Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market canceled at Tisbury Wharf

Farmers and crafts people, shown in this photo from last summer, will not return to Tisbury Wharf. — File photo by Susan Safford

The Down-Island Artisans and Farmers Market, held weekly from late June to September at the Tisbury Wharf, will not open this year, according to manager Noreen Baker.

“After five successful years of running the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market, the vendors, my co-manager, myself and Mr. Packer have mutually decided to not continue with our current market format,” Ms. Baker wrote in an April 25 email in response to questions emailed from The Times. “This does not preclude the possibility of a future Farmers and Artisans evening market in Tisbury, which features local food artisans and showcases artistic creations.”

Ms. Baker is the director of Operations for the Tisbury Wharf Company, owned by Ralph Packer. She came up with the idea for the market, and with his approval got it up and running on Tuesday mornings in the summer of 2008, to coincide with the arrival of American Cruiseline ships. It featured farm products and handcrafted wares from farmers and artisans from the counties of Barnstable, Dukes, Plymouth, and Bristol.

Over the last 11 months the market became the subject of controversy regarding a request to the town from representatives of the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association (MFWGA) to sell bottled wine at the event.

Ms. Baker did not comment on a question from The Times as to whether the wine sales issue had anything to do with the decision to cancel the market.

“None whatsoever,” Mr. Packer replied to the same question, posed by The Times in a phone call yesterday.

“It was a nice thing, but maybe the wrong timing,” he added. “It was well participated but not quite enough. I don’t think it’s in sync with what a lot of people do in the summertime. At 11 am, they’re heading to the beach.”

Although Ms. Baker had made a request to the Planning Board to change the market’s hours to evening, Mr. Packer said the Tisbury Wharf Company is expecting an increased number of small cruise ship visits this summer and has too much going on to continue the market this year.

Farm wineries make their pitch

The topic of wine sales at farmer’s markets in Massachusetts stems from a provision of an economic development bill Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law on August 5, 2010. In the summer of 2011, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Environment and Agriculture Committee granted farmers the ability to apply to local liquor boards for temporary licenses to sell and sample wine at community events, including farmers’ markets.

Wine sales at the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market first came up for discussion at the Tisbury selectmen’s meeting on June 14, 2011.

The board of health referred a request to the selectmen received from Rob Russell of Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery for a temporary permit to sell wine at the market, based on the new legislation. Tisbury town counsel David Doneski advised the selectmen that the farm winery exemption did not apply in Tisbury because its beer and wine sales are governed by special home rule legislation.

When asked for further clarification by town administrator John Bugbee, Mr. Doneski said the town’s bylaw could be amended with voters’ approval to include the farmer’s market wine sales provision.

At a meeting on February 21, Frank Zoll, owner of Zoll Cellars winery in Shrewsbury and an MFWGA representative, asked the selectmen to put an article before voters at town meeting in April to adopt the new legislation. He said most towns weren’t familiar with it yet.

Mr. Zoll explained that the Down-Island Farmers and Artisans Market would have to be approved and certified by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources for farm wine sales, as would licensed farm wineries. The wineries would also need a license from the town.

Mr. Zoll said his wines would be available soon at the Square Rigger Restaurant in Edgartown and that he would like to introduce his products to more people on the Island through sales at the farmer’s market.

Since Mr. Zoll had first discussed his proposal with Ms. Baker, she sat with him at the meeting as a courtesy, to introduce him to the selectmen and answer any questions they might have about the farmer’s market.

Ms. Baker did not attend the meeting to promote Mr. Zoll’s venture, however. She was on the agenda to tell the selectmen of her request to the planning board to change the market’s day and hours from Tuesday mornings to Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

Ms. Baker said she sought the change to evening hours as an attempt to increase attendance, since many people were unable to attend the market during the day because of other activities or work.

Selectmen yes, FinCom no

In the discussion that followed, selectman Tristan Israel expressed concerns that the possible combination of a change to evening hours and wine sales might result in the market being dominated by a wine-tasting and drinking crowd.

He was unaware that the new law already contains provisions to limit sales to wine in sealed containers for off-premise consumption. It also limits samples to one ounce of wine and restricts prospective customers age 21 and older to no more than five samples.

Finance and advisory committee (FinCom) chairman Larry Gomez, who was an ardent opponent of the town’s beer and wine legislation, asked whether allowing wine samples would lead the town in a new direction. Mr. Israel suggested limiting the number of wine vendors to one or two.

Selectman Jeff Kristal spoke in favor of bottled wine sales, dismissing Mr. Israel’s and Mr. Gomez’s concerns. “I wouldn’t buy a bottle of wine at a farmer’s market without sampling it,” he said. “And no one gets drunk off samples.”

Mr. Kristal said he was in favor of wine sales at the market, especially as a way for Tisbury to promote local Island farm wineries that are in the process of starting up. He and Mr. Israel agreed to draft a late-filed article to allow wine sales at the farmer’s market. Selectman Geoghan Coogan was absent.

The Tisbury FinCom voted to reject the article at a meeting on March 1. Mr. Gomez said the committee members agreed the article was not filed in a timely manner and declined to include it on the warrant.