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Could A Farmers' Market At A New Location Replace Westford's Current Farmers' Market?

The following is Part Two of a transcript from the Dec. 10, 2013 Westford Board of Selectmen meeting.

The following is Part Two of a transcript from the Dec. 10, 2013 Westford Board of Selectmen meeting.

For a list of segments of the transcript, click here.

7:50 p.m. – The board went back to the discussion on the Westford Farmers’ Market, with Peraner-Sweet saying that the discussion had been moved up to December to provide more deliberation time

Farmers’ Market organizer Gloria Gilbert called the previous year “status quo,” indicating that her team had worked hard with challenges over lawn concerns and storage, making great progress using church facilities with things like refrigeration and bathrooms.

She indicated that the meetings weren’t uneventful, just that things have become status quo.

Gilbert also indicated that the market had become less popular since other nearby towns now also have markets, copying Westford.

Going forward, Gilbert understood that some people liked the market and some don’t due to traffic and parking. While she was accepting of moving the location, she indicated there would be a risk that the market would not be successful if the location were moved.

She also asked if the market is moved that someone else take up the administration.

Gilbert then introduced volunteers from Westford Academy who helped with research on the Market.

They took count of how many cars were parked on Lincoln Street and how many pedestrians there were on the Common, saying that there is extra parking in the First Parish Church United parking lot on most days and that traffic and parking needs also dip during the heart of the summer.

Peraner-Sweet asked for a conclusion from the studies, with the students indicating that the pedestrians drop in the fall, but the parking then stays steady, and they did not believe that traffic was an issue at the market.

Peraner-Sweet asked if there was data from previous years, but that was not available.

Gilbert attempted to clarify, indicating that the First Parish Church United parking lot is underutilized. Lincoln Street is utilized, but never at 100 percent.

Wormell asked a question regarding averages in the study and Hazelton asked a question regarding the impact of first responders.

Capt. Chambers of the Police Department said he would ask a question regarding the traffic figures, but indicated that Wormell answered his question. Parsons said that the Police Departments’ concerns were not just parking but interaction between vehicles and pedestrians.

There were no accidents this year, but the Department is still concerned due to the amount of commuter traffic and pedestrian traffic heightening the risks, saying that crosswalks would not always be used and this year the town was just fortunate, with accidents in previous years.

Chambers also discussed the recent NMCOG study’s recommendation to move the market to a weekend date.

Hazelton asked if Lincoln Street was closed from 2 to 6 p.m. if that would make anything better, Parsons said no, saying that would just back up traffic to 495 and Route 110.

Chambers said that even when Lincoln Street is closed for the prom for an hour on a Saturday impacts traffic.

Lt. Parsons from the Fire Department agreed with Chambers’ assessments, saying they support the venue, but are concerned with safety for residents as well as their personnel heading to emergencies.

Persons indicated that there were two incidents when people got hurt, with the last one happening last year.

He indicated that the Fire Department wanted to work with the market, and understood that moving the day may harm the market, but asked if the Common was too difficult to manage during a weeknight with peak traffic.

Selectman Ross asked Captain Chambers if he had any data regarding accidents at rush hour not on Farmers’ Market days to see if it was the market or the Common.

Chambers was not comfortable answering off the top of his head, but he did not recall any incidents on non-market days.

Ross then also asked for specifics on the two accidents specified earlier.

Chambers said he couldn’t specify about the reports without having them in front of him.  One was right in front of the Fire Department and the other was in front of Northern Bank, with the Northern Bank accident occurring with a person coming to the Market.

Town Manager Ross said there were five pedestrian accidents since she became Town Manager, three not near the Common.

Parks and Recreation Department director Pat Savage said that the market’s success has increased demand but said that Gilbert has been easy to work with toward addressing concerns.

While Savage understood that changing the day or location or time would harm the market, she said these concerns could be alleviated with additional information to the public, citing that this had been done by other markets.

Selectmen Ross asked charging the market a fee. Savage said that the market charged vendors a fee, but Gilbert indicated to her that they did not make a profit, although other groups that use town land are charged a fee, often a small one.

Hazelton asked Gilbert how many customers are regulars. Gilbert said she did not have exact data, but indicated that there was a regular following.

A colleague of Gilbert’s from Cold Spring Road came to the microphone on behalf of Gilbert to discuss his informal study of traffic on non-market days. He said that traffic moved faster down Boston Road by approximately two minutes on non-market days.

Wormell asked how many memberships were sold recently. Gilbert said she had not sold any recently, but they had approximately 20 members.

Wormell asked Gilbert about the income for Sustainable Westford, the parent organization for the market. Gilbert says that the market makes approximately $6,000 to $7,000 a year and that memberships are $800 a year.

Selectman Ross asked Gilbert what would be worse: moving the location or moving the date. Gilbert said it would be a split, and that she would be okay with moving the time or location if someone could fill in for her, as she had been told by vendors that many would not come back.

She then said that she’d prefer to go to a larger spot with more parking, but either way is alright and could be successful if someone else did the work.

Peraner-Sweet gave another option, asking if the hours could be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Gilbert said that possibility would lose many customers, although she reiterated her request that the current market continue until a new market elsewhere could be started.

Wormell asked who would administer the non-Common market. Gilbert said it would be whoever anyone could muster, but she had no answers, and that she was limited in her capacity to do any work and did not recommend anyone.

Wormell said this discussion was part of why she wants the board to reinvigorate the Agricultural Commission, asking if the market could be placed under a renewed Agricultural Commission like the Roudenbush Community Center was offered to be put under the Recreation Commission.

While Wormell said discussion was productive and could be taken offline, she said that public concerns were not going away.

Peraner-Sweet asked the audience for any concerns, nobody had any.

She said that tonight was just the beginning of the discussion on the market.

Wormell added that it was not up to the board to move the market, only whether it could be on the Common or not.

Peraner-Sweet said the board could make recommendations.

Gilbert said that farmers would need an answer on the future of the market by January, as they decide what markets they will go to by then. She also indicated that storage and bathroom issues needed to be decided early.

A volunteer for Sustainable Westford came up to the microphone saying that the market was an integral part of the community. As for how the market could be changed, if the time was changed to earlier in the day, Westford Academy volunteers would be difficult to recruit due to school hours.

Peraner-Sweet said the discussion would be continued at a later date.

Dan D. December 11, 2013 at 07:06 AM
Would love to see it moved and the time changed to the weekend, so more than a relatively tiny handful of residents could enjoy it.
Sam December 11, 2013 at 08:14 AM
Typical of Ms. Gilbert. If you do move it I won't run it anymore. MOVE THE FLEA MARKET! Eliminate all these town created parking issues, enforce zoning laws and guess what, we wont have to pay through the nose for some silly town center redo.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) December 11, 2013 at 09:11 AM
Hi Sam, in case you're just joining us, in the past she has been adamantly opposed to moving the Farmers' Market. Per what was said above, the takeaway I obtained from her was that she was indifferent now, but if it moving became necessary due to the Selectmen refusing to allow the Common to be used, she would no longer want to run it herself.
Steven Sadowski December 11, 2013 at 09:26 AM
The free market already has a Farmer's Market and it's open 7 days a week. There a re a slew of family farms on 119 in between BeaverBrook and exit 31 (Littleton, I know) as well as the family farm on Tadmuck and if I was more astute geographically I'm sure i'm missing a few more all around town.....###...The town's farmer's market is nothing more than a economic bubble artificially created by the town. This creates unnecessary congestion on the common, which gets misinterpreted by planners as demand that must be accommodated. When will the govt. learn to stop playing CEO. Just fulfill your Constitutional mandate and leave the market to the markets.
Sam December 11, 2013 at 09:29 AM
Andrew, I know the history of this believe me. I don't get why you are saying this. My point was spot on. If the BOS moves the market, she does want to run it anymore. I will take ball and go home.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) December 11, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Just wanted to make sure, Sam. Also Steven, the town does not run the Farmers' Market, it's run by a non-profit group called Sustainable Westford. The town's role is whether to allow the market to operated on the town common, which is town property. Val Wormell referenced this last night, as mentioned above.
Steven Sadowski December 11, 2013 at 12:38 PM
Andy: True, the town doesn't run the nitty gritty details of any event, whether it be the FM, or a road race, or a tree lighting, Halloween parade or whatever, but the town does sign off on the designation of the common for those purposes. I'm sure there are permits, extra police details and other coordinated efforts that have to be in place respectively for any event, some of course more than others....###...To me it sounds like this group, affiliated with the church across the street from the common runs the event, and many other events, but traffic and safety need to be mitigated, and that's where the town comes in, as you have referenced above. But the town is a representative body and when there are groups who are motivated and influential, they can get a lot done and sway a lot of minds. The town needs to manage those groups so that one group's agenda doesn't effect the town adversely as a whole even if the motives are good and the group sees a positive benefit to the town.....###...This group is also pushing for a redevelopment plan for the common, and all of this tied to some sort of master plan to have the common as some kind of hub. But the hustle and bustle is artificially created and the funding is not free market generated, so this, in my mind anyway, is a financial expenditure that doesn't need to happen. I'm hoping the BoS recognizes this and doesn't allow the town to be financially committed to a project, or set of inter-connected events, based upon the lobbying of one particular group, or church.
joseph mcgruff December 11, 2013 at 01:35 PM
Gilbert indicated to her that they did not make a profit...Gilbert says that the market makes approximately $6,000 to $7,000 a year. Wait, what? Anyways, the WFM constantly talks out of both sides of their mouth and worse disregards the WFD and PD annual concerns. Approximately 20 (full year) memberships huh? How does Gilbert not know this #? Laughable. I would bet my house its 20+ (yearly memberships) BUT then you have to include the daily memberships they sell as well. Its greed, fuzzy math and thanks for your input WFD/PD now moving on attitudes that have ruined to spirit of the WFM in my opinion...
WestfordMom December 11, 2013 at 02:35 PM
The "research" and conclusions from the collected traffic and pedestrian data are flawed. The collected data set is inconsistent (at best) and missing data to the level where it is statistically invalid to compare summer to fall timeframes. As published, data was collected in half hour intervals with the summertime having data in 92 out of 100 of those timeframes. However, fall only has data in 30 of the 90 timeslots, often times with every other timeslot missing data (abnormal). As someone who does statistics for a living, the "conclusion" that pedestrian drops in the fall cannot be backed up by their data since the number of data points also dropped. Obviously, the more time slots with collected data, the higher the cumulative sum. I understand that the data was collected by volunteer students but if it is going to be used as a basis for decision making, do it correctly and get an advisor to verify sampling and data validity.
Sam December 11, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Excellent work WM but that does not help their argument and all the BOS needs is a sheet of paper with some flashy stats and boom. FM APPROVED
joseph mcgruff December 11, 2013 at 04:24 PM
And there in lies the problem, some WA kids counting cars and people and its all of sudden its scientific and means for the FM to say 'see, see! I told you!' and the bOS to buckle under...WA is the new BOS I guess?
Sam December 11, 2013 at 04:30 PM
They are looking to have it both ways. On one hand they want to bow down to the straw hats and their parking and traffic isn't a problem argument and let the FM continue yet they are pushing to revamp the center of town spending thousands of our dollars to solve a huge parking problem. Most of which is caused by them. Classic.
WestfordMom December 11, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Just to clarify - my comments about the data state exactly the opposite of "see, see I told you". I stated the data is FLAWED and cannot produce meaning conclusions. So, in short - the statement in the article that parking and pedestrian counts at FM does not impact traffic is NOT true.
joseph mcgruff December 11, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Well I guess we wouldn't really know one way or the other about any data since most of its been collected between text messages and selfies on a few WA Iphones right WM? My point being its downright scary to think that is in any way part of what the BOS would consider as a way to make a decision..
wes December 11, 2013 at 06:13 PM
I can understand why Gilbert would not want to continue running this if it changed. Right now everything is lined up. If it changes, there is a lot of work to do and it becomes a different job. Not everyone enjoys that job. I disagree with the assumptions made by an earlier post. If traffic is a problem when events are held in the common then moving the time or day will not change that. If it moved to the weekend and more people show up, then people are going to complain about that traffic and increased risk of pedestrians getting hit. This will never be solved.
Sam December 11, 2013 at 07:47 PM
Of course it can be solved. Move the market, or let them worry about where it will be. Not the towns problem. I contacted the 4-H Fair grounds and they were willing to take this on. End of story. Problem solved.
Steven Sadowski December 11, 2013 at 08:52 PM
I'll let Andy correct me here if I'm wrong, but from what I can gather, the Parish Church and the group that sponsors the FM (Sustainable Westford) are intertwined. They also coordinate the Strawberry's n Art and Apple Blossom festivals on the common, amongst others. This is just me talking, but it seems to me that the Parish Church sees the Common as their front yard. The problem is that it's not their yard, it's OUR yard, public property, so First Parish does not own this land, they just happen to have a very well organized and well-educated board of directors that can effect change on the local level....###...I have several problems with this. 1st on a separation of Church/state level, but 2nd from an Austrian economics POV where an entity that has tax free status, is taking donations to float an event that could not exist in the free market otherwise. Because it is artificial, the data surrounding its impact is also artificial, but the economic cost that gets extracted from the town is very real.
Sam December 11, 2013 at 09:11 PM
You are correct Steven. The FPCU also runs a rental business for the hall as well. The lot is residentially zoned. We also just spent $450,000 of CPA funds on their building expansion. Nice huh. I could go on and on. They were allowed to expand the hall back in the early 90s with no real oversight or restrictions. They don't have enough parking for the size building they put in. When questioned on this the BOS actually said that this was long time ago and there were no town records on how this happened. You know back in the dark ages of the 90s.
Vincent DiRico December 12, 2013 at 07:36 AM
Community / family events on the weekend / common are enjoyed by many, after-all we are not the settlers of long ago. The market should be moved to the weekend (and allowed to stay on the common) or moved to some out of the way place better equipped to support it (during rush hour). If it must fold then so be it. Real simple, we have known this for a looong time, now all that is needed is leadership to get it done.
Westford Debunker December 12, 2013 at 11:26 AM
I actually agree with SS this time! It's time to move the Farmer's Flea Market and wine store. The Market needs to move to a Saturday and to the 4H area.
WestfordMom December 12, 2013 at 11:30 AM
I agree about having it moved to the weekend. A core of a successful business is to understand the customer. I used to be a customer of the FM but gave up after multiple trips after finding out that the items I went for were typically sold out by time I arrived around 5pm. It simply wasn’t worth the time spent in traffic and parking to only purchase 2-3 grocery items. Nor is it worth leaving work early to attend. Now I actually avoid the common area on FM days and instead go to the one at the Kimball’s in Carlisle on Saturday. Weekdays are very busy for the majority of working families and sitting in traffic to buy artesian bread or tomatoes is pretty low on the priority list. I believe the weekend time would likely increase attendance. As it stands now, customers like me simply do not have the bandwidth to shop on weekdays during the hours when kids are coming home from school, kid sports/activities, commute home, making dinner, etc... In an ideal world we would all have the time during the weekday to leisurely shop for local farm grown food. But if you look at the majority of people in town, those with that type of lifestyle are the minority. If the organizers truly understood their customers, the FM time would not be held on a weekday during rush hour. Rather, it would be on the weekend giving potential customers the flexibility to fit it into their schedule. Another note, with Whole Foods opening in the near future, those who prioritize local and/or organic goods are going to be drawn to shop there, in part because you can simply go at any time and always find a parking spot.
Steven Sadowski December 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Bravo WM. I completely forgot about the Whole Foods coming. Add that to my list of free market venues already outperforming the FM.

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