OPINION: Council's Subsidy of the Farmers Market Should Be Short Term, And the Market Needs New Ideas

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 05/07/2018 - 15:50

The smallest line items cause the rigamaroles for Saline City Council at budget time. Last year, it was an extra $10,000 for Saline Main Street. This year, it’s $8,000 for the Saline Farmers Market.

It seems like arguing over $8,000 is like debating whether to throw pennies or nickels in the wishing well for a city that’s spending $3.6 million on the wastewater treatment plant only a couple years after it spent millions on the previous wastewater treatment plant project. But that’s the kind of minutiae that eats up city council’s time during budget season. Most of the money is programmed. There’s precious little disposable income for pet projects.

So, some members of Saline City Council weren’t thrilled when Farmers Market manager Christine Easley came to council with a request for additional funding this year. Council’s trying to keep a lid on spending in every area, so looking through that lens, you can see their concern. The Farmers Market is downsizing from two weekly summer markets to one. Gone is the Tuesday market.  At the same time, Easley is asking for more money. For years, the market has operated two markets plus the winter market and it’s broken even. This year, the market is asking the city for an $8,500 subsidy.

Easley and her staff have volunteered their time, talents and energy for the city event. And they feel they deserve to be compensated a little more – a total of just $22,000 a year for Easley and her assistant.

Dean Girbach is probably the most socially liberal member of city council. But when it comes to spending city funds, he’s the kind of stickler who’d make most conservatives proud. He was the one council member who came right out and said he was opposed to the farmer’s market’s proposal. And, even though it’s only $8,500, it’s the precedent. Once you decide you’re subsidizing the market, what’s to stop the subsidy from growing. 10 years from now, you could be looking at a $40,000 subsidy. Who knows? Although, you might have a kick ass market as a result.

Still, we are talking about $8,500 in a $13.3 million budget.

Now, I’ve seen Farmer’s Market proponents suggest the market brings millions of dollars of business to downtown Saline. Those numbers are simply not credible. But what the market does bring to Saline is foot traffic. It brings a happy buzz to downtown Saline. It brings colorful flowers and fresh baked cookies and eggs straight the chicken coop. And, yes, talk to the businesses owners who open in the mornings on Saturdays, the market does bring business to downtown Saline.

Downtown Saline is crippled by a lack of foot traffic. The Farmers Market is one of the few times of the week downtown feels the way it should. It feels lively. It feels social.

I don’t know why the Farmers Market stopped working as well at the library on Tuesdays. I’ve seen many people say the Tuesday market at the Rentschler Farm just wasn’t convenient – and I tend to agree with them.

Mayor Brian Marl seems to support the Farmers’ market request, at least temporarily. He wants to see them build a sustainable market that pays for itself. And perhaps that should be the goal. Give the market three years of subsidies to improve and grow revenue so that it pays for itself.

The City of Saline and Saline Main Street can help the market.

There are some obvious solutions. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the weekday market on South Ann Arbor Street?

Every Thursday, Saline Main Street closes down the street for the Summer Music Series. Why not have the market there, too? Maybe from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. You’ve got music. You’ve usually got some kind of kids activities. Sure, Pittsfield Township has a market on Thursdays. But the vendors will go where the sales are made. And if you’ve got a built in crowd already waiting for you on Thursday evenings, they’ll come to downtown Saline.

Besides, maybe, as Councillor Girbach suggests, the Farmers Market should be the dominion of Saline Main Street. Their goals seem congruent. (Although, the winter farmers market could be an issue)

The Saline Post has been a supporter of the Farmers Market – because we believe in local.

Former Manager Nancy Crisp is used to post about the Farmers Market on a weekly basis, and we’ve offered the same to the Farmer’s Market. We offer the Farmers Market what we offer most community organizations – a free platform to share information with the community. So far, the new managers haven’t used our resource much.

But when they do, we’re ready to help.




Tran Longmoore's picture
Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is a veteran community journalist. He is founder and owner of TheSalinePost.com. He is co-publisher of The Saline Post weekly newspaper. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 734-272-6294.

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