The New Haven Register
Monday, June 15, 2009
By Pamela McLoughlin, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — Owners of a farm in South Glastonbury claim they were treated like dirt by CitySeed, a local organization that runs farmers markets in New Haven.
Chris Bassette and her husband, Kevin, with their partner, Henry Killam, own Killam & Bassette Farmstead, LLC. She said after two years at the profitable Wooster Square Market, they were told at the last minute, in May, after the crops had been planted, help hired and 100 more chickens purchased for eggs, that they were being replaced.
They were told during the winter that CitySeed was looking for a large organic farm and it might replace them, but when they got their application in the mail in April, they figured they were set and went into motion.
“Obviously, we did something” to make them angry, Chris Bassette said of CitySeed. “We’re not being treated with honesty and respect. ... don’t feel I’m getting the full story.”
Bassette said she hopes speaking out will lead to better treatment of all vendors, she said.
CitySeed’s Executive Director Jennifer McTiernan H. admits she didn’t give the word until May 8, about a week before the seasonal market opened, but said that was because she hadn’t heard back from other farms they recruited.
“Did that process take longer than I would have liked it to? Yes,” she said. “But we’re working with a bunch of farmers.”
McTiernan H. said food stamp sales had dropped and they found through informally polling food stamp clients that there was a need for a large organic farmer at the market who could sell at lower prices.
McTiernan H. would not release any food stamp numbers, but said it was less about dollars and more about CitySeed’s mission to increase access to local, healthful foods.
She said in keeping with its mission, CitySeed doesn’t want numbers dropping for the most “nutritionally at-risk” group.
Rick Macsuga, Farmers Market coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture, said food stamp spending at the farmers market is “a drop in the bucket.”
He said food stamp spending amounts to about $1,500 per season.
The Bassettes’ farm is not certified organic, but uses a method called Integrated Pest Management, which means fields are monitored and no sprays are used unless there’s a problem.
Chris Bassette said she and her husband have been hassled unreasonably in the past by CitySeed.
She said last year, just before the season started, McTiernan H. told her they didn’t have enough fruit for sale.
McTiernan H. asked for a state inspection of the farm to show the amount of fruit they brought to market could be yielded from the farm’s trees.
Macsuga said the inspection verified the accuracy of the Bassettes’ submitted numbers.
McTiernan H. said she doesn’t remember any details about the fruit flap and that was “another issue.”
She added that in choosing to eliminate the Bassettes over someone else, she looked at market guidelines and three factors were considered in the decision: length of time at the market, growing method and location distance from the market.
“You have to make tough decisions,” McTiernan H. said. “Sadly, it’s not because we didn’t want them” but because of a lack of space in Russo Park.
McTiernan said she offered the Bassettes space in the Thursday market in Fair Haven. But Chris Bassette said McTiernan actually told her, “We may have space in the Thursday market” and never got back to her.
She added said that time frame is already allotted in her schedule, anyway.
McTiernan said two large organic farms will replace the Bassettes: George Hall Farm from Simsbury and Walding Field from Litchfield.
Macsuga said the dispute between the Bassettes and CitySeed is “a very sticky situation for me.”
“I was taken aback by the timing,” he said, referring to the Bassettes getting the final word at the very last minute. “When they’ve already planned for a market, that hurts. ... The day it ends, you plan for the next season’s market.”
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