I am writing to express my appreciation to the city of La Grande for reinstating the farmers market permit and allowing the La Grande Farmers Market to be held in Max Square last Saturday.
This permit suspension last week revealed the market’s tenuous position at Max Square and with the city — a situation that is not new. Although the market pays rent to use Max Square, its occupancy has been threatened before. A few years ago, the market also was evicted from Max Square with three weeks notice for reconstruction. The market was not considered in the reconstruction schedule although it is the most frequent user of the space and has been for a decade.
The La Grande Farmers Market draws hundreds of people downtown twice a week to shop. It is one of the only regular tourist attractions, and markets are becoming expected by tourists. The market has dozens of downtown sponsors because of the value it brings to downtown businesses.
My questions are: How can we change this tenuous relationship with the city? When will the city see the value that the market brings to the community, citizens and downtown? What can the city do to start supporting the market in a real way?
As a member of the Oregon Farmers Market Association, I know that many cities in the state either provide staff, funds or other support for their markets. To date, the market receives no money or resources from the city and our use of Max Square is not certain. I know many cities across Oregon would pay big bucks for a market as vibrant and established as ours. In short, I think City Hall takes our market for granted and assumes its permanence.
This year, 2020, is the market’s 40th year of bootstrapping existence. The community’s support for the market is clear. The value the market brings to downtown is clear. This may be the toughest year in the last 40, so perhaps the city could provide some support in words and deeds. Here are a few ideas:
• Establish a city fund supporting the market that could help pay for overhead market costs or the manager position.
• Improve signage for the market.
• Build a bathroom at Max Square to accommodate the market and other events.
• Promote the market with local citizens to help us grow our customer base.
• Develop a long-term agreement with the market to ensure our ongoing use of Max Square.
• Waive the annual rental fee during this difficult year.
• Establish a working group between the city and market to create a firm relationship and come up with other ideas to keep the market strong downtown.
I’m sure the market staff, board members, vendors and shoppers have many more ideas. Let’s use this situation to create a better partnership so we can have a successful market for 40 more years.
About the Author
Nella Mae Parks is the owner of Nella Mae’s Farm in Cove.