New Farmers Market group putting down roots

Posted on December 23, 2010 by Sonoma Valley Sun

It’s full spade ahead for the new operator of Sonoma’s Tuesday night Farmers Market.

The Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market, chaired by Bill Dardon, was chosen unanimously by the city council last week over a contending group headed by Irene Morgan.

Choosing not to participate in the process was the organization that ran the market for some 20 years. Dardon, a Sonoma realtor, served as chair of that board last spring, and was credited with bringing a sense of transparency and accountability to the embattled group.
The council rewarded Dardon’s newly formed organization with a two-year contract. The first market event is May 2, but work has already begun.
In initial site map shows farmers, artist and vendor booths intermingled on the City Hall horseshoe. The area north of the building will be used for youth programs, such as 4-H and the high school culinary arts program.

As for farmers, local producers will receive priority. “If two people are selling apples, the closest wins,” said VMCFM spokesperson Pat Coleman. “People will see their neighbors.”

“Sonoma has a very unique character, she said, “and we will maintain that uniqueness.”

All past vendors must apply to the group, but Dardon told the council he foresees no lack of participation. He surveyed 35 vendors at the final market this year, “and they all said they’d come back.”

Christopher Petlock, a member of the Community Services and Environment Commission, questioned the proposed business plan. “There’s no start-up capital,” he said. “This thing could really flop.”

When asked by Councilmember Ken Brown to address that concern, Dardon stated that the group does indeed have the money to get started in May.

Dardon told The Sun that the group plans to offer a season pass option to vendors. In addition to generating initial working capital, the pre-paid pass would likely increase vendor attendance by creating a sense of partnership.

The VMCFM is applying for status in a tax-exempt agriculture category that would allow it, at season’s end, to offer profit sharing to vendors.

Coleman stressed that the group will be not be a standard non-profit. ”We’re not a public charity. We expect to generate revenue and spend it on the market.”
At a previous CSEC meeting, Petlock suggested that the city lower or eliminate its rental fee, currently $175 a week, to subsidize the market until it became self-sufficient. The topic was not raised at the city council meeting.
“We don’t ever expect to come to the city council for a bailout,” Coleman told the Dec. 15 meeting.

The VMCFM shows a break-even budget of about $32,000. An on-site manager, bookkeeper and janitor would be paid employees, with other expenses going to support market operations.

Members of its board will be unpaid and serve one two-year term.

Coleman pledged a policy of openness and accountability, and told councilmembers they could examine the market books at any time.

The absence of financial transparency was one of the primary complaints against the exiting management group.

“We must bury the controversy of the past,” Coleman said, “and renew the lightheartedness and just plain fun that Tuesday’s summer market offers to the Sonoma community.”

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