Fresh produce proponents eye growth of downtown College Park farmers market -- Gazette.Net


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Fruits and vegetables, along with barbecue and baked goods, are just the basics of what could be offered to residents in downtown College Park every Sunday for years to come.

While the 30-year-old north College Park farmers market is expanding to run year-round due to its success, the city’s new downtown market is still getting its feet off the ground, while those with an interest in bringing locally-grown produce to the area look for ways to keep it afloat.

A College Park farmers market committee formed early this year to study the two-year-old Downtown College Park Farmers Market, which has run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays from April to November outside City Hall.

The committee conducted a study from August to September to gauge resident satisfaction with the market and find ways to improve it.

The study found that 33 percent of the 248 respondents were “somewhat satisfied” with the downtown market. The study showed 70 percent of responders preferred the City Hall location and said Sunday mornings and Sunday mid-day were the most popular times to host a farmers market.

The study also found market attendees sought locally grown and raised vegetables and fruits as well as some form of music and entertainment.

Leo Shapiro, a College Park resident and committee member, said he favors the committee be given funding to hire a “market master” who would help to facilitate the market, advertise it and attract vendors.

“People have been happy, but there hasn’t been a plan to grow it and expand it or anything like that,” he said.

Shapiro said the committee suggested that the market master be paid $4,200 in city funding for roughly 15 hours of work per week. Overall, the committee is requesting $9,600 for canopy tents, sandwich board signs and other start-up costs, which include the market master cost.

City Councilman Fazul Kabir (District 1) said the second market was created because the long-standing northern market, held Saturdays at Ellen Linson Swimming Pool, is not widely accessible to other residents.

“The new market in downtown is within walking and biking distance from a number of residents and students living in College Park and its neighboring cities,” he said. “We also hope to attract visitors to these markets to our businesses in downtown College Park.”

The market’s vendor and attendance statistics were not tracked for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he said, adding that the city plans to keep track of statistics for the 2013 season.

Both markets are run primarily by Miller Farms of Clinton, which provides the markets with seasonal fruits, vegetables and baked goods.

Brad Miller, sales manager at Miller Farms, said the farm had commitments from nine vendors for the 2012 season, but that the number of vendors lessened each week after some stopped coming due to medical emergencies or other complications.

The 2011 season wasn’t well promoted, he said, adding that marketing and advertising is the most effective way to attract vendors and visitors to the new market.

“Once people start coming, vendors start coming,” Miller said. “We need to just pass out fliers, put up signs and put up signs along Route 1. A lot of people don’t know we’re there. We’re hoping to get the word out so we can bring more people out and make it better for everybody.”

Kabir said the City Council and farmers market committee will discuss possible solutions to growing the downtown market, including paying for a market master and other expenses, during the Dec. 4 meeting.

djgross@gazette.net