A disagreement about whether a York County township should sponsor its local farmers market is jeopardizing the business and its 20 local vendors.
On March 6, four Shrewsbury Township supervisors split on upholding a Feb. 6 decision not to renew the township’s contract with the Shrewsbury Commons Shopping Center to host the Shrewsbury Farmers Market on Saturdays during the coming growing season.
The supervisors’ 2-2 vote meant the Feb. 6 ruling will stand — at least for the time being. A fifth supervisor was not able to attend the March meeting, and another vote could come in the future.
The decision effectively shuts down the 20-vendor market, at least for now, until the township resumes its sponsorship or the vendors decide to run it as a private venture.
Steve Kleese, owner of Swamp Fox Farm, a 58-acre vegetable and produce operation in Glen Rock, Pa., said the market’s shutdown will cost him business since it’s one of several farmers markets where he sells products.
“It certainly has a financial impact. It was more of a community event making people aware of how close we are to them,” Kleese said.
Gene Montanarelli, one of the township supervisors who voted against renewing the contract, said the decision comes down to his and two other supervisors’ beliefs that the township shouldn’t be involved in spending taxpayer money to promote a business in the community.
“This is really a nonissue. It should have been put into private hands a long time ago,” Montanarelli said.
Along with that, Montanarelli said sponsoring the farmers market exposes the township to liability issues, which he said is a challenge since the township’s liability insurance has already more than doubled from $12,000 to $26,000 a year.
Susan Fox, one of the two township supervisors who voted to renew the contract and an organizer of the farmers market for the past two years, disagrees, saying the township’s $500 annual contribution to the farmers market is minimal in a $1.8 million annual budget and that the township should be working to promote local agriculture.
“We should be helping all farmers, big or little. The little farmers, they don’t get agribusiness subsidy checks from the government,” Fox said.
The farmers market started two years ago and, according to Fox, has grown from just six vendors to 20 vendors at the end of the 2012 season.
Vendors come from the local area as well as from nearby Maryland.
Fox said she requested that the township increase its annual contribution to the farmers market from $500 to $1,500 during budget negotiations for 2013 to cover costs of signs and other materials needed to run the market.
Vendors are charged $50 for the right to sell at the market, and Fox said the market generated more than $800 in vendor fees in 2012, with any amount over $500 going back into the township’s general fund.
“It does not cost the township a penny for this,” she said.
Fox, an insurance agent, also disagreed with the liability argument from the supervisors in support of ending the agreement, saying that each vendor already is required to carry its own liability insurance and that the shopping center itself also carries liability insurance. She said this actually takes away risk from the township.
“I’ve asked questions of the insurance agent for the township and asked if the market is a risk and they said, no,’ ” she said.
“My personal feeling is it is a personal vendetta. To me, that’s what it appears to be, because there is no other logical reason,” for shutting the market down, she said.
Montanerelli said he doesn’t want to shut the farmers market down. Rather, he believes the market should be run by the vendors and they should make their own decisions about how the market should be run and spend as much money as they want on it. He’s also volunteered to form a committee that would oversee the farmers market and its finances.
“It’s their show, why shouldn’t they be able to do it. Nobody wants this to stop. It’s a great idea, it brings people into the shopping center. At the same time, it helps the vendors out,” he said. “So why do they need the township to support it?”
Rob Wood, who doesn’t live in the township, but is himself a small farmer in nearby Glen Rock and has been involved in the county’s Buy Fresh, Buy Local initiative, attended the March 6 meeting and called the township’s decision shortsighted, given the fact that many other townships in the county sponsor their own farmers markets as a way to promote local food and give their farmers a local outlet to sell products.
“I think it’s a winning combination for any community to push this for the local farmers and the local consumers. We all eat,” Wood said.
Ben Burrows, who graduated from college in 2012, where he studied organic and sustainable farming, said the closing of the market will hurt him since he’s trying to get his new business going.
He grows five acres of apples and an acre of vegetables on his brother’s farm in Red Lion. Some of it gets sold at a produce stand on the farm, but having the ability to sell at the farmers market opens him up to more potential customers.
“It’s going to be an economic problem for me because of all the apples we’re going to have and not being able to sell them at the market. At the same time, I’m just trying to be a young entrepreneur and get started,” Burrows said.