April 6 Email – (Katherine Watt to Farm Market Supporters):
I’ve had a hard time collecting my thoughts on the farmers’ market project, but here goes anyway:
CDT did an article about the Fraser Centre project March 29, saying that the builders are “optimistic,” but I don’t think their numbers are any better than they were a year ago… US and global economies are not improving, real estate still very depressed, oil prices still rising.
Farm markets, gardens and community space still make more sense for local development than high-rise condo/hotel/cinema/ retail/office space.
[This is a lengthy post including back-and-forth emails between farm market advocates. Click here to read on.]
I’ve also been thinking about the capital costs involved with building a new structure on the Fraser St. lot, and about how many vacant commercial buildings there are downtown – two in particular – the former Webster’s space on South Allen, and the Verizon building across from Borough Hall – assuming we could renovate and put some windows in there.
My thought is that it would make more sense to make a Town Square/Urban Farm at the Fraser lot, including lots of raised bed garden plots, park benches, fruit trees, sandboxes, because that’s a lot cheaper than building something and could produce a lot of food and a lot of skill-building about gardening. Youngstown has one; Harrisburg has one; Philadelphia has at least one. State College is behind the curve on this and could catch up quickly.
(Dana Stuchul, Chris Uhl, Bill Sharp and Alan Sam had an article in CDT April 4 about gardening in the public right-of-way. Garden Starters/Clearwater Conservancy will be starting some gardening classes soon, and Tait Farm is doing a spring series too. Grants are also available for neighborhood gardens & tool libraries (up to $250 per co-op) in State College – Application deadline is April 30.)
Only a handful of people came to the March 10 farmers market meeting, and we talked about seeing if the existing May – Nov. farmers markets on Locust Lane would be interested in moving to Fraser Street, to begin to build an association between the site and farm market activities. Janet Robinson – president of the Tuesday market – said neither the Tuesday nor the Friday farmers would want to move, but that there’s a waiting list of vendors looking for a place to sell, and that some Tuesday and Friday vendors might want to sell at another location on another day.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about hours of operation and mechanisms. People who work Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 might be more supportive of markets that are open predictably after 5 or 6 p.m. or on Saturdays, and are organized in a way that approximates the way they already do their grocery shopping, and possibly have CSA characteristics (in terms of farmer support) coupled with more shopping choice, similar to the method used in Providence with a debit card or Fresh Bucks.
…I’m extremely preoccupied with the blog work and the CDT page, and also feel that there’s building community momentum around these local food system issues. My sense is that within the next month, we should have a formal proposal and present it to the Borough Council and Susquehanna Realty, starting from the premise that the economy is not going to support the high rise project and if it doesn’t happen, we think A, B, and C should happen – raised bed gardens, indoor farmers market in Webster’s former site (phone number for rental cost is 412-471-5520) or Verizon building (Borough owned?), etc. I’m willing to invest money over time, in supporting rent, renovations, or contributing to a raised bed material fund, but I don’t have the energy to push these initiatives alone, and I also suck at general fundraising.
…Please send me an email within the next few days letting me know where you personally want to go with these ideas, anywhere on the spectrum from “Drop it. Fraser Centre’s a done deal” to whatever your maximum level of personal commitment to something else might be, and what that something else looks like. Depending on where people are at, we can have meetings to hammer out a specific proposal, or drop the project, or put it on the back burner for a few months.
Scot Chambers reply:
I too have reservations on the status of the Fraser Centre but don’t think we are in a position to make a strong push on it right now. I would love to see that area become a year-round farmer’s market, with raised beds and outside activities in the spring-fall seasons. Whether we can make that happen is another question and will definitely take some effort…
Elaine Meder-Wilgus reply:
Although we will not have a lot of extra space in our new location…, we are already planning to have some space devoted to CSA pick-ups and might be able to help you bridge through a year of building up support by offering that same space at other times during the week…keep it in mind, that I’m a firm believer in farmer’s markets…Let me know how I can help!
Bill Sharp reply:
I am very much behind the idea of getting a market place going in State College. I made that point at the Food Visioning focus group a couple of nights ago. There was a good deal of interest in local, walkable, markets. I want a lot more food grown in Centre County to start with and we need markets for local food and related products. It is an unbeatable idea for building strong community.
I don’t believe this economy is going to get better. Rising food and fuel cost are going to but a terrible strain on “recovery.” The massive cuts in PSU budget I would think would undermine major developments. And if not at the Fraser center, then someplace else.
John W. reply:
I’ve been meaning to pass on my wife’s suggestion for a place for a farmer’s market: the long-vacant lot in the Westerly Parkway shopping center. Do you know it? Your urban farming idea is a neat one. A regrettable downside could be urban vandalism…I suspect that if asked, PSU might make gardening land available. They did so when we were students here many years ago—I see that the field is still there, under crop cultivation, just where the road to the airport goes over the by-pass.
April 9 – Katherine Watt Summary Email:
We’re holding off on any more meetings until we have more time/energy and information – there’s a lot of very intense interest from a handful of people, but no one person who has enough time to really drive the project forward because we’re all too busy right now with other sustainability projects and regular day to-day obligations.
The plan right now is to keep the idea percolating around town, keep talking to people, etc., and then check in a couple of months to see if anyone is able to make it his/her top priority at that point to bring all the threads together and push it along.
In the meantime, I’m thinking about going to a Borough Council meeting to make a minor proposal about putting 2-4 demonstration raised beds and a rain barrel in there for this growing season…and just see what the Borough does with that. If they think it’s a good idea, are willing to liaise with the Susquehanna developers for permission to use a little corner of the lot, and provide the compost to fill the beds (from the Borough composting facility), then I’ll round up a small installation crew and build/plant those beds, and just have it be a place-holder for other possibilities in the future.
April 22 – One more observation: The construction trailers and signs appear to be gone from the Fraser Street lot. Does anybody know what that’s about? I know part of the project was to be a PennDot road reshaping, to change the dogleg into a smooth curve, but it seems strange that the trailer is not just moved but gone.
June 13 – The trailer was apparently moved for the intersection reshaping.