Vancouver Farmers Market board seeks new strengths

New members, new structure intended to make group more stable

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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The Vancouver Farmers Market on Thursday appointed a couple of new board members, elected interim officers, worked out a procedure to vet additional board members and reviewed a draft of proposed bylaws changes.

Community member Jim Mains is president; Dean Jackson of Heavenly Hands Massage is vice president; agricultural vendor Rachel Reister of Reister Farms in Washougal is secretary; and coffee vendor Steve Cronbaugh of Columbia River Coffee Company is treasurer. All these officers hold interim appointments that will end in November, when the market holds its next general membership and election meeting.

The appointments should bring greater stability to the board, which "almost went to hell in a handbasket," Cronbaugh said.

Starting last year, the market board has suffered many resignations and a breakdown of process driven by personality and priority conflicts, vendor turf battles and other problems. A late-April meeting drew an unprecedented outpouring of vendor complaints about a lack of representation on the diminished board even as it undertook to rewrite market bylaws. That meeting ended with two more board resignations.

But it also generated a new consensus -- that the board needs more members to be workable. On May 16, the board went halfway, bringing on a couple of longtime vendors -- Crombaugh and Robert Phillips of Patty's Kettlecorn -- but then organizing a nominating committee to interview other potential additions. The nominating committee is a mix of vendors and nonvendors.

There are plenty of talented candidates to consider, Mains said, since his email inbox filled up with offers to help after the contentious April meeting was reported in The Columbian.

The board also marked up a new draft of its bylaws after introductory remarks by market attorney Steve Horenstein, who advised it to embrace more community direction and less domination by vendors, in order to incorporate "a more global view of the market."

"A fundamental issue for quite a long time … is the natural tug between having a vendor organization and a community organization. The farmers market is both of those things. There's always been that tug," he said. "I am trying to nudge you toward as much outside influence as possible."

In the discussion, board veteran Velma Conte said the suggestion that the board could operate with as few as three members was not workable. There was general acceptance of this, and the number was upped to a minimum of seven.

The maximum number of board members remains 16: up to four agricultural vendors, up to three

artisan vendors and up to three food vendors; as many as five more can be community directors with specialized expertise; plus, the immediate past president can be a board member, too.

The board also grappled with matters such as written procedures for removing members; whether vendors who rely on the market for their livelihood, or who helped build the market over the years and have seniority, deserve special treatment; and the divisions of labor between the market's paid staff and its unpaid board?

Horenstein summed up: "I don't remember the last time the board was this focused."

Bylaws will be adopted and more board members added at upcoming meetings, which are typically the third Wednesday of the month. The next market board meeting is set for 7 p.m. June 19 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.


Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://facebook.com/reporterhewitt; http://twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.