Citing poor sales, the North Union Farmers Market has decided to cease its management of the farmers market at Kauffman Park, which it had operated for the last 13 summers.
Executive Director Donita Anderson said a few vendors did well at the Wednesday morning market, but the majority of them did not.
“The reason that we’re not coming back to Lakewood,” she explained, “is because the farmers were not making enough money to sustain themselves.
It’s very hard for them to stand out in the hot sun and not sell their produce and that’s what was happening. So, unfortunately, we’re closing the market down because the farmers didn’t want to come back.”
Vendors affiliated with the North Union Farmers Market will be found this summer on Wednesday mornings at the downtown Cleveland Clinic, on Thursday afternoons at Cleveland State University, and during weekends at Shaker Square, Crocker Park and Chagrin Falls.
Opportunity for fledgling group to fill gap
With the prime selling season still several months away, city officials have a fair amount of time to figure out an alternative plan to strengthen the local food revolution and possibly reboot the farmers market at Kauffman Park with new leadership.
Now entering its third summer of existence, it operates the modest Saturday farmers market at City Center Park (formerly Sinagra Park) and features small-scale growers, many of whom are Lakewood residents.
It sprang up to meet demand for a weekend market – something the North Union Farmers Market steadfastly refused to offer – and enjoys solid City Hall support. It averaged 18 vendors per week last summer and ended the season with a positive balance.
Market Manager Christa Kraft said she was “surprised” about the situation at Kauffman Park and hadn’t yet heard back from the city regarding her group’s submission.
Kraft felt the Lakewood Farmers Market could assume the operational responsibilities of an additional market if funding was available to pay a market manager a “fair living wage to do a good job.” She noted: “It takes a lot of diligence and work and gumption to put on a decent market week after week.”
City budgeted $5,000 for farmers market, more possibly available
Last year the city awarded $5,000 to the North Union Farmers Market to run the Kauffman Park farmers market. The same amount is budgeted for this year.
There is a possibility additional funding may become available.
The city is sitting on a $500,000 economic development fund. At the 2012 municipal budget hearings held in December, it was revealed that City Council members may each have up to $7,000 — $49,000 in total -– to use at their discretion, subject to majority approval.
Councilperson Monique Smith (At-Large) expressed a desire to allot a portion to the Lakewood Farmers Market at City Center Park.
“I’m concerned that market isn’t sustainable,” she said. “I’m worried we’re going to lose those people.”
Councilperson Thomas Bullock (Ward 2) concurred with the funding concept. “This is an essential strategy for our downtown.”
The cost of operating a farmers market
According to its application, the market at City Center Park had $9,620 in revenue and $7,550 in expenses in 2011. It ended the year with an overall balance of $3,054, including carry-over funds from the prior season.
The North Union Farmers Market, which featured a higher caliber of vendors, projected a 2011 total budget of $14,000 –- with $7,500 allotted for staff salaries, more than twice that of the City Center Park market.
Will the city put the pieces together?
The success of Lakewood Earth and Food Community (LEAF) proves there is a strong demand for local food. But can a quality farmers market thrive in Lakewood?
It would seem so, although it will require a very strong effort.
The Wednesday morning Kauffman Park market crowd of retirees and stay-at-home parents will never be able to compete for vendors with the comparatively deep-pocketed spenders at the Cleveland Clinic.
Maybe it’s time to scrap the Wednesday farmers market and focus on building a weekend event that plays to the city’s strength – its dense population, something the bozos at Crocker Park can’t fake.