To the dismay of many residents, the Cutler Bay Farmer’s Market was closed on June 9, ending what many regarded as a great weekly event.
The market ran every Sunday for at least two years at the corner of Old Cutler Road and 87th Avenue and hosted vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to smoked BBQ ribs. The market also regularly attracted several food trucks.
In early June, however, an anonymous caller to code enforcement pointed out that a town ordinance prohibits unlicensed vendors at the Farmer’s Market. Seeking immediate attention, the caller also claimed there had been a case of food poisoning from a market vendor.
As a result, the town confirmed that some unlicensed vendors had been operating at the market. Officials also discovered that the town had an ordinance, which wasn’t being enforced, prohibiting food trucks at the Farmer’s Market. After receiving verbal and written warnings, the market’s volunteer manager, Clay Stemple, decided to close the market.
The issue brought about 25 residents to the Wednesday town council meeting.
“It’s important to be aware of what the market is and what it is not,” Stemple said at the meeting. “It is a weekly event that enriches lives for citizens of Cutler Bay. It is not a place where vendors come to make a real profit.”
Stemple said that the market is a place where families can enjoy their Sunday and mingle with one another. The vendors are locals who come simply to enjoy the event, not to make a sustainable business.
Town officials noted the market manager – not the town itself – closed the market.
“Food trucks on the Farmer’s Market site violate our code of compliance,” Town Manager Rafael Casals said. “I know people are upset, but we could have closed it down—that’s not my style.”
Many, however, argued that the food trucks were what made the market viable.
“We don’t want to close down the market, but with taking out the food trucks, we are essentially doing just that,” said Vice Mayor Ernie Sochin. “If we want this Farmer’s Market to survive, we need to have the food trucks there.”
Joseph Gangi operates the MetroDeli food truck, which is one of several trucks that frequented the Farmer’s Market. He said this is another example of food trucks being unjustifiably ostracized.
“Food trucks get treated like lepers all over,” Gangi said, “even though we provide a more sanitary way to provide food for people, more so than the open vendors at these markets.”
Residents and council members, such as Sochin, said that without the food trucks there wouldn’t have been enough traffic for the market. The trucks, in essence, served as an advertising tool.
Other residents didn’t want the market to rely on food trucks to attract patrons.
“If logistically it doesn’t work, then it’s a failed business,” said Alexander Volsiso. “We don’t want a food truck invasion.”
Stemple said that it was not an invasion because only three to four trucks attended weekly.
Council member Peggy Bell said food trucks haven’t been allowed anywhere else except for special events and now the town is being asked to grant another exception.
“We cannot say you can have food trucks at this one event because you’d like to and not others,” said Bell. “I would not be in favor of having food trucks there—it’s not a fair request.”
Sochin did, though, give food trucks and their supporters some hope.
“I know it’s code, but that’s what we’re here for, we can undo things if we feel they’re wrong,” he said.
Both parties were working to resolve the issue and potentially reopen the market Sunday.
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