Bethany Beach supports farmers’ market concept

Between their Feb. 12 workshop and Feb. 16 regular meeting, Bethany Beach Town Council members have spent considerable time lately discussing the proposed farmers’ market that might be based in the town. But much of that discussion has focused on how much the council should be involved, or even how much they should be discussing the issue.

On Feb. 16, the council limited its involvement officially to a statement of support for the concept of the market. The details of where the market, proposed by the Delaware Department of Agriculture at the council’s January meeting, would be located and who will manage it were left in the hands of several sponsors.

The Bethany Beach Landowners Association (BBLA), together with the Bethany Beach Women’s Civic Club (WCC), have agreed to sponsor the effort, which is currently targeted at getting the market up and running in time for the 2007 summer season. Both groups would like to see the market inside town limits.

BBLA President John Himmelberg, a sometime consultant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has spearheaded the project with members of both groups and help from Carrie Bennett of Bennett Orchards, who first suggested the expansion of the state agriculture department’s farmers’ market campaign to Bethany.

The Bennett family has been operating their peach orchard near Frankford for 20 years. Bennett is also a Bethany Beach property owner, as is one other family among the proto-market group of the McGee, Parsons and Johnson families.

With that established, Bennett on Feb. 16 issued her thanks to those who have supported the notion of a market in the coastal town and noted her own recent efforts to explore how such a market could be made successful. Bennett said she’d recently visited markets in California to see what was in their recipe for success.

“Success requires a favorable location near the town center,” she said, “that is accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles alike.” She said that those beginning to form the farmers’ market group had looked at locations outside of Bethany Beach’s town limits but that they would prefer their location be near the center of the town, in a location with ample parking.

Late-summer market planned for town

That combination has been the rub in trying to get the market up and running this spring, with parking in notoriously short supply in Bethany Beach’s central area. But Bennett said she felt the inconvenience would be brief and beneficial. “It would be for as many as four hours each week, in July and August,” she explained.

While Bennett said she didn’t object to one potential concern that had been raised earlier in the week — the idea of the town taking a role in managing an in-town market — she said vendors were likely to ask the town to waive permit fees or at least reduce them, to help make the venture more feasible for those involved.

Asked whether the July/August market would be able to provide a good selection of product, Bennett said she expected not only her family’s peaches to be available for sale but also corn and other produce from the McGee family, even if their well-known strawberries would be out of season in July and August, and others. She said her experience in nearby Maryland farmers’ markets during that period had shown a wide variety of produce was available even into the late summer.

Concerns expressed Feb. 12 about other types of products being for sale in the market were downplayed, with Bennett saying that most non-produce items in the existing Delaware markets were limited to jams and jellies or baked goods produced by the farm families. (The state does require inspection of farm kitchens used to produce such goods.)

Bennett said she hoped the Bethany market would attract some of the vendors from the other area markets, but that could depend on the day finally chosen for a Bethany market to be held. Council Member Steve Wode said he is concerned that a Thursday market day might allow vendors to attend several markets each week but would fit in poorly in Bethany’s Friday-Friday, Saturday-Saturday rental week.

Ideal location still sought

Himmelberg said Feb. 16 that he and others were working hard on finding a suitable site for the market — one of, if not the chiefest concern at this stage. He said he expected that they’d have it narrowed down to one to three potential locations in the coming weeks.

He said they also had the operation plan for the new Rehoboth Beach farmers’ market in-hand, with plans to follow it very closely. And he said that once they were closer to a final location, he hoped to meet with the town manager, growers, members of the BBLA and WCC, and a liaison from the council to help iron out any remaining issues. With that all to be done, he said he hoped to have a presentation ready for the council for their March meeting.

Concerns about the farmers’ market on Feb. 16 came from several property owners. Elaine and Mohammed El Kawas emphasized their concerns about the potential costs that the town might take on, such as the costs of traffic management. They encouraged the council not to consider waiving any fees but to instead pass along all associated costs to the farmers’ market vendors.

Council members remained in conflict on Feb. 16 over whether they should even be discussing the issue, let alone voting on it. Mayor Carol Olmstead emphasized that her motion was simply to express the council’s support for the concept of the farmers’ market and did not address its location, interaction with the town or other details of its future operation.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet took the time to clarify that any “management” the town, or his office, would have over a potential market would be limited to overseeing traffic and other such concerns, with the use of barricades, etc. But council members generally agreed that the time for making such decisions was in the future, with the project in the able hands of Himmelberg and the BBLA, the WCC and Bennett.

Without reservation, they voiced blanket support for the concept of the market, with the final fate of the project to be seen in the coming months. The unanimous vote of support was the first in what may be a series of decisions by the town before any market comes into being.