When the city of Bloomington’s farmers market opens for business on the first Saturday of April, the food and artisan vendors will pay 6.5 percent of their gross sales to the city of Bloomington.
That’s in contrast to farmers at the market, who pay a set fee for their stalls, not a percentage of their gross sales.
A request to lower the percentage to 5 percent for food and artisan vendors was heard at the board of park commissioners at its meeting this past Tuesday, as well as at its January meeting.
Speaking at the public mic at both recent board meetings in support of a fee reduction was Eric Schedler of Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery, as well as several others.
But on Tuesday, the board voted 4–0 to adopt contract templates for the food and artisan vendors that require a 6.5-percent fee. The board had approved the 6.5-percent fee last year, at its Nov. 18 meeting last year.
The 6.5-percent fee this year is less than the 10 percent that food and artisan vendors paid in 2019 and in previous years. It has been reduced incrementally each year—for 2023 it’s down to 6.5 percent.
In voting to support the same 6.5-percent fee that was in the contract templates, board member Jim Whitlatch appealed to the process the board was following to reduce the fee incrementally.
The downward trend in the percentage of their gross sales paid by food and artisan vendors is based on the idea that the food and artisan vendors should be treated as integral to the market, not as concession stands that support a separate event.
Treating the food and artisan vendors as part of the event of the farmers market, instead of ancillary to it, would mean treating their fees in the same way—that’s how the argument goes that Muddy Fork’s Schedler and others have given.
Fees for farmers with produce stalls are not based on a percentage of their sales, but rather on a flat fee for the summer. For example, for May through October, the fee for a large stall is $572.
In 2020, when a push was made to lower the food and artisan fees from 10 percent, one basic argument 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.
Based on previous B Square reporting, in 2019 Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery alone paid $12,330 in fees. That was about 14 percent of the fees paid by all market vendors combined that year.
Based on a 6.5-percent fee for 2023, parks staff estimate that revenue from fees paid by food and artisan vendors would be about $14,250. Dropping the fee to 5 percent would, on paper, mean about $3,200 less revenue.
The $3,200 reduction would come in the context of a total farmers market budget for 2023 of $72,663.
In past years, the parks department had a goal of complete cost recovery for the farmers market. But the cost recovery goal for the city farmers market has been reduced to 50 percent, because farmers market attendance has not rebounded since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That’s the year when controversy erupted over one vendor’s ties to white supremacist groups.
The number of market visitors in 2019 was 116,00, which was less than half the attendance the previous year, which was 264,000. The pandemic’s impact dropped attendance further, to 39,000 in 2020.
Last year, attendance at the market was still just 65,000, which is less than the number of visitors the market saw two decades ago. In 1999, the market had 70,000 visitors.
Muddy Fork has not sold its wares at the market in the last couple of years. On Tuesday, Muddy Fork’s Schedler told the board that if he returned to the market, the $3,200 projected revenue loss from applying a 5-percent fee instead of a 6.5-percent free, would be covered by Muddy Fork alone, if he had made just 46 percent of his historical average sales.
Board member Kathleen Mills expressed some skepticism about any vendor approaching its average sales figures for 2018 or before, given the significant drop in attendance.
Whitlach said that anytime money is involved the issue is “significant.” He continued, “But we’re also not talking about a huge amount of money here, either way we go.”
Whitlach added, “So I don’t think that this is going to make or break the parks department if we went to 5 percent. And I don’t think it’s gonna make or break the vendors, if we stay at six and a half percent.”
Whitlach said it was a matter of following the basic plan to reduce the percentage over time.
About the idea of keeping the fee in the contract at 6.5 percent, Whitlach said, “I know that’s not what Muddy Fork wants to hear.”
But he told Schedler: “I hope you guys still come, but I understand you probably won’t.” He added, “We’d love to have you at the place. And we appreciate having you and all of the vendors that we have, and everybody that’s there.”
Other vendors, besides Muddy Fork, that have submitted applications to be food and artisan vendors at the city of Bloomington’s farmers market in 2023 include: Ana Leon Viveros, Anatolia Restaurant Company, Brown County Coffee, Homemade by Nife, Kettle of Corn, Pie First Bakery, Pili’s Party Taco, Pinoy Garden Cafe, Scholars Inn Bakehouse, Serendipity Bakery, and Wesson’s Canine Bakery.