Farmers will manage own sales again

The Farmers’ Market Association will regain management of the produce section of Thursday Night Farmers Market in an agreement reached Tuesday.

The boards of directors of the Downtown Association and the Farmers’ Market Association are expected to complete the contract this week, City Attorney Christine Dietrick said.

The change came after the Downtown Association took control of the produce vendors in late January. The shift in control caused a public outcry that led the San Luis Obispo City Council to direct the Downtown Association to work out a new contract with the Farmers’ Market Association.

Deborah Cash, executive director of the Downtown Association, previously said the change was necessary because of liability concerns and a lack of communication between farmers and the association. Downtown Association board president Natalie Tartaglia did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Mike Cierone, 15-year member and vice president of the Farmers’ Market Association’s board of directors, said the agreement will help both sides “get along and understand each other and begin the process. There are definitely hurt feelings but in the spirit of cooperation, we are moving forward.”

The Downtown Association received the certification Jan. 28 required to operate the produce section from the county agricultural commissioner.

Before the takeover, the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association managed the produce sales for more than two decades.

That certification will be reissued to the Farmers’ Market Association as soon as Dietrick confirms that they are assuming responsibility again, said Bob Lilley, county agricultural commissioner.

“At this point, the Downtown Association has agreed to memorialize in writing its commitment to the city to conduct a certified farmers market and to ensure farmer participation on its Thursday Night Promotions Board,” Dietrick said.

More than 40 people attended a meeting to discuss the new arrangement Tuesday morning, Cierone said.

The city has the power to mandate that farmers are represented by the Downtown Association, which is contracted by the city to manage the Thursday night event.

Dietrick said any changes to the city’s contract with the Downtown Association will likely not occur until the expiration of the current contract in 2011.