Farmers market future in peril?

RANTOUL — A group of local residents still hopes downtown Rantoul can host the third year of its farmers market. In the meantime, one of those organizers said the village of Rantoul has illegally taken the money that had been earmarked for the event.

Jasmyne Boyce said the village needs to give back the money formerly held in an account for farmers market operations.

Boyce said when a decision was made to dissolve the market earlier this year, the “village absorbed the funds ($2,317) and it went into the general fund.”

Boyce told Rantoul village trustees last week that by law the money should be returned to the farmers market board, which would, in turn, distribute it to a charitable organization.

“The (state of Illinois) and the National Council for Nonprofit Management (have) declared all remaining assets be surrendered to a qualified charitable organization and then immediately reported,” Boyce said.

Village Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh, however, said two former farmers market board members approached the village and said it should take back the money because the board was dissolving.

The village had given hotel-motel tax money to the farmers market board for operations.

“We didn’t demand the money,” Fiegenschuh said.

Boyce responded, “You are not a qualified charity. You are not entitled to a refund.”

Fiegenschuh said he spoke with two former farmers market board members who said their bylaws indicate if “they were to disband, any money that’s left over should go back to the village.”

The administrator said village attorney Ken Beth also provided him with information from the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education that he said backs that opinion.

“I just wanted to speak on behalf of keeping this (money) in the community,” Boyce said. “A lot of my personal time and effort” was spent with the farmers market. “It’s not just my labor. It’s the labor of a lot of volunteers and committees.”

Boyce is former office manager for Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce and was a volunteer for the farmers market from the start.

She questioned the decision to call off this year’s farmers market and said she and others hope to resurrect it.

“Our committee is to formulate a plan,” she said. “We want to evolve the format and use the 100 block of Sangamon (Avenue). We understand that as vendors sign up, we might not be able to fill all of the spaces.”

Rantoul Economic Development Director Rebecca Motley said the decision not to hold the market this year was made after  Eric Barnes, who had been hired by the village of Rantoul to plan the market, came to village officials and said not enough produce vendors could be found.

Part of the apparent problem was the resignation of Roman Fox as Rantoul Township High School FFA adviser. The FFA has provided fresh produce at the last two farmers markets.

A little history is in order to understand the farmers market saga.

A group of volunteers formed the farmers market board in 2015, and the markets were held on Wednesday afternoons on Garrard Street — headed by Stephanie Beard, Abbey Good and Jason Bartell.

Motley said the village set aside funds for the market — at the most $8,000 a year for advertising supplies and other costs.

But Good said the farmers market was a lot of work, and board members wanted some help, so the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce was contracted to serve as market managers.

“(The chamber) had a list of responsibilities, and the board was still responsible for other (duties),” Good said.

Motley said last fall, the not-for-profit market board came to the village and said it planned to dissolve.

“The village still wanted to hold it,” Motley said, adding that Good and Beard suggested hiring Barnes to serve as market manager.

“He was excited. In January he got started,” Motley said, adding that she began holding regular meetings with Barnes.

Barnes attended a training seminar and announced plans to move the farmers market to Sangamon Avenue, which he thought would provide a greater benefit to downtown businesses.

“On May 1, he said, ‘I don’t have any produce vendors. I can’t get anybody to sign up for the season,’” Motley said.

For the next two weeks, an attempt was made to find vendors, without success. The decision was then made to cancel the market.

Motley said the village would still like Rantoul to have a farmers market.

“Nobody on the village is trying to prevent the downtown business owners from having the event,” Motley said, noting it “was a communication problem.”

Barnes said he still supports the idea of a farmers market.

“I think the village of Rantoul needs to have a farmers market or a market of some type for the people of Rantoul,” he said.

Boyce called a village statement that the farmers market didn’t have the staff or support to hold a farmers market “laughable.”

“It can be done with limited financial resources and one dedicated staff member,” Boyce said. “More consumers have shopped in this market over the course of each of the last two seasons than voted in the mayoral election in April.”

Boyce said the new farmers market committee is in the process of recruiting vendors.

She said the committee hopes to hold the market July 5 through the last week in September.



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