What follows is the statement I read at city council tonight about the Simpsonville Farmer’s Market. I love the Farmer’s Market. It is one of my favorite things about living in Simpsonville. And I was not exaggerating when I said that Simpsonville wasn’t my first choice when I work an hour away. I tried subtly hinting that (especially after Trent started working in Pendleton, too!) we should move closer to work. Getting married and moving to Simpsonville more than doubled my commute. Pendleton, I’d tell him, is a great little town. And we know several people who live there! And our commute would be substantially less. Oh, think of the time we would save! The things we could do with an extra hour and a half a day! I was pretty sure this was temporary. Surely, we’d be moving somewhere else sometime soon. I kept all my doctors, dentists, hairdresser, dog groomer and boarder, etc in Anderson. After all, they’d been my people for almost ten years. I wasn’t ready to let them go–especially since we might be moving back that way in the not-too-distant future. But then a funny thing happened. I read about a Farmer’s Market in Simpsonville. I love a good Farmer’s Market. How awesome–local, fresh food! I’m in. So I said to Trent, “let’s go!” And he said, “Where is that?” And I said, “City Park, apparently.” And he said, “Where is that?” We Google mapped it eventually. That’s how not Simpsonville we were–we didn’t even know there was a city park or where it was. But we found it. And I fell in love. With the market, its people, their fruits, vegetables, jellies, jams, soaps, eggs, meat–everything. I went back the next week and the next. I met people, talked to them. They gave me not just food but also tips on how to cook it. I learned recipes. I also learned more about my community. And I ventured out into Downtown Simpsonville, where I found more wonderful people and small, local businesses. And now I love Simpsonville, and when we talk about moving closer to work, it’s me who says, “Oh, but I love Simpsonville. This is such a nice place.” And that all started with a visit to the Farmer’s Market. So when I heard that the city was planning to fee & tax the vendors in a way that would discourage their continued participation (particularly when a nearby city has offered them a new home without any of the red tape), I was incredibly disappointed in this city I’ve come to love. Luckily, a man who has come to be one of my favorite councilman, Matthew Gooch, got the issue put on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting. And I knew I had to speak. You can sign up at the door to speak, and you only get two minutes. I drafted, revised, revised some more, practiced, and got myself a two minute speech for the meeting. This was it:
I work an hour away. Simpsonville wasn’t exactly my first choice to live. But the Farmer’s Market and its people were the first to make me feel like Simpsonville is my home and not just a place I live because I got married. The Farmer’s Market was also my introduction to Downtown Simpsonville. Without it, I don’t know if I’d have started doing so much of my shopping with the small businesses there. Now, I do–and spend my tax dollars right here in the city with brick and mortar businesses that do pay taxes and fees for business licenses. Because Simpsonville began to feel like my home, I not only started doing retail shopping and dining here, but I also started obtaining my regular services here. I switched to a local dentist, local doctors, a local hair dresser, a dog groomer (amongst other service providers). My money now stays in Simpsonville, and it all started at the Farmer’s Market. This is one small example of one of the market’s major benefits, which is borne out in national and regional research: farmer’s markets stimulate local economies. If you need another example, you need look only to Exchange Co., a brick & mortar business that got its start at the market.
Not only does the market stimulate our economy, it also provides two other major benefits to our community:
- Increases access to fresh, nutritious foods, and
- Supports healthy communities.
Research supports this, too, but it should be common sense. People are more likely to choose healthy options if those options are made readily accessible as they are at a farmer’s market. With market leadership working on being able to accept SNAP, WIC, and Seniors Nutrition Program benefits, this is ever-more important. The farmers market can make fresh fruits and vegetables the first choice for our most vulnerable and cash-strapped citizens. This is always good for our community.
Thus, Simpsonville should be doing everything in its power to encourage and support—not discourage—the Farmers’ Market’s growth. Asking each vendor to obtain a license and charging hospitality taxes will discourage vendor participation and limit options. It’s in your power to make an exception to a rule that shouldn’t apply equally to those vendors as to others. And I implore you to make that exception, allowing the market to run as it always has. It’s good for the city and it’s good for its citizens.
Three of the council members expressed what their vote would have been: leave the farmer’s market alone to do as it has always done. Officially, the taxing and licensing of vendors will go back to committee. For now, the market lives on. In the future, I’ll be stalking the Recreation Committee, chaired by Mr. Gooch. We cannot allow another city to reap the many benefits of our farmer’s market. Also, I don’t want to drive to Mauldin for all my Saturday rituals and business, but I will. I’d just rather the city I live in, the city I love, the city to whom I pay taxes, embrace the farmer’s market and all the good it does. And so the fight goes on.