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After a year’s hiatus, Westford’s farmers market will return in the spring, organized by a new market manager and overseen by the Agricultural Commission.
The market will return to the town Common on Tuesday afternoons, but it will likely run for only eight weeks, starting in July and ending in late August. The original market, coordinated by manager Gloria Tu Gilbert, began in June each year, and ended in October.
A report, issued on Dec. 3, by the Agricultural Commission stressed that crucial to the success of the market is the person who operates it.
“…if we want to reinstate the market, the key requirement is to find a Market Manager with the social and organizational dynamism that this role demands,” the report, signed by Chairman Mark O’Lalor and Vice Chairman Bob Boonstra, noted.
At the Dec. 11 selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Jodi Ross announced that Animal Control Officer Danny Hurd had agreed to take on the role in addition to his main responsibilities.
“He’s never run a farmer’s market but he does inspect the barns and so he knows some of the farmers. He’s got a college degree and is an Air Force veteran,” she said. “He is willing to work with the Ag Comm, learn how to manage a farmers market and give it a whirl this year.”
The board unanimously approved Hurd’s appointment with the possibility of giving him a small stipend if the market turns a profit.
The Agricultural Commission’s report noted that Gilbert earned approximately $16,000 each season under the umbrella of Sustainable Westford, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization dedicated to promoting the economic and environmental sustainability of Westford. It’s not clear what percentage of the salary was paid through vendor fees or a combination of vendor fees and grants, according to the report.
“The individual would need to work on transition with the prior manager: to recover the processes that made the old market work, to arrange contact with vendors, to re-establish the student volunteer group, to run the market week-to-week, and to collect organized feedback about whether other changes need to be made in the future,” said the report.
In April Gilbert told WestfordCAT that when she started the market in 2007, it quickly grew into a gathering place for residents. But a few years ago, she began to notice a drop in the foot traffic.
“It was one of those things where (you wondered), where are the people,” she said.
According to Gilbert, research shows that there are two components to a successful Farmers Market: 1.) an urban location with a dense population and 2.) a weekend meeting day.
But the Agricultural Commission’s report countered Gilbert’s theory, as well as other suggested reasons that led to the market’s demise. Those were: inconvenient time, inconvenient location, lack of vendor interest, inadequate parking, competition from other farmers markets and competition from organic commercial organizations such as Whole Foods, less than 2 miles away.
“There is no basis for changing the date or changing the time,” stated the report. “It may be that time and location may need to be changed in the future, but there is no data to support such a change now.”
The report warns that the “corporate volunteer” memory will evaporate if the market is not reinstated in 2019. The volunteers were typically Westford Academy high school students who helped with set up, management and clean up of the weekly market.
Taking all factors into account, selectmen said yes to the market’s resurrection under Hurd’s management.
“I think if he’s willing to do it,” said Selectmen Andrea Peraner-Sweet, “and the Ag Commission is willing to oversee it,…then I think we should give it a try.”
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