish a method of communication that will gather opinions from residents across the entire city, whether it is through the biweekly community newsletter or alternative survey methods.

The council agreed to stage the vote to set the time, location and possibly the road closure for the farmers market by the end of November. Jordan said farmers generally make commitments for the following season’s market from December through February. South Portland’s summer farmers market begins in May and runs through the end of October. The winter farmers market, located in the former Hamlin School at 496 Ocean St., operates from November through April.

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