Farmers market wants to stay

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The West Tisbury Farmers Market wants to remain at the Martha's Vineyard Ag Society property. -MV Times

The West Tisbury Farmers Market’s future on the grounds of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society property is up for discussion at two meetings — on Tuesday with the conservation commission and on Thursday with the zoning board of appeals.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, the farmers market moved from the West Tisbury Grange Hall grounds to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society property so vendors could spread out

Turns out that the nonprofit board that runs the farmers market and the vendors like the new location and would like to stay.

But when the farmers market sought permission to continue on the Ag Society property, the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS), which oversees the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) on the property jointly with the conservation commission, raised some objections about the volume of cars on the property, unsightliness, and even the products that are sold.

This isn’t the first time the farmers market has gotten some pushback. In the fall of 2020, when the market sought to extend their season, the West Tisbury select board and particularly Skipper Manter questioned whether some of the products being sold at the farmers market actually fit the definition of agriculture

Tucker Pforzheimer, co-manager of the farmers market, spoke to The Times about the issues ahead of the meetings — the May 10 conservation commission meeting which needs to sign off on the use and the May 12 zoning board of appeals hearing where the market is seeking a special permit to remain at the Ag Society property.

“Given the success of the last two seasons and the pressure that it’s taken off of the center of town and away from the Grange, our membership did vote in the fall to remain at the Ag Society,” Pforzheimer said. “That was contingent upon the zoning board of appeals blanket special permit because the district is zoned rural. We wanted to use it for agricultural retail use, which is allowable under the zoning bylaws, but only by special permit.”

The switch to that site has been welcomed by the nonprofit board and the 44 vendors who contribute to the market. “For a variety of reasons, among them the fact that there’s significantly more space, it doesn’t cause a huge traffic backup through town, there could be a lot more customers enjoying their shopping more leisurely with more space,” she said. “And if there is another public health emergency we’ll be able to space out without moving again.”

According to Pforzheimer, the Vineyard Conservation Society is openly lobbying for the market to return to the Grange Hall.

In a phone conversation, Brendan O’Neill, the VCS executive director, told The Times that he and his board are still trying to work out some issues and come to a consensus with the conservation commission. He didn’t rule out allowing the farmers market to continue on the property.

VCS and the conservation commission were entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the property is used in the way that the Woods family intended when they granted the property to the Ag Society in 1991. One of the acceptable uses is a farmers market.

Calls to Ag Society officials were not immediately returned, though Pforzheimer said they haven’t raised any objections. As for what would happen during the Ag Fair, she said the market would likely return to the Grange for that week.

Similar to what happened at the select board meeting in 2020, VCS and the conservation commission questioned some of the products being sold by vendors and whether they meet the spirit of a farmers market.

“At the Tuesday meeting, some commissioners embraced the idea of a public market for the benefit of local farmers where the primary focus would be on ag products like produce, meat, cheese, flowers,” O’Neill wrote in an April 21 email. “Concerns were flagged about straying too far from that, into areas less directly related to the permitted ag purposes. Prepared foods, sundries, soaps, paper, and food trucks were cited.”

Pforzheimer said the products for sale are made by farmers from Island farms and meet the definition of a farmers market under the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. “[VCS] goes so far as to call out actual farms like Flat Point Farm that makes goat soap as an example of vendors that don’t meet Vineyard Conservation Society criteria for who can vend at a farmers market,” she said. “At this point we really need the ZBA to approve the special permit or it’s really up in the air whether we’d be able to find another location and host a farmers market, which I think would be a tragedy for the community. We’re talking about 44 small businesses here.”

What if they can’t come to an agreement with VCS and the conservation commission or get the special permit?

At least one other Island community has reached out with a site, but that’s not what Pforzheimer and the vendors want. “We’re the West Tisbury Farmers Market, incorporated in 1974, some of our vendors have been vending almost that long. We are our town’s and the Island’s oldest farmers market and we’d like to operate in West Tisbury. It would be shocking and sad if we had to move because of objections from a nonprofit group.”

35 COMMENTS

  1. The VCS should be ashamed of themselves! Volume of cars? Unsightliness? For four days in August the parking lot is packed, and the neon lights from the rides shine into the night, as well as the carnival music blaring. No one complains because, hey, it’s part of the Ag Fair. Just how many produce, meat, cheese and flower vendors can one market have? Variety is what draws people to the market. Under these rules, jam (a “prepared” food), would not be allowed? Ethel Sherman is spinning in her grave. Soap, made from the milk of livestock-that certainly seems to fit the agricultural designation. I can picture that being sold at an agricultural market 150 years ago.
    But, let’s see if we can make life even harder for our local farmers. Nitpick away, and cost someone their livelihood to fit your aesthetic. Is making a living not hard enough for islanders?
    The Farmers Market belongs at the Ag Hall. Moving it back to the pain-in-the-ass congestion of The Grange makes no sense. Maybe I’m just old. I remember an island where we tried to figure out ways to help each other, not look for ways to rule and regulate our neighbors into non-existence.

  2. According to the Ag Society’s website their mission is:
    We support and promote the production, marketing, preservation and enjoyment of agriculture in our local community.
    That would seem to indicate that hosting a farmers market would be on top of their list. Please do not return the market to the Grange, if for no other reason than the traffic nightmare.

  3. Dear Dana,
    As President of the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) Board of Directors, I’d like to set the record straight on a few things.
    1. For the past few months, VCS and the West Tisbury Conservation Commission have worked with the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society (the Ag Society) and the Farmers Market Managers to guide a plan which could work for holding the Farmer’s Market at the Ag Hall grounds this year.
    2. The plan needs to work within the usage limitations of an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) which is on a portion of the Ag Society’s land, and VCS and the WT Conservation Commission are charged with enforcing and monitoring the APR.
    3. The Ag Society has submitted a plan for the Farmers Market to be held on its grounds. VCS has let the Ag Society know that they’ll be responding this week to the plan after the next WT Conservation Commission meeting, as we hope to provide a joint response.
    4. The article mentions that VCS has ‘raised some objections about…unsightliness, and even the products that are sold” at the Farmers Market, but that is not true. VCS has not done so.

    I hope this clarifies some of the issues in today’s article, and why VCS is proud of the way it’s been working with the Ag Society, Farmers Market and WT Conservation Commission to come to a positive resolution.
    Thank you,
    Jennifer Blum, VCS Board President

      • Dear George,
        Your reporting, while I am sure well intentioned, is not completely accurate based on your two attachments above. It would be more informative for you to include a copy of the APR for the public to review. Specifically, section 8.5-2.G will provide context to “unacceptable disturbances” and “unslightliness”. This is not an “opinion” of VCS. VCS has an obligation to adhere to the APR when considering applications for use based on the intended use as set forth by the Grantors of this great property.

        Your second attachment of a letter sent by VCS Executive Director Brendan O’Neill, is also misconstrued. When Mr. O’neill is discussing objections of items sold at the WT Farmers Market, he is recounting a part of the discussion by Commissioners of the West Tisbury Conservation Commission during the April Con Comm meeting. This is not a stated opinion of VCS or Mr. O’Neill.

        I an incredibly grateful for the continued efforts and collaboration put forth by VCS, WT Conservation Commission, MV Agricultural Society and WT Farmers Market.

        More accurate reporting on this subject from you and the MV Times would be appreciated by all.

        Kind regards,
        Farley Pedler, VCS Nominating and Governance Committee Chair

  4. No one ever raised “unsightliness” and no one is anti farmer. At issue is intensity of use at a site that was gifted by a generous benefactor for agricultural use. Sorry but t shirts and food trucks, pleasant as they are, aren’t agriculture. One concern is the pressure on abutters in what is a rural area. Another is that donors should know their wishes are being stewarded carefully after they are gone. What about retaining the Wednesday market at the Grange? Seems like a good compromise as it is a smaller market generally and would retain the intimate community feel. As someone who lives nearby, I treasure that market and its traditions. But sadly, ike everything else on this island, the idea seems to be, bigger is better.

  5. As an abutter to the Ag Society, I have no objection to the Farmers’ Market being there. I support it strongly, and having witnessed the traffic jams the market created when it was at the Grange Hall, with lines of cars backed up on the Edgartown Road almost to the Airport, moving it permanently should be an easy decision for all concerned. Fire engines, police vehicles, and ambulances can’t get through that gauntlet. The move should have happened long ago. If the annual so-called Agricultural Fair can be held on that property for four days in August, with all sorts of goings on that are anything but agricultural, and causing significant inconvenience to the abutters, then the Farmers’ Market, which causes no inconvenience, should be welcomed. However it wouldn’t be the Vineyard if we didn’t have nitpicking, and pearl-clutching about purity, but this is really a matter of public safety. ZBA, do what’s right, grant the special permit. And VCS, just get over it.

      • Jim– if you are going to put quotation marks around a comment. you should get it right.
        And let me remind you that we all have typo’s , and that there are often comments here that exaggerate to make a point.
        I personally have seen traffic backed up to the youth hostel.
        Could you define “what is almost” ?

      • Yes, when the fair is happening and the market is at the Grange it is backed up almost to the airport. In the last couple of years when the market was at the Grange the traffic was often backed up past the youth hostel in July and August. I know, I live along that road.

  6. FYI
    Old Town Gardens , Daniels Farm has been there since the beginning the longest running farm at the farmers market. We are small but believe the market should be allowed to stay in West Tisbury hence the name WTFM. It took tenacity to build the farmers market and keep it running. If you can’t come to a decision for a permanent spot at least grant a permit for this season and continue discussion in the off season.

  7. Dana Nunes and Richard Knabel put it best !

    I feel ill just thinking of the traffic to the Grange if the farmers market returns there – even on Wednesdays.

    And as an older resident, (since 1982 in West Tisbury), I think it is more than wise to have a site where people can spread out. We’re not done with covid yet.

    I think that the presence of herbs and soaps – made at the different farms – enhances the WTFM experience, and it is a kindness to be able to purchase refreshments.

  8. Does the VCS know how to spell “petty”? I would hope contributions to this organization will decline.

    • Just to say VCS has been crucial in securing the preservation land for agriculture uses, including the gifted restriction now at issue. They are doing the due diligence required by the gift. There’s no need for such acrimony. We all love the WT Farmer’s Market and we’ll get to the right solution. Discussion doesn’t always have to degenerate into a raging argument.

  9. Another happening in a continuing series of blunders that make your blood boil on the Vineyard. The West Tisbury Farmers Market is the livelihood of the vendors who work hard to bring Island grown food and agriculture related products to Island residents and visitors alike. To deny them a location to do what they do is just sabotaging what the Vineyard has been about–or was about in days past. It seems that the qualities that made this island special are “walking the plank”. Sigh.

  10. In reply to Jamie Alley in particular and to the spirit of some others’ comments, VCS is NOT and never has been against the farmers’ market. VCS, along with the West Tisbury Conservation Commission and MV Agricultural Society are charged by the terms of the land grant to review the scheduled events for the property including the farmers’ market. So far VCS is helping to facilitate such a review by those parties. There are those who think the market should continue at the Ag Hall and those who would prefer that it go back to the Grange. There are even some who seem to question whether soap and paper made from island-grown materials are appropriate for sale at the market. There are some who are concerned about traffic on the roads or damage to the land from parking. Can we please speak more civilly about this? There are ways to address these issues without the militancy being shown by some. I doubt that there is anyone who wants to do away with the Farmers’ Market, least of all VCS.

    • Susan, I apologize for the severity of my comment—I posted without considering the effect. I realize the good things VCS has done for the island and didn’t take the time to fully comprehend how they are involved in this instance. My emotions got the best of me and for that I am sorry.

  11. To Geraldine’s comment: Responding as a market vendor—I don’t think bigger is better. Quite the opposite. I think more space is better (and safer for Covid). Less traffic jams are better (and safer for our fire and emergency vehicles in our town). Being in a rural setting with dirt and grass under my feet is better (than on concrete/gravel).

    Being able to utilize the beautiful grounds of the Society is a relief after years of overwhelming congestion at the Grange. Responding as a Trustee of the MVAS, the Agricultural Society grounds and buildings are used only 60 days out of a 365 days a year. Intensity of use is around 16%.

    While it is a nice thought in theory, having the market in two different spaces is a nightmare situation. As a vendor, the number one comment I get is “We weren’t sure what day the market was…” If summer visitors also had to manage a change of venue? It would diminish sales and lead to widespread confusion. (Not to mention the different setups to keep track of for the vendors and their employees.) Nice idea to share space. Logistically not pragmatic.

    I am trying to think of a farm stand I visit on the island that does not, in part, also have some sort of retail component (i.e. sells products they do not raise, or that might be of value to a visiting customer). Indeed, one of my favorite farm stands carries Ben & Jerry’s ice cream! The state of Massachusetts publishes a list of different markets around the state and vendors that they are specifically looking for. A variety of goods, value-added (soaps and papers), bakery items, beverages, and yes even food trucks, are frequently cited as desired vendors. This is because it draws additional shoppers to the market, just as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream draws me to a certain farm stand, where I might also buy some lettuce, meat, flour, seedlings, etc. while I am there. The addition of “other” products is better for sales, ergo better for farmers ergo better for the customers. Hey I love zucchini, but if everyone just brought zucchini to the market? Not sure how robust sales would be that day…here is a link to the current list: https://www.mass.gov/doc/markets-seeking-vendors/download

    Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention the vast acreage of farm land that has been permanently protected due to the work of the VCS and the Conservation Commission. While some of the players from these different organizations may disagree on how they define “agriculture” and what it means to them it is clear that we are all largely playing for the same team. Respect and care for our rural spaces, our island farmers and our market traditions is of utmost importance. On every level.

    • Heard and understood. The WTFM responded to concerns raised by VCS and Concomm with a better plan for use of the Ag Hall space, and surely this is how it should work–a civil exchange of views leads to an improved solution. While I personally will miss the neighborly intimacy of the Grange market, it is the farmers and the abutters who are most impacted and whose views count.
      Thank you, Chrissy, for acknowleging the critical role VCS had played and continues to play in protecting land for agriculture. The opprobrium directed at the organization in these comments is unjust and unwarrented. When people leave bequests with specific intentions it is critical they know their wishes will be carefully stewarded and VCS is doing the work it is charged with in an exemplary way.

  12. So sad that these VCS members are taking such a strict interpretation of the APR and definition of a farmers market. T shirts and food trucks should be just as much allowed as the midway, t shirts and food trucks at the Ag Fair. Sorry they aren’t more concerned about islanders continuing to make a living during these incredibly challenging times. They should be ready for criticism if contemplating jeopardizing the make up of this 48 year old island institution and destroying islanders’ livelihoods. And why now just before the Market starts?
    Were they uninterested while at their winter home and now fear the Market shall interrupt the enjoyment of their summer home?

  13. There’s a sweet flea market next to the water slides in Wareham. Plenty of dusty parking and exquisite junk. Maybe some weird food if your lucky. Enjoy!

  14. If the traffic and noise and obnoxious dog owners were to disappear from West Tisbury on Wednesdays and Saturdays this Summer I’m not sure too many of us would really care.

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