Bloomington park commissioners say no to status quo on food and beverage vendor fees at farmers market, possible decrease coming

At its Tuesday meeting, a short-handed board of park commissioners decided on a split vote to reject the city staff’s proposed fee structure for food and beverage artisans in the coming season at Bloomington’s farmers market.

Bloomington parks and recreation staff will now work to come up with an alternate fee structure proposal for food and beverage artisans.

The alternate structure could include lower fees and will likely be considered at the board’s February or March meeting. The farmer stall fee structure was already approved by the board in early January.

On Tuesday, the trio of commissioners voted 1–1–1 on the proposal from staff to continue requiring food and beverage artisans to pay the city 10 percent of their gross revenues. That would have been the same fee structure as last year.

Les Coyne voted for it. Kathleen Mills voted against it. And new board member Israel Herrera abstained. He’s filling the spot left by Joe Hoffmann’s resignation.

According to Paula McDevitt, director of the parks and recreation department,  a motion needs the majority of those board members present at the meeting to pass. So a yes from either Mills or Herrera would have left the 10-percent fee intact.

Mills, who was chosen at the start of Tuesday’s meeting as board president for the coming year, taking the baton from Coyne, announced that the fourth park commissioner, Lisa Simmons Thatcher had resigned.

The basic argument for a fee reduction was based on the idea that it’s not equitable for maybe a dozen and a half food and beverage vendors to pay more in fees as a group than the 120 or so farm vendors do.

In 2018, fees charged to 17 food and beverage artisans at the market generated $57,708, compared to $51,009 generated by fees charged to 121 farm vendors.

Last year, $39,492 was generated by the flat stall fees charged to farm vendors. The 10-percent of gross revenue charged to food and beverage artisans came to $46,509.

The information packet for the Jan. 8 board of park commissioners meeting shows that in 2019 a single food and beverage artisan, Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery, paid $12,330 in fees. That’s about 14 percent of the fees paid by all market vendors combined.

Muddy Fork’s Eric Schedler addressed the three park commissioners during public commentary on Tuesday along with several other food and beverage artisans and long-time customers of the market.

The food and beverage artisans at the market had requested a reduction of their fee to 5 percent of gross sales. They’d also requested that a process be put in place to evaluate the fee annually, with a goal of putting the food and beverage artisans on the same footing as farm vendors, who pay a flat fee.

The halving of the percentage had been recommended by the farmers market advisory council. Some of the council’s members joined the dozen or so people who took the public podium on Tuesday to express their support for the fee reduction.

Previously called “prepared food vendors,” their space at the market is on west side of the Showers plaza, near the B-Line Trail. It’s where market visitors can buy freshly brewed coffee, cinnamon rolls and other baked treats.

Rachel Beyer, a produce vendor at the market, who works part time on a local food grant project for city of Bloomington told the board that the food and beverage artisans should have higher fees. That’s because their business inputs are less vulnerable to risk than farm crops are. But Beyer said the current structure is disproportionate. It creates an operations budget for the market that relies too heavily on a small group of vendors, Beyer said.

The extent to which the market has relied on food and beverage artisans, in its attempt to meet its 100-percent cost recovery goal, was evident form the budget numbers presented to the board on Tuesday. The figures were introduced by Becky Higgins, recreation services division director.

In 2019 the market saw $94,800 in revenue compared with $150,050. That translates to 63 percent cost recovery. A slightly lower deficit is projected for next year, even if the city were to collect 10-percent of gross revenue from food and beverage artisans. In 2020, Higgins said the city expected $118,851 in revenue against $153,495 in expenses. That’s a 77-percent cost-recovery ratio.

The bar chart below shows the revenue picture for the last four years of the Bloomington farmers market with projected figures for 2020.

These numbers reflect flat fees charged to farm vendors. For example, they pay $468 for a large reserved space, or $18 for a day in the same large space. Food and beverage artisans have in the past paid 10-percent of their gross revenue and a flat stall fee. The city eliminated the flat fee for food and beverage artisans starting in 2019.

Proportion of Budget for Farmers Market
The dark blue is the amount of revenue generated by food and beverage vendors at Bloomington’s farmers market. [* 2020 numbers are projected.]
The outcome of Tuesday’s vote adds to the tally of smaller points won by food and beverage artisans in the last couple of months, as they think ahead to the coming season.

Among those was the change from the phrase “prepared food vendors” to “food and beverage artisans” in the market’s documents and marketing. The food and beverage artisans are now reflected in the market’s mission statement. And they now have two seats on the farmers market advisory council. Previously they were unrepresented.

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The food and beverage artisan area at Bloomington’s farmers market during the 2019 season.
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Bloomington parks commissioners from left: Les Coyne,
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At the podium is Eric Schedler, of Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery, who advocated for a reduction in fees for food and beverage artisans at Bloomington’s farmers market.