Farm Market Battle Continues

Current, new markets both move forward

The ongoing struggle for control over the 40 year-old Santa Rosa farm market at the Veteran’s Hall continues.

In hopes of reversing the county’s decision to revoke their lease in July, Board Members and vendors from the Original Santa Rosa Certified Farm Market met with Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart, whose office oversees leasing and operation of the hall. In February, she awarded Redwood Empire Farmers’ Markets rental of the hall’s parking lot on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

In a closed meeting, market representatives questioned whether they got a fair shake when county officials decided not to renew their lease, according to board secretary Lesley Brabyn. “We wanted to know if due process was followed,” she said.

Though no official actions resulted after the meeting Brabyn said, “We understand some things better, but it has opened the door to more questions which are being explored by the market.” When asked if legal action on the part of the market was forthcoming Brabyn said,  “We are not ruling anything out.”

In continuing support of their position, and the increasing likelihood that they will have to move elsewhere, the current market board circulated a petition at the Saturday market in support of current market management and polled vendors about their intentions. Brabyn said support was overwhelming.

Meanwhile, the Redwood Empire Farmers’ Markets is moving forward with plans to take over the popular Santa Rosa market this summer.

This week, they announced the appointment of three board members. Spokesman Rob Cary, former Sebastopol Community Center Director, philanthropist and restauranteur Dan Smith and healthcare provider Suzanne Llamado are the first of an anticipated nine members of the new board. “We are in discussions with other potential board members and anticipate three more appointments soon,” said Cary. Three of the members will be elected by vendors, and six of the members will be community members.

Asked about the current controversy, Cary said “We continue to reach out to the Santa Rosa Farmers Market members and the board. We understand that there is a lot of fear right now and hard feelings, but expect that once the dust settles everyone can come together to work for the benefit of the whole community.”

“We’ve been asked a lot about how the markets at the Vets building will change in July,” Cary said. “We are expecting everyone to have the same market experience they are used to, except there will be more vendors and more choices. Our emphasis will be on expanding opportunities, cooperation and mentoring of small farmers throughout the county. We want to raise the bar so that a much higher percentage of produce, fruit, meat, eggs, and farm products are grown locally. The solution is simple: More market space for farmers and better promotion of the market to the public. Some friendly competition is the basis of every successful market.”