Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why the Farmers Market is a failure and should not be bailed out.

by Ken Jakes

Ken Jakes
Why has the Nashville Farmers Market been a drain on the tax payers for years? There are several reasons the Nashville Farmers Market has failed. To solve the problem they have to recognize that there is a problem.

The Old Farmers Market was always self sufficient. As a matter of fact it went well beyond being self sufficient to actually collecting a surplus of funds for Davidson County each year.  Now they are seeking $ 714,900.00 in the budget from the Council. I own Jakes Produce Company and certainly have an interest in the Farmers Market and it becoming what a farmers market should be, however I would request each Council member to vote not to provide this tax payer monies to be thrown in the wind. I promise you next year they will be seeking more.

Lets look at some of the things that have changed.

Jakes Produce and Ernest Williams Produce were the largest wholesalers on the old market securing about a total of 42 stalls or sheds year round. I can think of about 20 more sheds that were rented year round to others for wholesale sales. This was income for the city to pay overhead year round. When the new market was built all were told that it would not be a welcoming place for wholesale business. The new market would not allow for commercial trucks to deliver or pick up. Also the fee structure increase from the old market to the new market drove all wholesalers away. The ideal market is set up with wholesalers on one portion of the market and retail vendors located on another part of the market.

Only a market driven with wholesale vendors like the old can survive. Just think about it for a moment. The intent of the Davidson County Farmers Market was to create a place for the farmers to sell their goods. Many of the farmers needing to get back to their farms would deliver their goods to the wholesalers and return to harvest for the next day deliveries. Because of the way the new market was setup without wholesalers, many of the local farmers started taking their goods to other markets within driving range such as Knoxville, Chattanooga, Birmingham, and others. 
Another change that hurts the Farmers Market was that in the old farmers market retail vendors from the region would travel to Davidson County to purchase from the local farmers and then would load the rest of the truck's volume from the wholesalers with items not locally grown, such as bananas, grapes, lettuce and many many more items. If the retail vendors coming to Nashville to load could leave with a fully loaded truck, it was economical to drive the distance. However, to come for a few sweet potatoes and what other local vegetables were being offered by local growers and leaving only partially loaded, because all the wholesalers were gone, no longer made economical sense. The retail vendors were hurt because it took away the incentive to come, and the farmers were hurt because it took away their much needed sales both to the wholesalers on the market and the retail vendors who supported the market.

Lets talk about how they have failed for the retail vendors and the public. For those who remember the old  farmers market you could actually drive your vehicle into the market, pull up to the shed or grower you were trading with, purchase your items, load them in your vehicle and drive away. A farmers market although it has sales by the pound such as tomatoes and other vegetables, it is for most part people seeking bushel and volume sales to can and freeze. The new market is by design set up for only retail sales by the pound. 

How many people do you know who would buy a bushel of beans, a bushel of corn, a bushel of apples, three watermelons and five cantaloupes and then take them to their vehicle parked in the outside parking lot of the Farmers Market ? Do you see the picture ? A farmers market should be a farmers market.

There are retail vendors that have cut their teeth, so to say, on the Farmers Market. They were on the market in the old days before my time and are there today. However their future looks grim and I see them as all being gone in a short while because of the ridiculous decisions the Farmers Market Board has made on the shed rental for these vendors. The Board keeps increasing their rental fees for the board's and staff's mismanagement of the market. They are pricing them out of the market. 
Economics applies to everything and the vendors are getting to the point that they can not endure any longer.

The Board is appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council. There are many professions on the Board, however what qualifies a person to sit on the Board other than having a prestigious position? The Board would do much better having professions on the board such as farmers, retail vendors, wholesalers, and transportation people. If the board had a different make up you would certainly see different decisions being made.

It has come to the time for the Farmers Market to stand on its on feet. No more subsidy from the Council, the tax payer just can't endure the wasted funding to a department that is surely set up for defeat.
Ken Jakes is a citizen activist exposing waste and corruption in Metro Government and is a former, and probably a future, candidate for a seat on the Metro Council. 

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