December 13, 2012Fees paid by vendors at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market will increase dramatically Jan. 1.
The annual cost of renting a table in the market will increase by about 48 percent.
Elizabeth Gibbs, the executive director of Greensboro Farmers Market Inc., the nonprofit that took over management of the Farmers Curb Market from the city almost a year ago, now says they underestimated the cost of running the facility and have to raise rates on vendors to compensate.
Gibbs said, "The fees are going up because it was a little undisclosed what things would cost to run this market."
She said the costs include advertising and administrative costs that were previously handled by the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department. She said that the market and Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. are now on their own for the first time.
"Advertising is expensive," she said. She also said they were taking advantage of free marketing like Facebook and word of mouth.
Other changes kicking in next year include collecting annual payments in January instead of July, and a requirement that vendors give the farmers market advance notice of absences.
The Farmers Curb Market will also start accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) payments, similar to food stamps.
Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. has been conducting both random and complaint based inspections of farms since taking over, and plans to continue, although some farmers said the process has been lopsided.
Another change is that table rent rates are now progressive so that the more tables a vendor rents, the more each additional table costs up to four, rather than a flat rate for each table. Also annual vendors are now limited to four tables, although vendors with more tables as of 2012 can be grandfathered in.
"The more tables you have, clearly you have a reason to have more tables. You have enough products that you need the additional retail space," Gibbs said about the graduated rates, and why she thought it makes sense for additional tables to cost more than the first.
Mike Faucette of Faucette Farms says he didn't expect rates to go up so much so quickly. He said he had calculated his own rates have increased by around 47 percent.
He also said he was not satisfied that Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. was investing enough money in advertising to justify the rate hikes. He said $2,400 had been budgeted for advertising in for 2013, and that it wouldn't go very far.
Faucette said he would be staying in the market, but he knew of several vendors who either would not be back or would struggle to pay the new rates. "The rates are going up and they don't sell enough to justify what their table rent is," said Faucette.
The farmers market will also be collecting payments for 2013 in January, instead of July, which is when the city has collected payments in the past.
Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. started managing the market Jan. 1, 2012, and billed annual vendors for a full year's rent in December, which is due in January 2013.
Faucette said that the January due date for the annual payment could put some farmers in a tight spot, since they have less produce to sell. "A farmer makes his money in the summer time," he said.
Gibbs said that the farmers market is willing to work with vendors on deferred payment plans, and said no vendors had told her they would be leaving because of an inability to afford the new rates.
Charles Brummitt, co-founder of Greensboro Farmers Market Inc., said that collecting rent earlier than July this year is necessary because Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. is a new company and needs cash flow to operate.
Faucette, who said he had opposed awarding the contract to run the market to Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. from the beginning, said he would have preferred it go to the Greensboro Coliseum. He said that if Coliseum Director Matt Brown were running the market it would get better advertising, and wouldn't have to rely on always making money to keep the doors open.
Faucette also said he thought he had been inspected excessively. He said his farm had been inspected five or six times and that some newer vendors hadn't been inspected at all.
Garland McCollum of Massey Creek Farm, another vendor at the farmers market, has a different view. "I was supportive of this route from the very beginning," he said.
McCollum said he had recommended that Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. raise rent rates even higher than they did to encourage more efficient use of the tables.
"Many of the older producers, a lot of the reason they are there is because of social reasons," McCollum said. He said he thought that was an important part of the market culture, but wanted to encourage vendors with room to spare to consolidate their tables to make room for potential new vendors.
McCollum said he had also suggested rental charges for storage, cooler and freezer space.
However McCollum did say he felt the Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. inspections had not been distributed as evenly as they could have been. He said he hadn't been targeted personally, but that "I have felt there have been other vendors; that maybe they were overly scrutinized."
McCollum attributed the over-inspection of some vendors to the fact that inspections are partially complaint driven and many complaints come from competing vendors, which he said made for an atmosphere that was not ideal.
"I think that's getting more ironed out," McCollum said. He said he thought management was seeking a balance between responding to complaints in a meaningful way and taking frivolous complaints too seriously.
McCollum said his farm had not been formally inspected by Greensboro Farmers Market Inc. but that Brummitt is one of his customers and has visited the farm.