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Farmers market industry leader calls City of Turlock actions 'disgraceful'
farmers market gail
Gail Hayden, director of the nonprofit California Farmers Markets Association and farmers market industry leader, speaks about the history and intent of the Certified Farmers Market Program in California during Tuesday's Turlock City Council meeting. - photo by Photo Contributed

Gail Hayden has been a part of the Certified Farmers Market Program in California since its inception in 1977.

As part of a CFMP management team, she helped develop 170 markets in communities across the state. Over the years, she has also developed 35 other markets and today she is the director of the nonprofit California Farmers Markets Association and operates 16 markets in communities across the Bay Area.

As a farmers market industry leader, Hayden attended Tuesday's Turlock City Council meeting to see firsthand what all the brouhaha regarding the City's Requests for Proposals process to run a downtown farmers market was all about.

Hayden said what she witnessed on Tuesday was "disgraceful."

"It was one of the saddest days in my 37-year career, and an example of the furthest thing of why the program was created," she said.

The Turlock Certified Farmers Market, the nonprofit organization which has operated a downtown market for the past five years, and the Golden State Farmers Market Association, a for profit business ran by local grower Peter Cipponeri , went before the City Council on Tuesday as part of a Request for Proposals process the Council adopted in December to run a downtown farmers market.

After five hours of discussion, the Council postponed choosing a market operator, instead asking each organization to answer questions raised during the meeting and to try and work together to come up with a single proposal — with the help of Hayden — by next Tuesday, when the Council is set to meet again on the topic.

TCFM Board President Elizabeth Claes responded to Mayor Gary Soiseth's motion to come back before the Council by saying TCFM was withdrawing its proposal.

The Certified Farmers Market legislation was created to exempt farmers from packing, sizing and labeling requirements so that they could sell their products without the expenses of commercial preparation.

"Farmers markets are mutual benefit corporations, farmers so they can sell their crops and the second group is the consumer, who can get products they cannot regularly get, like a ripe peach right off the tree, corn right off the stalk and strawberries just picked," said Hayden.

She said it was unusual for one grower to operate a farmers market.

"The government regulations were built so no one would profit from that," Hayden said. "It's rare and odd that a certified producer would want to operate a market.

"Farmers markets are about farmers, not a farmer."

Hayden also found the City's Request for Proposals process unusual. She said that all of the many RFPs she's been involved with over the decades, the cities were seeking to start a farmers market or to find a replacement market operator once one leaves.

She said that the cities she's worked with have all promoted the farmers market with banners around town, marketing efforts and by waiving permit fees.

"Farmers markets are recognized by most towns as a value of life," said Hayden.

"RFPs are used to award grant funds usually, in this situation the City of Turlock was searching for money, which is the exact opposite. The City was looking to build its infrastructure on the backs of farmers. It's not a cell phone's bok choy and green onions."

She said in her experience, cities have acknowledged the benefits of having a farmers market as an economic tool because it keeps local money local.

"This city would not acknowledge the investment this market made for the past five years in getting their paperwork in," said Hayden referring to the Turlock Certified Farmers Market, which has been running the downtown market for the past five years until the Golden State Farmers Market Association submitted street closure request for the exact same time, dates and location as the TCFM, leading to the City Council deciding to settle the matter by instating a RFP process.

"I can't imagine one of the towns we work with allowing this to happen," she said.

According to Hayden, the City's RFP was not only unusual, it was an affront to the standards of the California farmers market industry.

"They sent it out to the industry and the industry rejected it. None of the other associations responded because it's immoral and unethical. It's not done in our industry," said Hayden of seeking proposals from other organizations to run a farmers market in a town that already has a successful market. "Our industry is one of respect; we respect each others' territory.

"We have a good, cohesive working relationship up and down the of us has a problem, we work to help each other."

Hayden said while she is available to help TCFM and GSFMA work together, she doesn't know how a farmers market is going to succeed in Turlock with what's happened.

"I know all of these growers, and everybody's upset about it. You can't have a farmers market without farmers, you can't have it with a farmer."