I've been talking to various people about how new vendors at
Farmers' Market should be added, when space is available. It's a topic that was going to be discussed last night at a city meeting, but was put off until June 21.
City staff, and elected officials, largely want to hand off
the responsibility of day-to-day management of the market to the farmers
themselves, who - for their part - want that additional responsibility.
(They've been exercising it for a while anyway, due to lack of city staff time,
but everybody's looking for a formalization of the relationship.)
Most of the issues regarding running the market are pretty
non-controversial: the mechanics of setting up selling areas, picking up trash,
posting signs for each farm, and so on.
The only real question is who decides, and how, what new
vendors can join the market.
Nobody's looking to oust existing vendors, but sometimes
people stop attending the Portland
market for one reason or another, and when slots available, there certainly is
a lot of demand.
At the moment, the process by which new vendors are picked
is fairly arbitrary. It's based primarily on what the farmers' market
coordinator (who's a farmer, not a city employee) thinks would be best for the
market. Everybody involved in this discussion is aware that there needs to be a
good variety of items - meat, veggies, cheese, honey, and so on - to attract a
good customer base. And there needs to be enough of each type of thing to
satisfy demand, without either running out or having so much extra that lots
goes to waste.
Right now, that system is mostly working. The farmers'
market is very successful, both in terms of how lucrative it is for vendors and
in terms of how useful and popular it is for area residents.
But the fact that it's working doesn't make it a fair or
transparent system. And, in fact, it's neither. The city takes its lead on
whose applications it will approve from the Farmers' Market Association, which
holds a vote in its annual meeting about who should be allowed to join. While
there's a certain bar for consideration - what items a would-be vendor wants to
sell, and where those items are grown or processed - admission is up to the
will of the association's members.
As associate city attorney Ann Freeman noted in a March
memo, that raises concerns about transparency and fairness - concerns that are
even more important when they relate to a private group deciding who gets to
use public property to earn a profit.
Right now there seems to be a consensus emerging between the
city and the farmers who are already in the market, that under a new licensing
regime from the city, they should be allowed to continue their arbitrary
But the basic reason behind this consensus seems to be that
nobody can think of another method that would be fairer and more transparent,
while also allowing the flexibility to manage the market's variety. (Everyone
does agree that a straight-up waiting list is a bad idea, because it could end
up with a market filled with just veggie growers, and no meat, dairy, honey, or
other produce - which would reduce the market's attractiveness to customers,
and its viability as a business opportunity.)
In talking to all these people about the issues, I've been
able to narrow down a key set of factors that pretty much everybody agrees
should be considered when determining who should be new members. (In fact, the
Famers' Market Association people say they already take these factors into
account when voting.)
I've devised a fairly easy system that provides fairness and
transparency, as well as flexibility. So here's my proposal, which is very much
open for discussion, debate, revision, and alteration. It's offered here in the
spirit of furthering creative thinking and problem-solving around how to
allocate public space fairly.
The factors are these:
-How long has a would-be vendor been interested in the market?
There is a waiting list of sorts, but its maintenance has fallen off because of
uncertainty about how to use it fairly.
-Is the would-be vendor selling something that the market
already has a lot of, or doesn't have much of?
-Is the would-be vendor interested in selling at more than
one of the markets, or just one day a week (or just in the winter)?
-Is the farm based in Portland,
or in another community? (There's a decent argument being made that Portland farmers/producers
should have a leg up in their own hometown.)
-When during the season will the would-be vendor have the
most product available (early-season and late-season suppliers are needed to
supplement as vendors that peak in the mid-season fade in and out)
-Is the quality and quantity of the products to be sold
sufficient to meet the market's demand?
I propose a points system, in which I've assigned points for
various attributes of an applicant's proposal. Most of these are fairly
objective. The last two, quality and quantity, are subjective, but reflect
descriptions that reasonable people could probably agree on, and at least give
a range of qualifications and scores.
On waiting list less than 6 months
On waiting list 6 months-12
On waiting list 12-24 months
On waiting list 24+ months
Selling something with 0 existing vendors (see Rules, 6d -
Products that may be sold - for categories in which to judge)
Selling something with 1 existing vendor
Selling something with 2 existing vendors
Selling something with 3 existing vendors
Selling something with 4 existing vendors
Selling something with 5+ existing vendors
Farm based in Portland?
Selling at just one market (winter/Wed/Sat)
Selling at more than one market
Peak availability in early season
Peak availability in mid-season
Peak availability in late season
-2=abysmal;-1=below average; 0=average; +1=above
-1=way too little/way too much; 0=a bit too little/a bit
too much; +1=the right amount
The idea would be that, upon the opening of a slot at one of
the markets, every applicant would be scored according to this chart (or
whatever this chart is revised into). The highest-scoring vendor would be first
admitted. If there were more than one slot available, then the slots would be
assigned based on score.
If there were to be a tie in points, then the tie-breaker
could be up to a vote of the existing vendors.
What other factors should be included? Should some of those
factors be more important than others, and so have their point scores adjusted?