Following several weeks of upheaval within the Original Certified Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market, six of the seven members of the market’s board have resigned. Interim president, Kelly Parsons of Parsons’ Homegrown, was appointed by outgoing board president Alma Virgil.
“The market is currently working outside its bylaws and the board did not want to be liable for any legal repercussions,” said former board member Nicky Rutkowski of Flour Creations. “I have been a member of the market for 21 years and I have nothing but the market’s best interest at heart,” she said of her decision to step down.
The mass resignation of the board members came two days after a letter was sent to the 111 members of the market outlining what they deemed the illegal actions of a group of 56 members to reinstate market manager Paula Downing on November 8. “It is our obligation as board members to uphold the Market’s Constitution and Bylaws…and represent the interests of the entire Market membership. We cannot uphold illegal and invalid actions that put the Market at risk now and in the future,” stated the letter. Downing was fired from the market by board members on Sept. 30.
It remains unclear if a parent organization will step in to help mediate the ongoing disagreements between the board, Downing and divergent factions within the membership. After a recent dispute over the future of Sonoma’s downtown farmer’s market, the Sonoma County Certified Farmers Market Association (an organization governed by Paula Downing, Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market’s Hilda Swartz and Erica Burns Gorman, a manager of two Petaluma farmers markets which also includes the Oakmont Market) ended it’s relationship with the Tuesday night board members and announced it would no longer participate in the Tuesday night farmers market. The California Federation of Certified Farmers’ Markets has a disconnected phone number and states on its website that it does not participate in market disputes.
When reached for comment, Downing said the Sonoma County Certified Farmer’s Market Association has no oversight over the Santa Rosa market, which operates as an autonomous entity.
Several members of the market have suggested that the Sonoma County Agricultural Commssion, which handles the permitting for for the market, may be asked to step in to help mediate.
A meeting for membership of the Santa Rosa market will be held Tuesday night at 6pm at the Veteran’s Building to discuss the future of the market.