Walla Walla Farmers Market Seeks Two Different Locations

Sarah Cornett

The Walla Walla Farmers Market could look very different when it reopens in May if changes being currently discussed are implemented.

The market, a beloved community institution located off Main Street across from City Hall, could permanently move to a location on the Walla Walla fairgrounds if a current proposal by board member Jayne Foster is enacted. However, last year’s board members are pushing for retaining its typical location on 4th and Main.

This latest development is only one of many in a long winter of internal conflict in market bureaucracy. After serious disputes with vendors towards the end of the market’s operation season in October, debates about governance and regulation among vendors and organizers became contentious, according to 2012 board member Damien Sinnott.

“It escalated out of control,” he said. In response to this conflict, the board hired an outside consultant to examine potentially problematic market policy.

“We decided that the governance needed reform,” said Sinnott. “It also meant that there was an awful lot of work to do to get the market up and running by May.”

Though these interpersonal conflicts caused some major issues for the board, other serious issues appeared that could be even more damaging to the health of the market.

“The City of Walla Walla’s lease for the space where the market is held expired at the end of December,” Sinnott said. “But our association wants to negotiate and put a proposal to have the market at its current location.”

According to Sinnott, the board was looking to potentially partner with the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation to keep the market at its previous location, something most board members thought vital.

“They know management. We know markets,” he said.

These negotiations, which the board had throughout the winter season last year, were going well until the board’s makeup dramatically changed at the start of the new calendar year. According to Sinnott, only one board member disagreed with these talks.

“All of the members on the board voted to pursue discussion except one,” Sinnott said. According to Sinnott, board member Foster “voted out” all governing members of the previous board, formed a new board with some members of the association and began discussing a change in location.

“We received unsigned letters notifying us that the association had chosen new leadership,” Sinnott said.

Foster believes that a move will be beneficial for the market. In a recent Union-Bulletin article, she cited better parking facilities and the option for indoor shopping on especially hot or rainy days as perks of the fairgrounds location.

However, some Whitman students are a bit more skeptical. Moving locations would make it more difficult for Whitman students to attend the market.

“I would not be able to go to the market if it was at the fairgrounds,” said Emma Altman, a first-year and frequent market shopper last semester. “It’s really nice to be able to walk downtown to get nice fresh produce. It helps perpetuate sustainable farming. I’ve learned a lot from talking to vendors. It’s a really great resource for Whitman students.” 

Discussions about moving put the former board members, many of whom had been associated with the market for many years, in a confusing situation. Both boards consider themselves legitimate and are continuing to pursue their separate visions––for the 2012 members, that means continuing dialogue with the Downtown Association to keep the market on 4th and Main. For the new board, it means moving the market to the fairground.

Despite confusion, Foster feels that splitting up the board was a necessary decision. In the same U-B article, she claimed that discussions with the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation were taking too long and reaching no conclusions, so the new board was formed in the interest of being timely.

The current division could mean two market locations if both groups have their way. In the U-B article, Foster said that this could be more convenient to community members looking for more variety.

Sinnott, however, does not believe two locations could be profitable. A meeting this coming week will clarify concerns and issues with current and past board members.

“In my personal opinion, our town can’t support multiple farmers market locations,” he said. “However, it is fully conceivable that there will be two farmers markets.”