Saying that those expecting the question of who will be running the Turlock farmers' market to be decided on Tuesday night were disappointed with the outcome of the City Council meeting would be an understatement.
After nearly five hours of discussion about the two proposals received by the City of Turlock to run a downtown farmers' market — from the Turlock Certified Farmers Market, the nonprofit organization which has operated a downtown market for the past five years, and Golden State Farmers Market Association, a for profit business ran by local grower Peter Cipponeri —the Council voted 4-1 to make the two entities attempt to work together to submit one proposal.
"At the end of the day, community was the word that everyone used...it's so disturbing, it's so hard for us because we're trying to fix a process," said Mayor Gary Soiseth.
"We think you owe this community another shot at coming together."
Soiseth urged Cipponeri and the TCFM Board to meet with California Farmers Market Association director Gayle Hayden, who offered her services as a 37-year expert in the farmers market industry, to hammer out their differences and find a way to work together.
While Vice Mayor Amy Bublak and Council members Bill Dehart and Matthew Jacob agreed with the Mayor's motion to send the two organizations into a last-ditch mediation attempt to find a way to work together as one entity, Council member Steven Nascimento said that time has passed.
"The time of coming together and working together should have come with two competing street closure requests," said Nascimento.
Nascimento reminded the Mayor and other council members that it was their decision, despite his opposition, to create the competitive Request for Proposals process.
"That's the process you created, to be judge and jury," he said.
While Nascimento was outvoted in the Mayor's motion to have both organizations attempt to work together for one proposal, it may not matter as Turlock Certified Farmers Market Board Chair Elizabeth Claes said that she and the TCFM are done with this process.
"We jumped through a lot of hoops and we did a lot of work...I'm tired of this circus and I'm tired of these hoops. When I walk out of this room I know I will have quote, unquote lost, but I haven't.
You know, I think I'm done. The Board took a vote on this and we're going to withdraw our proposal," said Claes.
Tuesday's marathon meeting started with just as much controversy as it ended with most of the Council chamber seats filled with members of the public wearing bright yellow shirts with the words "Golden State Farmers Market" written in black. There was also a capacity crowd in the overflow area outside the Council Chambers, where the meeting was shown on television.
The hallway between the two seating areas had its own crowd of community members holding up signs that read "Tin Cup Time Is Now Clean Up Politics," in reference to calls for Mayor Soiseth to recuse himself from the farmers market vote due to the large financial contributions Cipponeri's father-in-law, Matt Swanson, made to Soiseth's mayoral campaign.
Both farmers market groups gave a 20-minute presentation to the Council on their vision for operating a market in downtown Turlock.
TCFM board member Brandon Follett proposed to continue running a seasonal farmers' market, May through November, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on E. Main Street between Center and Palm streets. Follett said TCFM would continue its practice of limiting the number of vendors selling the same produce or goods and to allow only local farmers to participate, which is defined as 50 miles or less from Turlock. There is an exception to the 50 mile radius rule for agricultural products not offered for sale by local growers.
He also emphasized TCFM's prior history of running a popular market and its positive working relationships with the City, local businesses, vendors and nonprofit groups.
Cipponeri said during his presentation that GSFM would also operate the market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays from May through the end of October on E. Main Street between Center and Thor.
In contrast to TCFM, Golden State is proposing to open up the market to include vendors from different regions.
He also proposed to triple the number of volunteers working at the market, which some members of the audience questioned on grounds of legality and ability to find that many people willing to donate their time to a for profit business.
Following the presentations, multiple community members spoke on behalf of the TCFM, and for the first time during a public meeting held about the farmers market issue, a few people spoke on behalf of Cipponeri and GSFMA.
"While I've been at the Turlock farmers market for three years with Soaps by Hailey...I have networked a great amount since starting my business and the Turlock Certified Farmers Market has helped me greatly," said teen entrepreneur Hailey Kellstrom. "It's dear to my heart and it's taken personally by me if that will be changed."
Kellstrom went on to say that if Cipponeri was given the contract to run the market she would not be a vendor there this year. She also informed Cipponeri that she was withdrawing from the Hughson Farmers Market, a contract he was granted for the first time this year.
Kellstrom wasn't the only local vendor to say they would not be a part of the Turlock market if GSFMA was awarded the contract.
"I have no interest being in a market that TCFM has no part of. If there ever was a time to listen to the people..that time to listen is now. It should be crystal clear to our representatives what that decision should be," said Nick King of King's Cattle.
Sheli Fleshman took to the podium Tuesday night and said she was there to support Cipponeri publicly.
"I'm really shocked at the efforts to get around the RFP process. I just moved back from San Francisco. I've seen some crazy politics there but tonight is something. What started in Turlock is a good thing, I love the sense of community...the scorched earth policy in the court of public opinion will make it hard for both parties to work together," she said.
"Farmers markets are meant to build strong communities and make healthy food available to everyone...what we need is more than eight vendors here," said Will Wirsig. "GSFM, along with its leadership, is in the best position to help grow the Turlock farmers market."
Another marathon meeting with impassioned pleas from the public may be in store at the March 22 City Council meeting, when the Council is expected to reconsider the farmers market issue next.