It is time for city hall to support the farmers market

This is an excerpt of a letter I sent to the mayor of La Grande. The recent permit issues uncover the underlying need the farmers market has for stronger city support.

Please write the La Grande City Councilors and 1. Thank them for reversing the market permit decision and 2. Ask for the specific support I list here for the market.

Email your comments to by 5pm Monday, June 29th with the subject line “Public Comments for July 1st City Council Meeting.” You can also reach the city councilors directly:

Dear Mayor,
I hope this finds you well.
I am glad that the city reversed its course on the market.
This situation has me thinking about the rather tenuous position the market is in. While Stu is very easy to work with and very supportive of the market, I don’t get this feeling that city hall is. The La Grande Farmers Market draws hundreds of people downtown twice a week to shop. It is one of the only regular tourist attractions, and markets are becoming expected by tourists. We have dozens of downtown sponsors because of the value we bring to downtown. However, we still pay rent at Max Square. We still have regular, protracted negotiations about usage of Max Square. For example, the negotiation to put up the sun shade over the stage seating (which we offered to fundraise and pay for) was year-long process which was held up by a single citizen’s opposition. A few years ago, we were kicked out of Max Square with three weeks notice for Max Square reconstruction. The market was not considered in the reconstruction schedule although we are the most frequent user of the space.
My question is this: How can we change this relationship? When will city hall see the value that the market brings to the community, citizens and downtown? What can the city do to start supporting the market in a real way?
As a member of the Oregon Farmers Market Association, I know that many cities in the state either provide staff, funds, or other support for their markets. To date, the market receives no money or resources from the city and our use of Max Square is tenuous.  I know many cities across Oregon would pay big bucks for a market as vibrant and established as ours. In short, I think city hall takes our market for granted and assumes its permanence.
2020 is the market’s 40th year of bootstrapping existence. The community’s support for the market is clear. The value the market brings to downtown is clear. Perhaps in this toughest of the 40 years, city hall could provide some support in words and deeds. Here are a few ideas:
  1. As mayor, write an op-ed in The Observer in support of the market.
  2. Establish a city fund supporting the market which could help pay for overhead market costs or the manager position.
  3. Improve signage for the market. (We paid for the construction and installation of the signs over the bus stop.)
  4. Build a bathroom at Max Square to accommodate the market and other events.
  5. Promote the market with local citizens to help us grow our customer base.
  6. Develop a long-term agreement with the market to ensure our ongoing use of Max Square.
  7. Waive the annual rental fee during this difficult year and maybe forever.
  8. Establish a working group between the city and market to create a strong relationship and come up with other ideas to keep the market strong downtown.
I’m sure the market staff, board members, vendors and shoppers have many more ideas.
Let’s use this situation to create a better partnership so we can have a strong market for 40 more years.
Thank you,
Nella Mae Parks
Nella Mae’s Farm
Note: I am a market vendor and not a farmers market board member. I do not speak for the board.