Farm Aid for Wakefield, Massachusetts

07Nov08

Wakefield needs a hug.

The town is struggling financially and its self-esteem may be shot, but help is on the way. The board of selectmen gave preliminary approval last week to a group that wants to stage a “farmers’ market” on Saturday mornings at Hall Park on North Ave starting next summer.

I just hope that, as a town, we can keep it together until then.
Tomatoes & onions
“Our town is in urgent need of some community and morale building,” the proponents told the Selectmen last week, “and a farmers’ market is one great way to start.”

Of course, in addition to “enhancing the local sense of community,” tangible arguments in favor of a farmers’ market–such as cheap, fresh, locally grown produce–were advanced as well.

One benefit that the organizers had hoped would sell the idea was the possibility that a farmers’ market would draw people to the downtown area where they would spend money and boost the local economy. That’s why the proponents’ first choice of venue was the Upper Common.

“The Upper Common is the only open space which connects all the thousands of people, who park, walk, run, and bike around the Lake, to all of the businesses in the downtown area,” the proponents argued. “A market would draw people toward the downtown area and there is also a good chance that people may park downtown for the market, thereby attracting more attention to businesses.”

If you’ve ever tried to park downtown on a Saturday morning, you probably wouldn’t describe the chances of getting a space as “good,” even without the added farmers’ market customers. But any benefit of a farmers’ market/downtown link was sacrificed due to a cautious approach by town officials. Parking was just one consideration.

From past events on the Upper Common, the town has experienced costly damage to the irrigation system, benches and grass areas from vehicles and tents, as well as from stakes being driven into the ground. For those reasons, some events have recently been restricted to the lower common.

Not every member of the Board of Selectmen was turned on by the farmers’ market concept. John Carney said that if it were only Wakefield growers selling their produce, he might be able to get with the idea. But he questioned the benefit of importing vendors to use public land to compete with struggling local merchants who have to pay both taxes and rent. Carney pointed to the hot dog vendor at the head of the Lake operating a tax-free, rent-free business on public land while other businesses don’t have that luxury.

The farmers’ market proposal came from two activist groups, “the Wakefield Initiative” and the “Wakefield Climate Action Project.” Part of the mission of WCAP is to “create, implement, and promote projects and programs that help our community address global climate and environmental issues.”

The farmers’ market would be “a gathering place,” as described in the proposal, and “a dynamic community activity” where “people can gather and connect.” A sort of Woodstock by the Lake, if you will. Needless to say, senior citizens were said to be among the primary beneficiaries of a farmers’ market.

A farmers’ market would probably have quite a following in Wakefield. Who on Mother Earth doesn’t like fresh vegetables, farmers, senior citizens and “community building?” An outdoor market once a week may not be such a bad idea.

It may even turn into a groovy scene.

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