New Farmer’s Market at Sunset Place upsets Saturday market organizers

The Farmer’s Market at City Hall on a sunny Spring afternoon.

Although the city sponsored South Miami Farmer’s Market has been offering locally grown organic produce directly from farmers for nearly two years now, Commissioner Valerie Newman recently sent an email welcoming what appears to be a direct competitor to the area. The Marketing Company Marketplace at Shops of Sunset Place opened on a recent Saturday offering “fresh local produce, prepared foods, orchids, plants and other fine crafts” according to the flyer sent as an attachment in Newman’s email.

Commissioner Newman said during a phone interview that she had nothing to do with bringing the new market to Sunset Place. “This is a private enterprise. I will say I welcome the market. They will have vendors from all over the county. I voted for the (original) farmer’s market to get started in the first place but it was a mistake. Claire Tomlin runs a total business enterprise.”

Tomlin’s The Market Company is a private business based in Miami Beach with as many as 15 locations in the greater Miami area during high season. She also produces the farmer’s market in Pinecrest and was one of the potential operators reviewed during the request for proposal (rfp) process by the city in 2010 when Mario Yanez’s Earth Learning not for profit organization was chosen as operator.

“The Marketing Company withdrew from the rfp process because they said they could not do the things that we are doing,” said Yanez. “Theirs is not a farmer’s market, it is a flea market and there are no farmers involved and no sense of the values that have to do with local food. It is just a business that will have vendors and there is no criteria like for the quality we offer.”

Vice Mayor Josh Liebman said he brought up the idea to move the existing market to the Sunset Place location at a farmer’s market committee meeting. When the group expressed disinterest, Sunset Place invited The Marketing Company over. “It is in the nature of free market enterprise. Claire is the best market operator, she has a number of markets in the area and she is going to capture people that are already downtown.” Liebman also added that the committee has had two years to get it right and perhaps new leadership is necessary.

However according to the city appointed Farmers Market Committee Chair, Annick Sternberg, Newman and Liebman’s support for the new privately operated farmer’s market was a bad decision. “They are doing a disservice to the city. This is a private corporation on private land in a private mall playing monopoly and profitizing the commons. They did not go through the city appointed Farmer’s Market Committee. We were not consulted and the overall perspective (from the board) is that this was forced upon us,” said Sternberg. Sternberg agrees there are operational concerns about Earth Learning’s management of the two year old farmer’s market on “community land” (open Saturdays from 9am to 2pm) in the parking lot of city hall. “Different ways of improving the market are being explored,” said Sternberg.

Both Commissioners Newman and Liebman are under the impression that the original Farmer’s Market will be closing permanently soon. According to Yanez they may close for summer May 12 but intend to start back again October 4.

“Last summer it was rough economically to run so we may close this summer. Unless the city changes its plans, we will be back in October for sure. The reason we are here is to create community around access to locally sustainable food, to show it can be done,” said Yanez.

Tomlin could not say the percentage of locally grown produce that will be available at the Sunset Place market. She did state that harvest from North Florida and South Georgia will be added to the mix but that local farmers are involved as well. “It is unrealistic to limit people to locally grown produce. If you don’t have lemons that are locally grown then you can’t make lemonade.”

Regarding the potential overlap and competition with the current farmers market, Tomlin said “We have been welcomed by several council people but evidently there is a conflict in the community.”

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