I have spent countless hours this month and last making phone calls, composing e-mails, and talking to people about taxes, food stamps, debit cards, insurance–all kinds of issues related to our farmers market.
What concerns me in my communication travels is that this state has very little in terms of a real, solid support network for learning about and dealing with the logistics of creating and running a farmers market. It seems everyone on the state and local (heck, even federal) levels thinks we should do it, wants us to do it, but as far as the how–well, good luck, and I hope you have a good cell plan. I’ve been donating lots of my minutes lately.
That is not to say there aren’t some really helpful people–there are some real troopers. There are people I call and who call me several times a week with the latest updates and details about what they’ve learned that could be helpful. There are people who are truly in this together with us–offering their time even in off-hours and in far-flung places.
But, I have also heard a lot of heads scratching when I ask specific questions about things like the tax implications of running all (for-profit) vendor purchases through one (non-profit) account in order to allow equal access to a central EBT/debit card machine. It might take three days to get a response, and that is when I do the calling back, only to find out the matter’s been referred to someone else, and that person was supposed to call me.
I have also heard heads being scratched when it comes to questions about collecting taxes on vendor dues. We’re a non-profit, right? And we all pay into a collective pot to provide ourselves with a service, right? One person I asked who is a go-to about farmers markets in the state said, “I’ve never even thought about that.” This particular person has been in that position for five years at least–it would seem it might’ve come up at some point before now.
Too, I’ve been working on insurance issues. Our current liability policy has been running us about $640/year, but the Farm Bureau agent I met with says they can insure us for $100–and that’s with better coverage. How is it that we can’t get some help and/or advice on how much these policies ought to cost, so we don’t shell out a third of our budget to cover our butts?
I don’t mind doing the research for my market, but I do mind that the people who get paid to have answers or get them, to be a resource, to help us out are asking me to let them know what I can find out in my spare time.
I mentioned in a previous post that in the 2007 USDA Census of Ag, South Dakota ranked dead last among the states in the market value of vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes produced here. The truth is, we are so far behind our neighbor states of Iowa and Minnesota in encouraging production of stuff we can actually eat, it’s scary.
Considering how very far down the national food supply chain we are out here, we ought to have a heck of a lot more concern about what happens if that supply chain breaks, dries up, or actually begins to reflect the real cost of all that processing, packaging, and shipping. How surprised could we actually be if the shelves start looking kind of empty considering that so many of the trucks bringing goods here are back-hauling nothing but an empty container?
Michael Pollan called for a “Farmer-in-Chief” for the nation, but I think South Dakota needs a “Farmers-Market-in-Chief” or perhaps a “Farmers Market Czar(ina).” Actually, I’m happy with a title of “State Farmers Market Coordinator” or “Facilitator.” A lofty title does not seem a pre-condition for a job well-done, after all.
The purpose of this position would to provide direct logistical support to all existing farmers markets in the state on things like insurance, taxation, vendor recruitment, non-profit and corporate status issues–bascially all the things that are important to the health, safety, and growth of the market as a whole, the vendors, and the community.
Further, the Farmers Market Coordinator would help establish new markets–helping groups draft their vendor contracts, apply for appropriate licensure, and work with their city and county governments to describe the benefits to the local community and economy of hosting such a market.
The upshot of hiring a person who actively supports existing markets and helps create new ones is that it encourages local food production, and breaks South Dakota’s almost complete dependency on far-flung food sources.
I know the state is facing some tough budgetary times, so perhaps creating a new state job isn’t likely. But when you consider our shaky place in the national food-supply system and the positive economic (and social!) impact on communities of starting and growing a farmers market, the cost to the state of creating such a position could easily be made up (and then some) in the economic benefits reaped statewide.
And yes, I’ll be applying.