Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA

Local news

June 20, 2010

Farmers upset over market rule

Cordele — CORDELE — Every year about this time things get really busy at the Georgia Farmer’s Market located on Hwy 41 here. Farmers and retailers bring in their goods to sell to those in search of fresh fruits and veggies.

For over 30 years Tim Walker and Scott McGuinty have been doing just that, bringing their melons and corn to the market each year to sell.

Both farmers say that unfortunately, this year has not been as lucrative as in the past. Though it may be partly due to the economy, they say it goes deeper than that.

“All the time that we have been coming here to this market we have been able to sell our vegetables the way we like,” said Walker.

“If a customer wanted a bushel of corn we sold them a bushel; if they wanted a half dozen or a dozen ears, we sold them that. Now all of a sudden,  we can’t sell that small amount and we have been threatened with jail or being kicked out of the market if we do not comply.”

The trouble is that the farmers were informed recently by market manager Jennifer Felton that if they want to sell the small amounts of produce, that has to be done in the vendor section, not under one of the wholesale sheds.

This was upsetting news for the farmers who say that a lot of their revenue each year comes from those people who just come up and want a few ears of corn.

One consumer was very agitated that she was unable to purchase just a few ears of corn. Though there are retailers on sight who buy and sell the same things, some people would just rather deal directly with the farmers.

“We feel like that choice is being taken away from our consumers,” said Walker. “There are people who have certain vendor preferences as well. It should be a matter of choice.”

Felton had a different take on the situation. “All the stuff comes from farmers. What does it matter who consumers get it from? Sometimes it is just not hands on.”

Felton admitted that the retailers do complain that the farmers are taking their customers. Vendors have to pay for the use of their areas, and they think it is unfair that the farmers are under the sheds selling and not having to pay for a slot.

Felton said the rule comes from the state. “I am just doing my job by enforcing it, and I will continue to do so.”

When questioned about the farmers’ claim that they had sold small amounts to customers in the past, Felton said it was done without her knowledge. She has been at the market about seven years.

Walker said he feels like the situation discriminates against the farmers and he feels harassed.

“The only spots left in the vendor section are what we call dead spots,” he said. “I could sit there all day and probably not sell anything.”

Both he and McGuinty say that they are complying with the rule, but McGuinty continues to sell his by the bushel only. Walker says that it is costing him a great deal of money.

“I estimate my loss to be somewhere around $100,000 or more by July,” said Walker shaking his head with disappointment. “My family has worked so hard.

“We are law-abiding citizens and don’t want any trouble. We have had enough of that with the weather and the economy. It bothers me because we are also tax paying citizens and part of those tax dollars pay for this market to begin with.”

He said that while it bothers him to have to turn consumers away, and the amount of money that he is losing is hard to swallow, he is most upset that he had to let some of his workers go.

Much of Walker’s summer help consists of young teens, many hoping to earn the money to buy school clothes they would otherwise go without.

“I hated to tell them that they don’t have a job right now and I don’t know if there will be a job available,” said Walker. “It really hurt me cause these kids have nothing and work so hard. It is a happy kid that can get on the bus the first day of school with new shoes and clothes because he/she was able to work for them.

“I have raised a lot of young people working for me at the market,” he added. “Many have gone on to do some great things. I have a lot of pride in community.”

It is uncertain if a compromise can be reached to benefit both parties. A representative with the Georgia Department of Agriculture confirmed that there are separate areas for the wholesale and retail sale of produce at the market.

The rep went on to say that the rule not only applies to Cordele’s market, but to all other markets around Georgia.

“It is mostly a safety issue,” he said, “because of the big trucks coming in and out of wholesale areas. It is a rule and it is the manager’s responsibility to enforce the rules.”

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