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Changes afoot for Bedford-area farmers market

In this July 2014 file photo, Lisa Toms, of Bedford, buys beans from Parker's Produce at the Bedford YMCA Farmer's Market. Organizers of the Bedford-area farmers market is considering co-promoting the YMCA market to make residents more aware of their options.

BEDFORD — Management changes are expected this season for the Bedford-area farmers market.

A presentation by the interim market committee this week is expected to center around a more permanent management team and a part-time manager to run the Bedford Farmers Market, which is held Friday mornings starting in April.

The proposal compiled input from a November public forum, a survey with 400-plus responses and committee meetings. It will be presented at 6 p.m. Thursday at Bower Center for the Arts. Anyone interested is encouraged to attend and provide input.

"My sense is certainly people ought to come to this and share their thoughts and ideas and be willing to hear others' thoughts and ideas," said Scott Baker, Bedford County's Virginia Cooperative Extension agent. He serves on the committee in advisory capacity.

Bedford Main Street, which has run the organization for years, has been looking for input on how to better provide the service at Bedford's Washington and Center streets pavilion.

The committee formed "organically" after a November public meeting. Main Street is expected to continue as the sponsor, but step back from the leadership role it has held for years.

The new management team will act similar to a board of directors, although there will not be an official organization developed at this point. The team can plan strategy, gather community input and raise money.

"With the farmers market management team, I think it really allows us to gather more information from the community and kind of give the reins over to the management team and be a part of that, rather than just overseeing it," said Amanda Adams, Bedford Main Street executive director.

Adams expects to remain on the reformed management team and that money will still move through Main Street.

"It could be down the road that, really in my mind, this could be its own entity, maybe its own nonprofit," said Susan Martin, Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO and a committee member. "We're in the process of developing a budget now, so it's going to be independently operated as it is. It just right now needs to be funneled through something, maybe Main Street, maybe even the Chamber of Commerce. - Main Street has done it in the past, that's the most logical."

The committee soon will hire a part-time manager for the market. The undetermined salary is expected to be paid by vendor fees, fundraising, advertising sponsorships and part of $2,500 annually allocated by Bedford County.

The market has struggled in part because of the lack of a regular manager, which Main Street has not had resources to pay. Rachael Ellis, Bedford Main Street president, volunteered as manager last season. Consistency encouraged vendor and customer participation.

"There needs to be the one individual who is the manager of the market who the farmers and folks visiting have that face and know who they can communicate with," Martin said.

The committee will present results from a survey conducted by the Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce. It was sent out electronically and in town electric bills.

Survey respondents asked for multiple market hours to supplement the Friday morning market, which dropped back to one day per week last season. The committee wants to co-promote Bedford YMCA's Tuesday afternoon market and the Forest market on Saturdays.

"They're all independently run, but if you live in Bedford County, you have the opportunity to visit a farmers market three times a week during the season," said Patrick Ellis, of Goose Creek Studios. He has acted as the committee's chairman.

The results also show support for a community market on Saturdays to include produce, crafts, arts, music and children's activities.

The committee is expected to reform at a Feb. 3 meeting with a set deadline for Feb. 10 to have a new system in place to recruit for the season beginning in April.

"That may or may not include a market manager being hired. That may take longer," Patrick Ellis said.

By Alex Rohr

Contact Alex Rohr at [email protected]. Find him on Twitter: @arohr_reporter. Facebook: The News & Advance Bedford County Beat.