By Caitlin DeLuca
The Williamston Post
After being reinstated by the City Council two months ago, the Williamston Farmers Market is gearing up for the 2016 season.
The Farmers’ Market and its manager Marlene Epley were cut from DDA funding without warning in February.
The reason for the defunding seemed to be because the market was operating at a loss.
At the following City Council meeting, it was standing room only as many citizens came to both defend the market and demand the market’s and Epley’s reinstatement.
The City Council voted unanimously to reinstate both and create a committee to monitor and plan the market.
The City of Williamston, rather than the DDA is now partially funding the Farmers’ Market.
“The Market is now funded by four things: the City, the vendors, donation and sponsor fees and grants,” said manager Marlene Epley
The Farmers’ Market is now its own department with its own fund, so all the money goes directly to it, rather than the general fund, according to Epley.
Despite it not being a stipulation of the Market’s continuing, members of the City Council want to make sure that the market does not continue to operate at a loss.
“By the Market Manager’s figures, the market ran a deficit in 2015 of $4,000,” said Sean Bertolino, City Councilman
“The DDA’s numbers also showed the Market ran a deficit of over $20,000 during the last four years,” Bertolino said.
So, the main focus for the City council and the committee is funding.
However, citizens have stepped up to pay for the market.
Two of the City Councillors and members of the committee, Tammy Gilroy and Sandy Whelton, have personally sponsored the market as well.
There are also in-kind sponsors who help fund the market.
However, concern for the market has not been abated since its reinstatement.
“I’m concerned because [since the refunding] there hasn’t been enough progress and continued support of the market for me to be confident that the market will continue,” said Christina Miteff, who runs Creations with Color and is an in-kind sponsor.
Miteff also stressed the importance of the market.
“The market is not just a place where people sell their items on Sundays,” Miteff said.
“The market is a place of education, where children can come and learn about food, animals and agriculture,” Miteff said.
She also spoke on the importance of the market as a food source for low-income citizens.
“It’s a place where low income citizens can come and have fruits and vegetables,” she said.
The Williamston Farmer’s Market has four food assistance programs for those who qualify: SNAP/Bridge cards, Double-Up Food Bucks, WIC Project FRESH and Market FRESH (seniors).
“We have a lot of families to use these programs,” said Epley
“Last year, our Farmers’ Market did $1345 worth of nutrition assistance program business. That grew from the year before so I’m expecting it to grow again,” said Epley.
These food assistance programs help give access to fresh food that low-income qualifiers would not usually have.
Despite fears that the market will not continue if it doesn’t break even this year, Epley is confident that the market will remain a staple of Williamston.
“The market has grown exponentially since 2013… it signifies to me that the community likes this market and they look forward to it and they’re using it.”
Miteff, however, wishes more people would attend the committee meetings.
“If people care about the market, they should attend the meetings to try to help. Decisions are being made in meetings not just on Sundays,” Miteff said.
The Williamston Farmers’ Market will open for the season on Sunday, May 22 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.