Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw | AspenTimes.com
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Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Aspen’s farmers’ market – which has been in the news this week – has some serious problems.

No, not an aphid infestation. And not the pesky apostrophe issue: Is it farmer’s market (commonly seen, but grammatically declaring there’s just one farmer involved)? Farmers’ market (grammatically correct, assuming there’s more than one farmer)? Or farmers market (widely popular, even though grammatically that would be a place where one buys and sells farmers)?

Meanwhile, veering from grammar, the problems with Aspen’s market are highlighted by the fact that it is no longer called the Aspen farmers’ market (regardless of apostrophes); it is now the Aspen Saturday Market – an intentionally vague term, which reflects what I (cranky old fart that I am) consider the disastrous degeneration of a once damn fine affair.

The name change was necessitated when the market became flooded with vendors who were clearly not farmers by any stretch of the imagination.

The actual purveyors of produce are now outnumbered roughly four to one by vendors who would come under the heading of “Other.”

I understand, of course, the need to be fair to all those who would vend their wares. And I understand the need to support our local artists and artisans. But still I was dismayed as the actual farm-grown produce disappeared in a sea of tchotchkes, trinkets, baubles, bangles, assorted junk and – yes, yes! – of course, some genuine art and artisanal products of great intrinsic and artistic value. (Anyone planning an outraged objection, please be assured that you – of course – are among the artists and artisans in those last two categories.)

Personally, I almost always need fresh produce. I almost never need a new hand-beaded, salvaged-scrap-metal jockstrap. Trust me on this one. (Those beads pinch. No further details will be offered.)

Look, I understand that art and artistry are hard ways to make a living. But that doesn’t mean that my quest for fresh Palisade peaches and Paonia parsnips has to be turned into an endless odyssey through piles of pottery, acres of earrings, muddles of macrame and billions of beads.

OK – I know I’m not being fair at all. And I suppose my nasty, cranky objections could be solved easily enough (says me) by some simple segregation. Keep a block or two for the real farmers – you know, people selling products that are raised from the dirt (and, no, that does not include products made from reclaimed metal dug out of the dirt of abandoned junkyards) – and then have a separate area for arts and crafts.

That way, everybody gets a chance to buy what they want (or, more to the apparent point, sell what they have) and skip the rest.

But, according to the recent newspaper stories, the problems go deeper than that. There seems to be some dispute over who should or should not get one of the valued spaces in the market.

One story referred to the case of Jean-Robert’s Gym. Now, I don’t want to pick on poor Jean-Robert and I certainly believe gyms are absolutely nifty. But still – what the hell?

Jean-Robert’s Gym is a fine local business, but what exactly is it selling that is appropriate to any kind of street market?

And while I’m being unfair, let me note that various real estate firms have had booths at the market. And, yes, I believe they dedicate most of their booths to local nonprofit organizations, which is praiseworthy. But it would be worth a lot more praise if it didn’t seem as if that nonprofit angle was just a way for the real estate hawks to get their names and logos flourished at the farmers’ market. (And, just by the way: Realtors and farmers – or farms, anyway – are pretty much natural enemies. Where the primary crop is bushels of bucks, bushels of produce swiftly disappear.)

Come on, people. This is getting ridiculous.

We started with Colorado farmers trucking in fresh produce in a delightful expansion of Aspen’s available choices. Then we added the local artists and artisans who couldn’t find affordable, convenient venues to sell their wares. And now, somehow – shazam! – we’re selling six-pack abs and multimillion-dollar real estate.

Isn’t anyone paying attention?

Yes, there’s a citizens’ committee overseeing the market. But, as far as I could tell from the newspaper stories, that committee seemed concerned mostly with being fair to existing vendors (once you’re in, you’re in for life) and making sure that new applicants aren’t allowed to attend the hearings where their applications are accepted or (most often) rejected.

And the subcommittee that decides whether new “produce applicants” (you know, actual farmers) are accepted is made up of produce vendors who already are in the market – who might seem to have a perhaps not-entirely-neutral approach to deciding whether to admit new direct competitors. (Oh, I do indeedy do wish that back in the 1970s I could have been on a committee empowered to decide whether to allow new newspapers into the Aspen market.)

So, somehow (gosh!), the Emmadale Farm on Emma Road in Basalt just couldn’t make the cut despite the fact that it, according to its slogan, is “Producing Locally and Organically for the Roaring Fork Valley.”

Why would you want someone like that in your local farmers’ market?

And then, just to add a little more manure to the pile, I see in the newspapers that the city is dedicating itself to welcoming and nurturing new small businesses.

One councilman even used the Saturday Market as an example of a grand incubator for those fledgling businesses – which sounds great except for the fact that new businesses seem to have exactly zero chance of actually getting into the market.

Hey, let’s end with an agricultural metaphor: As Chairman Mao said, “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” Plus, of course, an equal – or greater – number of tchotchkes. (Yeah, I know: Works of art, that’s what I meant. Works of art.)

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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