A group of farmers that started the Pinecrest farmer’s market nearly 13 years ago did not show up at last week’s market, and they say they won’t return.
Produce vendors Jerry Sanchez, Laura Ramirez and Benita Lara said the Green Market Co-op, the market’s new management, has implemented too many restrictions, and the village of Pinecrest has lost sight of what a farmer’s market is really about.
“Any city that has a farmer’s market knows it’s to support and to bring a good service to the community and residents,” said Sanchez, 42, who’s been selling fruits, vegetables and herbs with his wife and children alongside Ramirez and Lara since the Pinecrest market began at Gardners Market in 2001. “Pinecrest just does not see it as what we bring to the city, they see it as a business and not a farmer’s market.”
Newer venders Carlos Fernandez, who also sells produce, and Lisa Lieftink, who sells a ceramic grater plate with her husband Bert, have been there over a year and will not return under the co-op either.
There are many reasons why these vendors have chosen to leave:
• A new rule that no vendors can secure spots at the market unless they pay a month in advance.
• A new rule requiring vendors to carry $1 million in insurance, with the village and the cop-op protected as well as the vendor.
• A no-credit policy for produce vendors if the market gets rained out.
• The treatment they’ve received from the co-op, which they described as distant and uninterested in the concerns of the veteran vendors.
“In no other market are we asked of this,” said Lara, who also sells at the Miami Springs, Doral, Tropical Park and Coral Gables markets. “I’ve had years in my spot [at the Pinecrest market]. I also wasn’t going to buy a $1 million insurance when what I sell isn’t that much.”
Last month, Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano Gomez held a meeting with the vendors to address their concerns.
The rent rate was lowered from $75 to $55 per tent for non-produce vendors, while produce vendors pay $25 per tent.
“We’ve done what at this point we could do,” said Galiano Gomez. “They submitted a list of changes and we made all those changes and they still chose to leave.”
But Lieftink said her concern was never about the price.
“We personally didn’t have problem with rates, but our particular problem was the additional insured,” said Lieftink, who paid an extra $100 to insure the co-op under her policy. “Our product is a ceramic plate. Why are you looking for this?”
Mayor Cindy Lerner said the Florida League of Cities only requires that vendors on city property have insurance.
The co-op did not return calls seeking comment.
But for Sanchez in particular, the problem is the price.
His tents are 15-by-15 — larger than the traditional 10-by-10 spaces that other produce vendors use.
The co-op came to the $25 pricetag by charging 25 cents per square foot. Most produce vendors use four tents, so the total is $100. But for Sanchez, who has four 15-by-15 tents each with a square footage of 225, his rent would be $225.
He said the village and the co-op negotiated to lower it to $180, but it is still significantly higher than what he was paying with The Market Company Inc., the market’s former management, which was $130 during peak season.
Mayor Lerner said if he couldn’t afford the rent, he should decrease his number of tents. But Sanchez said he has the most customers and needs more space.
“I prefer to expand than go back and have less space,” he said. “I farmed more than ever this year and I can’t cut back.”
Sanchez wants a better deal, but Lerner and Galiano Gomez said the reason they sought new management was to make the market fair.
“That’s the way we work,” said Lerner. “To be fair, either reduce the space or pay more, those are your two options.”
The Village Council changed the management this summer after Lerner said she received complaints for about a year about TMCI’s unfairness in rent prices and increases to vendor rent after the village upped it’s weekly fee from $1,000 to $1,400 during the market’s peak season.
But Lara said at least Claire Tomlin, president of TMCI, knew how a farmer’s market works.
“She said we need to have patience because they’re brand new to this,” said Lara, about what Galiano Gomez said of the co-op at the meeting. “And I’m saying, ‘Then what are they doing here if they don’t know how to run this?’”
Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm said the problems with the new management can be traced back to the village’s choice to raise TMCI’s rent.
“They based a budget on total naivety basically,” said Pikarsky, who will be returning to the market on Dec. 8. “When the village raised the rent they did exactly what they were accusing Claire of doing.”
Laura Ramirez said she is just sad that she will no longer see the customers who have supported her for so many years and be a part of something she helped to build.
“It hurts me a lot because it was made by us. We endured the heat, the cold, the rain and we always tried to bring the best we had,” Ramirez said. “We’re humble, but we’re not going to allow them to treat us this way.”