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Farmers market to continue operations in LaGrange

The farmers market in LaGrange will continue to operate on Tuesday and Saturday, at least for the next two weeks. When Commission President Jac Price asked for a motion to give authority for the market to continue through 2014, all commissioners were silent.

 County commissioners tabled a decision on the market at their Monday morning meeting and will take up the issue again at the June 16 meeting.

The project came to the table in the form of a request for a USDA grant in the amount of $32,414.20 to fund advertising and infrastructure for the market over the next two years. The request was presented by Nancy Blouck and Christine Christlieb of Region III-A.

The grant requested would be a 100 percent USDA grant with no local match required. (Grants of up to $100,000 are available under this program.) LaGrange County would have been the applicant for the grant if approved by commissioners

Amounts detailed on the grant included funds for the purchase of a freezer and refrigerator; operating costs for these items and 30 canopies. The balance would have been designated toward advertising.

Currently there are some 24 to 30 vendors presenting their wares each day. This year, vendors have donated (or paid) $30 each for advertising and the market seems to be off to a roaring start.

“The county is in a delicate position,” said Commission President Jac Price. “It is indeed a very slippery slope.” Price noted that the farmers market had evolved from a small undertaking along Spring Street, then to Michigan Street, and finally to its current location on a lot west of the courthouse that at one time hosted the LaGrange County Jail.

When the market moved to Michigan Street, an informal board of directors was established with some bylaws and the Purdue Extension Service and Master Gardeners were in charge. When the market moved to the current location west of the courthouse, the Master Gardeners said they were no longer interested in sponsoring the market and it just sort of got along without formal organization or management.

Starting in 2014, Blough, with the blessing of Focus LaGrange, became an advocate for the market and has spent considerable time and effort to give the market some organization and has secured the help of others to assist her.

In trying to move the organization ahead, she has moved forward with putting together some grant monies to assist with the effort. The entire uptown area has benefited from the increased traffic for the market as well as the vendors at the market.

 Now problems seem to be jumping out of the woodwork.

Commissioners have laid down some guidelines and also guidelines for issues that need to be addressed before the grant process can move forward. The due date for the 2014-2015 grant cycle of September to September is June 20.

1. There will need to be a sponsoring agency in place to receive the grant money which has a 501(c)3 designation from Internal Revenue. Attorney Kurt Bachman said that this process could take considerable time and will cost several thousands of dollars. A possible alternative will be to use the Community Foundation as a pass-through agency.

2. The county property where the market is now being operated needs to be properly zoned, which will require a land use variance from the current B-3 zoning. A farmers market can only be operated in an A-1 (agricultural) area. A question was raised concerning the farmers markets being operated in Howe and Shipshewana: Is the zoning correct in these locations?

3. Fees cannot be charged for use of county property. However, donations can be accepted to help offset expenses.