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Downtown Association dumps farmers' reps

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The Downtown Association is trying to remove the San Luis Obispo County Farmers’ Market Association from the Thursday night farmers’ market.

The Downtown Association is exercising its contractual right to run all aspects of the Thursday night farmers market, starting Jan. 28. Though the Downtown Association controls the weekly event, the Farmers’ Market Association has always controlled growers’ stalls and booths. Now the farmers will have little direct say in how an event named after them is managed.

Peter Jankay, administrator of the Farmers’ Market Association for 27 years, said he was shocked when he heard the news.

“I heard the news from a farmer at the market,” said Jenke. “They [the Downtown Association] didn’t bother to give me a call. They still haven’t called me.”

Jenke appealed to the San Luis Obispo city council for help at its Jan. 19 meeting on behalf of the Farmers’ Market Association, an organization that operates five markets around the county. The council declined to intervene because it has no jurisdiction over the farmers’ market.

Deborah Cash, executive director of the Downtown Association, said the move was a long time in coming. “This is a very necessary change,” Cash stated. “Having a single agency run the whole event is less confusing and it eliminates the middle man between the farmers and us.”

Cash said the farmers “have nothing to worry about.” She said everything will stay the same: Fees will not rise nor will there be any changes in the spaces allocated. But there is a caveat. A question-and- answer document sent to the farmers said under the topic of fee changes, it will “take at least a year to determine if any changes need to be made to the current fee structure.”

 Cash pledged to represent the interests of farmers and keep them fully informed, though she did say she did not know the farmers very well. She said no farmers were involved in the decision to change management groups. “I don’t think the farmers knew this was coming,” Cash reflected. “We’re just getting to know the farmers, and we will get to know them more now because there will no longer be a  middle man.”

Phillip Langston, owner of SLO Grown Produce and a board member of the Farmers’ Market Association, said he did not hear about the change until Jan. 20, only an hour before he was contacted by New Times. He said though the reorganization may have been in the works for a long time as far as the Downtown Association is concerned, the farmers knew nothing about it.

Langston said he was not sure the Downtown Association knows enough about farmers to represent their interests. “I don’t feel they have a good grip on what it means to be a farmer,” said Langston. “This is a seasonal business and it takes a lot to understand how farmers work. I don’t know how they can represent our business. We are the ones who know our business.”

Farmers have until Jan. 21 to send their applications and accompanying documents to the Downtown Association.

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