Future uncertain for two small farmers’ markets

In Chapmantown and Southside Oroville, organizers challenge community to keep markets alive

Terry Tillman (left) and Richard Roth (right) are clearly having a good time on a wintry Thursday afternoon at the farmers’ market at El Medio Fire Department.

Terry Tillman (left) and Richard Roth (right) are clearly having a good time on a wintry Thursday afternoon at the farmers’ market at El Medio Fire Department.

Photo By evan tuchinsky

Help out:
The Chapmantown Food & Fitness Festival is held on Fridays from 2-6 p.m. in the Chapman Elementary School parking lot. The Southside Fire House Certified Farmers Market is open Thursdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., at the El Medio Fire Department, 3515 Myers St. Both markets accept EBT cards.
A community meeting will be held at 5:30 March 25 at the Subud Hall, 574 E. 12th St., to discuss the Chapmantown farmers’ market. In South Oroville, supporters are urged to call director Terry Tillman at 714-0496 or drop off donations at the El Medio Fire Department. Make checks payable to cChaos.org, attn: El Medio Fire House Market.

There comes a time when all dreamers must face reality, and that time has come for Richard Roth. Three years ago, the local health-and-fitness advocate started two farmers’ markets—in Chico’s Chapmantown and Southside Oroville—but without community support, he might be forced to abandon the efforts.

The markets have largely been a success, he said, but on a typical week, there’s just one local farmer and a few crafters who set up booths in either location. The farmers usually sell out each week, he said, and sometimes Chico State nursing students volunteer to take customers’ blood pressure and offer advice on keeping healthy.

But running a farmers’ market isn’t free, and Roth’s nonprofit, cChaos, ponies up the money for all the various fees. In the past it’s covered costs through small grants and private donations, but that’s not going to cut it this year.

“For day-to-day operating funding, we’ve gotten very little local support,” Roth said. “We don’t have enough money to get it past June.”

Each site requires liability insurance, which costs upward of $500 a year. Add to that environmental-health fees that are needed just to sell fresh produce, equaling about $260 a year per site. Another fee is required to sell processed foods—toasted almonds, for example—and neither of cChaos’ markets have been able to afford that extra fee.

With insurance fees due in June, and nothing in the coffers to cover them, Roth is looking to the community to keep these markets going.

“We have a couple of months to decide what we’re going to do with the markets, whether we’re going to go with them or if the interest and support just isn’t there,” Roth said.

In Oroville, at the El Medio Fire Department, market director Terry Tillman has been having a difficult time even knowing who to call to organize a community meeting to drum up support for the weekly Thursday event. This despite the fact that there are several regular customers who come out, rain or shine.

In the past year, since he took the reins, he said he’s seen a 100 percent increase in interest. He’s worked to create a demo garden—in fact, he just planted a second—where he works with local residents to show them how to grow different foods.

“There are quite a few people here I’ve got into gardening,” Tillman said. “Everybody needs to know about good eating.”

Tillman would like to see more interest from farmers. Since the space is free for vendors, if the market could attract two or three more people to sell their produce, he thinks the popularity and visibility of the market would turn it into a full-blown success.

Roth agreed that more vendors likely would translate into more customers. “We’re very small and we need to grow,” he acknowledged.

In Chapmantown, despite the same limitations of being situated in a low-income neighborhood where gathering financial donations can be difficult, one group is rallying together to keep the neighborhood farmers’ market alive.

“We’re gonna endorse that, be behind that, encourage people to support it,” said Vince Haynie, pastor at the Rhema Word of Faith Empowerment Ministries and organizer of the new Love Chapmantown coalition. “We’re going to be there. The coalition is getting behind him [Roth]. Chapman’s farmers’ market is gonna blow up!”

Haynie’s enthusiasm for the market and Love Chapmantown, a coalition of churches, community leaders and just “people who care” founded earlier this month, was palpable. The coalition’s second meeting will be held next Friday (March 25) and one of the items of discussion will be the farmers’ market.

“All the negative stereotypes people have of that neighborhood, we want to debunk them,” Haynie said. “Anything we can do to impact and help that community, we’re gonna do.”

One of those things, he said, is getting behind the local farmers’ market, something he sees as an asset to the community.

“My objective is to see the health of these neighborhoods dramatically increase,” Roth said. “I started these markets thinking they’d be a good community health forum. Whether that’s going to be successful is anybody’s guess.”