Manter remains skeptical of farmers market

Legal opinion sought despite green light from building inspector.

The lawfulness of goods sold at the West Tisbury Farmers Market will be evaluated by town counsel following a selectmen's meeting on Sept. 9.

The October extension of the West Tisbury Farmers Market is delayed.

At the request of selectman Skipper Manter, building inspector Joe Tierney will seek an opinion from town counsel on the lawfulness of merchandise sold at the West Tisbury Farmers Market, and selectman Kent Healy will research laws and regulations that govern what can be sold by the market on Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society property. 

As he did at the board’s last meeting, and at many previous meetings, Manter suggested the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society property at Panhandle and State roads appeared to be hosting activities that run counter to the agricultural preservation restriction (APR) placed on the land, as well as counter to zoning regulations. 

His skepticism of certain items sold at the farmers market delayed a board vote on extending the farmers market through October for a second time. 

Both farmers market managers, Collins Heavener and Olivia Rabbitt, attended the virtual meeting. 

Tierney, who enforces zoning in town, said state zoning regulations stipulate that 25 percent of sales must be from locally produced items, and 50 percent of the items sold have to be produced in Massachusetts. 

“Right now there’s 39 vendors, per what Collins has submitted to me, and out of those, 10 don’t fit the category,” he said. “So basically 75 percent of the participants meet the category of selling what they’re supposed to be selling, 25 percent do not. And that meets, as far as I’m concerned, from that metric, I believe they’re meeting the requirements of chapter 40a.”

“The way I read this, 25 percent is supposed to be produced from the property,” Manter said. 

“Actually it says produced by the owner or lessee of the land,” Tierney said. “What I’m looking at is the farmers market leasing the land from the Ag Society.”

Manter didn’t see it that way. He suggested a proportion of items sold at the market must be grown or made on the Ag Society’s land. 

“Technically the farmers market is a lessee of the land, and the farmers market is producing items locally,” Tierney said. “My opinion is it doesn’t have to be produced on the Ag Society property.”

Heavener said he thought the regulations in question spoke to farm stands, not farmers markets. 

Manter said he didn’t see how Tierney’s interpretation fit the language of the zoning regulation.

“Joe is saying this is allowed, in his opinion,” chair Cynthia Mitchell said.

She went on seek confirmation that the Vineyard Conservation Society and the West Tisbury conservation commission deemed the farmers market appropriate under the APR.

“That’s my understanding,” Tierney said.

Manter asked Mitchell if he could make “one last point before I throw in the towel.”

Manter said language in the regulations specifies “for the primary use of commercial agriculture.”

Tierney said language in another section of the regulation offered other alternatives to that clause.

After further debate, Manter and Tierney were unable to see eye to eye. 

“I would like to have somebody else look at it, but I’m not going to sit and argue it all night,” Manter said.

“So is this a sign you’ve thrown in the towel?” Mitchell asked.

“Yes.”

Then Healy asked for time to look into the matter, and the prospect of a vote dimmed. 

Healy said he would like to examine state zoning regulations, the farmers market internal bylaws, and the APR to come to a conclusion.

“I’ll gather all the information I can, and I’ll know better next week,” Healy said.

Mitchell suggested a vote be taken to extend the market for 2021, and the board can “dig deeper” later.

Manter said he wanted to delay a vote, and give Healy more time to research.

Mitchell asked Heavener if time was of the essence for a decision, or if another week could pass.

“Our current, regular season does run through October 10,” Heavener said. “Short answer would be yes. That is fine.” 

To that he added, “There are a lot of implications to all this. I’m curious to be able to broaden our understanding of what we can and cannot do.”

Manter asked that Tierney seek an opinion from town counsel on the issues he raised.

Mitchell acquiesced, but emphasized a vote would take place next week. 

Heavener asked for a final word: “We do try to do our very best to be the best civic organization that we can be, and this year especially. I think we’ve done a really fabulous job, so I certainly hope that you would all find that we are operating as ideally as a community could want us to be.”

“I would absolutely agree with what you just said,” Mitchell said. She went on to say she was an abutter, and while some may not have supported the farmers market moving from the Grange Hall, the market was “where it should be,” and that she was “happy” to be its neighbor and to see it “thrive.”