Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Farmers' Markets

I just came back from a meeting of the City Planning Commission (Port Angeles, WA) about extending the permit for the Farmers’ Market. Everything that’s nasty and personal about national politics had its counterpart at this meeting.

First of all, Port Angeles is one of those small cities (20,000) that’s lucky enough to have a thriving, vibrant downtown. There’s a Wal-Mart two miles away, and a few malls, but these haven’t sucked the life out of the city center.

Two days a week, the city closes off one block — right downtown — for the Farmers’ Market. The whole town really comes to life during these two days. Hundreds of pedestrians are fanning out in every direction, shopping in downtown stores, patronizing the bars and restaurants. It’s great.

Well, at least most people think so. A few merchants are claiming their business goes down during the Farmers’ Market because of parking problems. Other merchants, including some that are located on the exact street that gets blocked off, say their business goes way up during the Farmers’ Market.

The plot thickens: the Farmers’ Market is near the end of a temporary 1-year permit. The few squeaky wheels that have been complaining are now trying to prevent the permit from being extended. So the City Planning Commission had a stormy 4-hour meeting tonight, which resolved nothing.

The most colorful part of the meeting was the Chairman of the Planning Commission, who seems to think his title is actually Commissar of the VIPs. There was thunderous applause after several impassioned speeches in favor of continuing the Farmers’ Market’s permit. So the Emperor Chairman commanded that there be no applause or any other outbursts after any speeches. Mr. VIP needs to be reminded that his salary comes from the taxpayers he was ordering around like a drill sergeant.

Out of the 25 to 30 people who spoke, only about four were against extending the permit. Supposedly 60 merchants had signed a petition against the Farmers’ Market. Where the F&%$#! were they?

Whenever someone spoke in favor of the Farmers’ Market, the Caliph Chairman would constantly interrupt with “let’s stick to the subject,” “what’s your point?” or “you’ve gone over the time limit.” When the four opponents were speaking — and they all rambled and dithered and huffed and puffed for eternity — for some reason there was no time limit, no calls of “Focus!” or “Get to the point!” Hmmm, I wonder whose side the Chairman was on.

Like they say, Think Globally, Act Locally. All politics is local. Etc. And local politics is every bit as colorful and contentious as Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney cussing at Democrats. And local politics is just as full of sleazebags, 800-pound gorillas, and self-absorbed prima donnas who think the world revolves around them.


Blogger Ken Grandlund said...

Was in Port Angeles on vacation this year and the farmers market was going on the day we got in. I bought some nice marionberry jam from an old gentleman. It wasn't a busy day though, not big crowds anyhow.

Gee Tom, I could have dropped in and said hello.

Anyhow, you are right. Politics are local first and foremost. IF we can't even fix the problems in our own cities, how can we get leadership to guide a whole country. The answer of course lies in calling to the carpet all those "leaders" who wield their temporary power as if it is a gift from the gods. These people need to be driven from politics since their only goals is self fulfillment, the antipathy of public servant.

August 10, 2005 at 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Ken: Small world. That's cool, you've actually been here.

For the most part, everyone here is much friendlier and more low-key than Northern California where we used to live. But I guess politicians and self-centered merchants are the same everywhere.

August 10, 2005 at 11:58 PM  
Blogger pack of 2 said...

I am down the street from you in Portland, Oregon. we have "Saturday Market" & I would be PISSED if they tried to pull the permit. Farmer's Markets & such are necessary...they warm the heart & add a certain "flavor" to the community.


August 11, 2005 at 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Pack of 2: You're right. Farmers' Markets add a vibrancy and a unifying quality to downtown areas. Plus, of course, they're one of the few ways to buy real unprocessed foods without patronizing the middleman. And with such an influx of pedestrians, all businesses benefit, whether they admit it or not.

August 11, 2005 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger Lumbergh-in-training said...

Ditto, even in India!

August 11, 2005 at 2:50 AM  
Blogger frstlymil said...

Farmers markets are neccessary to a community. We have several of them here - Santa Monica, Plummer Park, Hollywood, La Cienega to name only a few that go on weekly in Los Angeles where street traffic is blocked off for the duration. We do however, have a problem with the City Counsil members sometimes wasting our time. Many of us submitted a petition with over 2000 signatures we collected from local residents, business persons and property owners in an area where they were proposing leveling part of a park and putting in a parking lot. The counsilperson we submitted the protest signatures to ran upon a campaign of protection of open space. Turns out we wasted our time because he had already arranged and the city had committed themselves to the contractors doing the job - and the public hearing was simply a joke, as was his campaign promise, as were 2000 signatures. He is sooooo not getting my vote next time.

August 11, 2005 at 6:36 AM  
Blogger Nariel said...

It's ridiculous that a few old frumps can put the breaks on something that it sounds like most of your community enjoys.

I would encourage you all to be active in keepin your farmer's market available because (as I have been reporting at Ancient Eyes) http://ancienteyesforcurrenttimes.blogspot.com the coming "long emergency" and energy woes.. will drive us all back to smaller communities and keep us in them as the crisis deepens through the coming years. Those little farmer's markets will be the "walmarts" of the future to those that can no longer afford to drive off here and there to get everything that they need.

Support the farmers and encourage everyone to do so.. and while you're at it.. you might want to be planting a small one of your own.

August 11, 2005 at 7:18 AM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Lumbergh-in-Training: Oh yeah, I’m sure it’s the same everywhere.

Frstlymil: Yeah, those local governments (I guess all governments) are like that. They decide what they’re gonna do, and then they start holding “hearings” so they can get “public input” before they make their decision. What a crock.

The bus I used to commute on, got eliminated several years ago. When the transit agency announced that they “might” have to eliminate bus #71, a bunch of us attended hearings, wrote letters, sent e-mails, signed petitions. At the hearings they had this touchy-feely spokeswoman who kept saying “that was a great suggestion. We need this public input to help us with our decision” and “we want to hear from you; your ideas are very important to us.” Riiight. They eliminated the bus, and it was crystal clear that they were already planning to eliminate it before they even announced that they “might.” All those hearings were just going through the motions.

Nariel: You’re right, it really is ridiculous that a few overpaid and underworked city officials can do such power tripping. Our taxes pay their salaries; they work for us.

Farmers’ Markets are definitely important. No matter how bad the economy gets, people will always buy food. Who needs the middleman? And as processed and pesticided and GM food becomes more common, more people will probably notice the difference between home-grown produce and the fake stuff you get at the supermarket.

August 11, 2005 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Unadulterated Underdog said...

You guys need to organize a mass public protest against closing the market down. Camp out in front of your local Chimperor's office and make sure he knows who pays his salary. Works well in Oklahoma usually. CHEERS!

August 11, 2005 at 8:47 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

OKL, I love the word Chimperor! It may not just apply to Bush himself, as you suggest, but to any of those who lead in his image (i.e. the spirit of "compassionate conservatism").

I lived in Port Angeles from 1984 to 1989, and I don't recall there being a Farmer's Market there. Maybe there was, but I was busy raising two small children at the time. Anyway, I don't see how it could be a negative thing. When I was in Port Angeles a year ago, it still seemed as vibrant as ever, and the downtown looked to be in very good health. First Street Haven restaurant was still going strong, Port Book and News had increased in size by about fourfold.

Here in La Grande, OR our "farmer's market" has been showing up in the town square not just on Saturday mornings, but now on occasional weekday evenings too. I love seeing more people downtown, whether or not it's during business hours. When Wal-Mart arrived about five or six years ago, downtown seemed to dry up. I love the way the market is helping keep our downtown area alive.

August 11, 2005 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Glyn (Zaphod) Evans said...

The Farmer's Market is a local establishment in EVERY small town in Alberta. Where I live, it is held in the arena all summer on every tuesday. In other places, it may be downtown or at a specific place.

I think yours sounds great, and the fact that only a few people showed up to contest the extension of the permit even though there were scores of signatures on the list reeks of tampering. Not only that, but there is obviously some personal issues with the few (and the emper.. I mean chairman) who oppose it.

August 11, 2005 at 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

OK Liberal: The way feelings are running over this issue, there will certainly be some sort of mass action. And almost certainly a boycott of the ringleaders of the anti-Farmers’ Market movement. One of the ringleaders has a very, uh, strong personality, and I think she intimidated a lot of people into signing her petition. The merchants who spoke against the market at the meeting — I will definitely never patronize them and I’ll try to persuade everyone I know to do the same.

Snave: I think the Farmers’ Market started in 2001 (we just moved here a year ago). The downtown is so alive and vibrant now. From what we’ve heard, there were some tough times during the 1980s and ‘90s. I haven’t seen the First Street Haven, but Port Book and News is going strong. It was their owner whose speech last night got a standing ovation and led the Chimperor to demand “no more outbursts.”

I think a Farmers’ Market — or any kind of open-air gathering like that — can’t help but revitalize a downtown. It sure beats the hell out of having the downtown be an empty shell because everybody shops at Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

August 11, 2005 at 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Glyn (Zaphod) Evans: That sounds great, what they’re doing in Alberta. I think Farmers’ Markets are getting more common everywhere. It’s better produce than you get in the supermarket, it eliminates the middleman, and it’s a backlash against malls and Big Box stores draining the life out of the city center. Farmers’ Markets, and other events like that, can’t help but be good for the vitality of a town.

And you’re right, I think the ringleader of the anti- group was tampering with the data, either coercing or deceiving people into signing her petition.

August 11, 2005 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger Brother Kenya said...

Tom, great post. I hope you're able to mobilize the community, put together some boycotts of the squeaky wheels, etc.

Here in Petaluma, the weekly farmer's market is a tradition none of us would like to lose. Great produce grown by local farmers, plus live music and pony rides for the kids. I'm glad we don't have a Mr. Burns here trying to shut it down.

I've been to P.A. too, a few years back. We did some hiking in the national park. Incredible place. You must love it there...

August 11, 2005 at 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Brother Kenya: It ended up with the Farmers’ Market getting a 1-year extension of their permit. They had asked for a 3-year extension. So they have one year to find a permanent location — probably have to rent a parking lot or something. So it’s better than nothing. (I just found this out a little while ago. I left the meeting after 4 hours, and it went on for another 2-3 hours after that.)

But I think there’ll be a boycott of the 3 or 4 ringleaders of this anti-Farmers’ Market group. I think they’re gonna find out they pissed off too many people.

Petaluma always had lots of neat things going on in the Old Town section. I can’t imagine any merchants complaining about that. I always thought the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors were a bunch of assholes, but this Chairman of the Port Angeles Planning Commission is much worse.

Port Angeles is great, though. Friendly people (most of them), beautiful scenery; and the town is surprisingly diverse and sophisticated for a small town that’s miles from anything.

August 11, 2005 at 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Bee said...

With the state of produce in the grocery store chains (and that's all we have here in sunny Richmond, VA), the Farmer's Market is one of the handful of places where you can get produce that isn't:
picked too darned early and isn't ready
tastes like cardboard
ever have bitter cukes? me neither, till Food Lion.
been sitting there too long, looks ok, then is rotten in your fridge the next day
did I mention tasteless? bloated? looks like something from a '50's nuclear accident movie?

August 12, 2005 at 4:18 AM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Bee: Yeah, farmers' markets are important, not just for being a fun outdoor event that revitalizes a community, but for a chance to find some real food. The difference homegrown produce and the plastic shit you get in a supermarket, well, you know what I'm talking about.

August 12, 2005 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger The Bulldog Manifesto said...

Tom: Pitch this story to the local press. You never know, sometimes reporters like Farmer's Markets too. And most of the time, reporters aren't aware of the public hearings. Fill them in...

Good luck, and thanks for the post.

August 12, 2005 at 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Bulldog Manifesto: This has been covered pretty well in the local town newspaper. But maybe it should be spread to other, somewhat larger publications. I'm also hoping some of the farmers' market vendors and their customers will do some sort of grassroots action to increase the political clout of the farmers' market. I'm also hoping (vindictive bastard that I am) that there'll be a boycott of the 3 or 4 businesses that led the fight against the farmers' market. If you're running a business in a town this size, it's not very smart to have a lot of the local population pissed off at you.

August 12, 2005 at 3:58 PM  

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