An effort by New Bern city staff to start a farmer’s market at City Market on First Street was dealt a crippling blow on Friday when a key partner announced it is backing out of the plan.
The city was going after a $200,817 grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund to beef up plans to revitalize its old Electric Utility Yard on First Street. The plan, called the Volt Center, is well underway and includes a classroom area in partnership with Craven Community College. That much has been publicly known.
What wasn’t known outside tight circles around City Hall was a revived effort to start a 32-stall farmer’s market and a market café, with work starting Nov. 1. A “soft opening” was planned for the 2019 Holiday Season, with a full opening date sometime in spring 2020.
Key to the city’s grant application was its partnership with Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden, which would provide produce and other resources for the farmer’s market.
As of Friday, that partnership came to a screeching halt.
“It appears that the City of New Bern is going in a different direction on the project, therefore on behalf of the Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden Board of Directors and staff, we would like to formally remove our organization from the project,” said Lovay Wallace Singleton, executive director.
Singleton made the announcement at a mediated meeting of involved parties held at Craven Community College on Friday.
The meeting was held at the behest of a furious Ward 1 Alderman Sabrina Bengel, who announced at a Board of Aldermen meeting earlier this month that city staff was going behind her back with the new farmer’s market project.
“I find this to be a duplication of services already offered,” Bengel said in a letter to Singleton.
“The only reason I found out about it was that I was asked to attend a meeting with farmers (only two or three showed up) to discuss this grant. I was extremely upset about this because I had no idea this was moving forward. As I started to get more information it opened up lots of questions as to why we were doing this. I also learned that no one from our current Farmers market was included in these discussions nor anyone from Swiss Bear or the Catalyst Kitchen which is almost the same project as your proposed cafe.
“The discussions early on with the Farmers Market were that they were asked if they would move their operation to First Street. When their Board decided no, in my opinion talks led by the City should have started with them on how to enhance what they have at their current site and work with the partners identified in this grant. This is my reason for calling the meeting to have ALL the participants at the table. I started this conversation over a month ago and tried to get this meeting together prior to submitting the application but that did not happen.
“By opening another Farmers Market late this year for a soft opening and full on opening in April of 2020 will certainly cause economic harm to our current farmers market at a time when we need to do everything possible to help our economic engine downtown. With the closing of the Convention Center and now the hotel it would be better if we could work together to enhance the current market and all work together.
“… I do not want to hurt the EDA grant and am currently working to get the terms revised so that this property remains a training center run by the College in producing workers for the many important jobs needed in our area right now. I believe that should our first priority over creating another farmers market,” Bengel said.
Mayor Pro Tem and Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham has a different take.
“The plan and concept for the city market is the same as it has always been,” Odham said in an email to the Post. “It has been unanimously supported by the previous board and the current board each time there has been a vote regarding the concept. It is my understanding that one member of our board says they weren’t aware the kitchen/market was part of the plans; however, the blueprints have always included this aspect as has as the CNI (Choice Neighborhood Initiative) plan.
“The concept has garnered quite a bit of support through multiple grants and various groups/leaders throughout the region. Now that one of the key partners recently decided to leave, we lost quite a bit of funding with the exit of this partner.
“The direction of the board has been supportive of the plan. Until a majority of the board gives direction, staff will continue pushing forward. Individual board members going against the direction of a full board sets a dangerous precedent.”
Base Camp’s withdrawal was not just limited to its withdrawal from the plan. Its board plans to “advise those entities that we are no longer part of the project.”
That’s not all.
“In reference to the funding that we have received for the City Market, we will coordinate with the grantor to determine the returning or reallocation of their funds,” Singleton said in her letter.
The rub is that a city farmer’s market would compete with the existing New Bern Farmers Market on South Front Street.
Several years ago, the city approached the Farmers Market with the idea of moving to the City Market location. When the Farmers Market board rejected the idea, city staff started playing hardball, threatening to kick Farmers Market out of its city-owned venue.
Timing didn’t work out for City Hall, however. The lease expired right at election time 2017, and rather than face backlash from furious Farmers Market members and customers, city staff extended the lease for five years but increased rent from $1 to $500 a month. It is the only case of the city charging more than token rent to a non-profit to use city-owned property.
It would also increase traffic on Second Street by an estimated 200 trips per day to start. Second Street is a primarily residential street in the Ghent neighborhood where the city has said it has been working to decrease traffic. (Disclosure: Randy Foster, the author of this article, lives within the affected area and has complained to the city about traffic on Second Street.)
The old electric utility facility on First Street is both a problem and an opportunity for the city.
Derelict and probably contaminated due to decades of industrial use, it was quite likely the city would never be able to sell it off as surplus property. On the other hand, the facility has easy freeway access and is a blank canvas for what it could be used for.
City staff first proposed a farmer’s market, but lacking support from virtually anyone, plus heated opposition from the existing Farmers Market, the city backed off – at least openly.
Instead, it partnered with Craven Community College and began renovations of the main building at the old electric utility yard, branding it as the “Volt Center” with the plan to offer college courses there.
But behind the scenes, city staff never let go of the idea of creating a farmer’s market.
The city partnered with Veterans Employment Base Camp and Organic Garden and sought a grant to pay for improvements at the old utility yard to create the farmer’s market.
The city sought a $200,817 (and fifty-cent) grant from the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund to begin work on a farmer’s market starting Nov. 1, with a completion date on April 15, 2020.
The deadline for the grant application was March 8. The city beat the deadline by two days.
According to a statement for the Volt Center contained within the grant application, “the mission of the Volt Center is to provide access to workforce development classes, as well as an incubator and commercial kitchen, farmers market and agricultural center focusing on direct sales to the City of New Bern.
“… New Bern seeks to attract public and private reinvestment in downtown and distressed neighborhoods by offering the kinds of amenities, including workforce development opportunities, that transforms communities. New Bern seeks to develop a public/private partnership with broadbased community support.”
Two things were key to the grant application: Base Camp involvement, and broadbased community support. It is doubtful the city ever had “broadbased community support,” and now it lacks Base Camp involvement, as well.
Other points in the application amount to stretches of truth if not flat-out lies.
The application claims that the Volt Center/City Market is in Downtown New Bern. It is not; it is a full mile from the edge of downtown.
There is no mention at all that the facility would compete with an established farmer’s market.
The city has been claiming an effort to decrease traffic on Second Street, when in reality it was working behind the scenes on a project that will significantly increase traffic.
And the application said a “Market Committee of farmers and area stakeholders has been established to advise the City on the process and start-up operations,” yet no one from the existing Farmers Market has been involved, nor was the alderman from one of two wards most affected by the project.
The list goes on. Here are some excerpts from the executive summary contained within the grant application:
The City Market, located at the renovated Volt Center (the City’s former utility complex), will be a modern facility incorporating a farmer’s market featuring 32 stalls, a market café and incubator kitchen and training space for workforce development and educational programs, City Market is a partnership between the City of New Bern, Craven Community College, Veteran’s Organic Garden and Craven County. As co-applicants, the City and CCC secured grant funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the Bate Foundation, and Golden Leaf Foundation to renovate and repurpose the Center as a training facility and farmer’s market. The farmer’s market space also includes a café that will provide kitchen space and serve as an incubator for start-up businesses ranging from bakeries to food trucks. The City asks the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission to join with other community partners to complete the City Market project, a first of its kind in downtown New Bern, N.C.
Partnering with the Veterans Organic Garden, the City of New Bern seeks to create a farmer’s market that will highlight and support agribusiness in Craven, Carteret, Jones, and Pamlico Counties. This market will be a permanent, year-round farmer’s market offering selling opportunities for farmers Wednesday thru Saturday with the ability to accommodate 32 farmers. The City Market will provide local, healthy food to consumers of all income levels and will enrich the community with opportunities to increase farm receipts and other food sales, employment, and cultural as well as educational offerings. The market will charge a low rental rate (approximately $40 per week for 4 days of selling opportunities) for farmers, as to entice participation. City Market’s mission is to create and maintain a market that supports area farmers through increased exposure to the consumer and additional revenues from the direct sale of produce.
A wide variety of fresh products will help insure the success and sustainability of City Market. The Market seeks not only produce farmers, but seafood, dairy, and egg vendors as well. A Market Committee of farmers and area stakeholders has been established to advise the City on the process and start-up operations. Farmers will be involved in making decisions about hours of operation, setup and layout design, etc. A Market Manager will also be hired to oversee a point of sale, market and café operations and education and special event coordination. Thus, farmers will have significant input in the development of the Market prior to its opening. A “soft opening” of City Market is set for the 2019 Holiday Season. A Grand Opening with farmers selling to consumers is targeted for the Spring of 2020.
In addition to expanding and enhancing the economic strength and viability of Eastern NC farmers, City Market will contribute to the education of city and county residents. With its location within the newly repurposed Volt Center, City Market will also be an Education Center for the community. Here, farmers will have access to small business classes specifically geared to agribusiness. Partnering with NC Cooperative Extension offices in each county and Craven Community College, City Market will be a vehicle for farmers to attain specific certifications, workforce development training programs and community education. NC Cooperative Ext will present a series of classes on the nutritional, environmental, and economic value of buying local sustainably-produced farm products.
Youth education will also be a focus with after school learning opportunities beginning at the preschool age. The area’s local Boys and Girls Club is also located less than 2 blocks from the Volt Center enhancing educational opportunities for these “at-risk” youth. Education and business development will interface at City Market’s Incubator kitchen and Café and training. Here, the Market will allow workforce development opportunities to train hospitality workers for mobile food carts and trucks, and encourage culinary events to take place at the market. Many new chefs, bakers, and food artisan are looking for ways to launch their businesses in New Bern, and the City Kitchen. In addition, the Market will promote the “farm to table” concept among local restaurants offering special selling opportunities for farmers to sell directly to restaurants. The incubator kitchen will give entrepreneurs affordable commercial kitchen access as well as collaborative space in which to launch their businesses. The kitchen collective has the potential not only to help put amazing and delicious food into the hands of those living in the greater New Bern community but, create jobs, help launch new and exciting culinary businesses, and assist in helping businesses incubate and grow in the tri-counties.
Increased healthy foods in food deserts which New Bern is classified.
Increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
Strengthened local and regional food systems.
Improved local economy.
City Market’s central location between the main thoroughfare to New Bern’s downtown commercial and historic districts and Hwy. 70 offers access to local commuter traffic as well as visitors to the region. Through a targeted marketing approach, the City of New Bern seeks to capture at least 2% of this traffic which will have a significant impact on farmer’s direct sales. It will promote City Market as a tourist attraction and community center featuring special events that draw shoppers to the farmer’s market and provide entertainment and activities for all ages. Located within walking distance of several economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, Five Points and Duffeyfield as well as 2 public housing projects, City Market will increase access to healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Our farmers hope to place their price points below the grocery store prices to encourage participation. The City hopes to strengthen local food systems, and contribute to a livelier pedestrian environment. City Market will promote healthy eating, and encourage a diet filled with rich whole foods, while highlighting local farmers’ beautiful produce, dairy and meat products. City Market will enrich the lives of many in the tri-counties. Community beneficiaries include residents of multiple New Bern Area neighborhoods, farmers, veterans and residents of all ages, chefs, restaurant-owners and business owners in Craven, Pamlico and Jones Counties.
… Sales for the Café opened 4 days per week will generate $180,000 (avg. $900 per day x 4 days per week) which equates to $12,000 in state tax. Food trucks (4) will estimate $24,000 generated in state tax.
… With increased support from the City of New Bern, the Incubator Kitchen and Farmers Market will produce an economic driver for local farmers, will give entrepreneurs affordable commercial kitchen access as well as collaborative space in which to launch their businesses to encourage economic stability. The City Market will bring business to neighboring stores. Spending money at farmers markets keeps your money in circulation within the local community, preserving and creating local jobs. Selling at the market allows City Market start our business slowly and focus on building our brand and customer base, where its impossible to do so at the big chains.
… Shopping at farmers markets that offer seasonal, locally grown food may reduce fossil fuel energy used to produce, process, and transport food, and can reduce the energy intensity of and individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products. Shopping at farmers markets that offer seasonal, locally grown foods may reduce fossil fuel energy used to produce, process, and transport food.
Our farmers reduce the environmental and health impacts of pesticides by eliminating them or selecting effective materials with fewer known environmental health hazards. They treat animals humanely and strive to preserve the soil, water and wildlife habitat for future generations.
… City Market through the Volt Center will offer multiple educational initiatives for all ages. By exposing youth to farming and agribusiness, as well as educational opportunities and activities, they will be able to better envision a career in farming and will be more likely to choose this as their life’s work. Thus, City Market will continue to perpetuate future farmers and contribute to the stability and future of farming in the tri-county area of Craven, Pamlico and Jones Counties.
… City Market, through its numerous community partnerships and its marketing plan will bring awareness to the importance of farming and food production among all area populations, thus promoting and highlighting the significance of farming as an industry as well as promoting The Market as a community retail and gathering place. In addition, several neighborhoods adjacent to the Market are considered food deserts. The Market will help alleviate these food desert areas and increase the availability of fresh delivered produce to our disadvantage neighborhoods, by using targeted farmers.
Establish the City Market, a community market that will provide tangible support of local growers and producers in Craven, Jones, and Pamlico Counties, enhance greater New Bern’s economy and tourism industry. Through its partnerships with area nonprofit, government and educational institutions, the City of New Bern will create an easily accessible, centrally located, self-sustaining, community based farmer’s market. The City Farmers Market will promote the accessibility of fresh produce by capturing local and tourist traffic traveling on State Highway 70, which is one mile from the City Farmers Market Center location and brings NC residents from Raleigh and central NC to the coast and outer banks.
The City of New Bern is in the final stages of retrofitting the City Market complex with 16 anchor bays for farmers to display produce, dairy, seafood, and meats to be sold directly to consumers. Total vendor stalls when the Market is operating at full capacity is 32. The Market complex will be complemented by a Café and Training/Incubator Kitchen.
The City Market will be a market for farmers with strong farmer input. The City Market Stakeholder Committee, a committee of community farmers, business, education and nonprofit leaders, has been formed and is assisting in planning, raising awareness and encouraging participation in the City Market by area farmers.
In 2012, in Craven County, there were 256 farms comprising 70,632 acres and 276 acres on average. In addition to acreage producing grains, etc. Craven County farmers planted more than 35 acres in vegetables such as sweet corn, sweet potatoes and pumpkins. City Market and its Stakeholder Committee will reach out to those farmers and recruit them as City Market vendors. Reasonable rental rates and a strong marketing campaign and a single point of sale are supportive services the Market will provide that will encourage their participation. Local farmers can steer pricing and give guidance to ensure success and high farmer engagement in the Market. Currently, Craven ranks 28th in cash receipts from crops and livestock. Ultimately, selling and marketing of farm activities and production will bring awareness to NC Farms and improve the overall economy of NC.
The tri-counties’ proximity to MCAS Cherry Point, Camp LeJeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base make this area attractive to veterans. Approximately 10% of the 150,000+ people living in Craven, Pamlico, Jones Counties are Veterans. Many are choosing farming as a second career. The City has partnered with the Veteran’s Employment Base Camp (VEBCOG) is a non-profit organization designed to reintroduce unemployed, disabled veterans back in to the workforce as a productive, employable individual. VEBCOG will provide temporary employment and training during the post-war transitional phase. Urban farming is incorporated in the program as a peaceful means of rehabilitation for the veterans, who have previously faced more trying and violent situations while in the service. These veterans will especially be encouraged to sell at the Market and use it as incubator for their farming initiatives. City Market and its Stakeholder’s Committee can provide much needed support and mentorship for those new to farming.
The City Market will increase area farmers’ revenues from direct sales. Regional (eastern North Carolina) estimates for small farmer’s market’s gross sales (12 farmers) on a Saturday morning are approximately $1,000 per hour for a 3-hour period. By increasing the number of days and hours farmers are able to sell their products directly to consumers to 4 days per week for 5 hrs. per day, City Market’s goal is to increase farmer’s revenues from $250 per week to approximately $1500 per week over the next 2 years.
Scholarships for Market rent will also be available for new farmers and those needing that financial support. City Market will target its marketing efforts to capture commuters returning home from downtown offices, local residents of the adjacent neighborhoods as well as the Downtown Historic District and Ghent Neighborhoods and tourists frequenting the Greater New Bern Area. 12,000 cars travel on First Street on their way to or from downtown New Bern every week. In addition, an average of 101,000 thousand cars pass by on Highway 70E each day. The City of New Bern seeks to capture 2% of this commuter market and position itself as “a neighborhood market” for those residents living within walking distance of the Market. The City will advertise, market, and raise awareness to ensure high visitor volume and success of City Market by adding in-kind advertising dollars. If only 2% of the commuter traffic passing by the Market makes a $20.00 purchase, the overall gross profit to farmers and ranchers annually will be $106,000.
Increase domestic consumption of and access to locally produced agricultural products to all residents. City Market will work with NC Cooperative Extension and other entities to educate the community, engage families in the Market and promote these healthy food choices. The City of New Bern received a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant in 2015. The Choice Neighborhoods area is adjacent to the City Market location. 36% of the population of these neighborhoods lives at or below the poverty level. However, during the planning period, 30% of the population surveyed indicated they wanted access to fresh produce. Thus, City Market hopes to impact low income neighborhoods with increased availability and proximity of fresh fruits and produce, meats, and diary products. The Market is in walking distance to 3,300 people living in the Greater Five Points areas. City Market will educate these neighbors about healthy eating and food choices as well as having market vendors accept SNAP benefit cards.
Performance Measure #1 100% of Anchor Bays filled by Dec. 2020
Performance Measure #2 Increase in Dollar value and percentage of increase in sales of one or more specialty crops as the result of marketing and/or promotional activities happening at the City Market. Farmers will establish baselines of sales using sales @ farmers’ markets in Lenior and Pitt Counties to determine performance measures. As stated above, a measurable outcome of the Market will be increased sales revenues for farmers
Performance Measure #3 80% of Total Market Bays filled by Dec. 2021.
Performance Measure #4 City Market will work with NC Cooperative Extension to track growth in acreage planted in vegetables and produce and livestock sold/meat production.
… Target Market patrons will be downtown New Bern residents, business owners and employees during the week commuting home from work. The goal is to capture 10% of daily traffic on “Market Days”. The Market will draw from surrounding pedestrian neighborhoods including people living in the Greater Five Points Areas, New Bern Historic District and Ghent Neighborhoods (approximate 5,000 area population). (*Please note that populations have shifted due to Hurricane Florence flooding and it is difficult to project exact #s).
Weekly Market Draw: Individuals living in Jones, Craven and Pamlico counties, as well as, tourists traveling on Highway 70 headed to the Crystal Coast Beaches. Daily Market patrons targeted at 100 per day on average.
The farmers’ market will be self-sustaining. The City Market will have stall rental revenues (estimated total revenue @ $760 per week for the first 2 yrs.) as well as income from rental space for events and conferences. Some performance events will also charge a base fee. The City will continue to support the market with in-kind donations, and a board of producers will be responsible for managing and promoting it. When the Market is operating at full capacity, the City anticipates that Farmer’s Market rental fees generate approximately $1240 per week in income for the Market.
City Market is establishing a City Cafe as well as an Incubator Kitchen and Training Space located within the Market Complex. Market Café and Kitchen will serve agricultural producers, food product companies, caterers and food trucks, as well as students and instructors at the Volt Center. This model of clients will create jobs at the Cafe, and encourage entrepreneurial startups. Farmers will be able to sell directly to the Café and entrepreneurs operating there.
City Market farmers from Craven and surrounding counties will benefit from technical support and business assistance, as well as packaging, and marketing help with product line expansion. Meeting space included in kitchen design will serve as a training room for farmers and the public. Local vendor certification and Market training events geared toward vendors, and food handling classes will be conducted in the space. The Community is encouraged to use the space for education, as well as a central location for fundraisers and special events.
The City Market will create a first of its kind Incubator kitchen/restaurant to compliment the Farmer’s Market. The kitchen will serve as a instructional space for educational partnerships with Craven Community College, as well as local nonprofits. The Café space has been created, bathrooms installed. Grant funds awarded through grants from Golden Leaf Foundation and the EDA have enabled the City to “rough-in” plumbing, electrical, gas lines and grease trap. Outfitting the commercial kitchen space is still in process. Commercial Kitchen equipment and supplies are still needed. The dining space (indoor and on the porch) will seat 30 people focused primarily on lunch service.
Cooking classes and adult education space are also included in the kitchen design. Individual food lockers for bulk storage for entrepreneurial upstarts will be provided as well. Kitchen will be a certified USDA kitchen, and meet all standards set by the Craven County Health Department.
As per the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Eastern NC only lists two other incubator kitchens in the region; they are Burgaw Incubator Kitchen, Burgaw, N.C., and Eastern Carolina Food Ventures, Warsaw, N.C. The City Market’s kitchen will bring this innovation to Eastern N.C.
The City Market will create economic engines that will operate as profit-driven enterprises creating direct and indirect employment, and job creation through nonprofits, food trucks, and catering companies. Farmers seeking to create additional product lines can also increase personal revenue and create vertical sale opportunities.
Additional business incubation will be supported by a Maker Space that will also be located in the Café space for entrepreneurs developing prototypes and other innovative endeavors.
Direct positions created at the City Market would be 2 full time positions and 3 part time positions during Year 1 of operation. As the success of the City Market grows, positions once absorbed by the City of New Bern will be hired directly by kitchen revenues.
Indirect jobs for additional seasonal selling help in bays would be between 10 and 20 part time positions paid for by foundation grants and donations. Additional jobs can come from nonprofits such as Wash Away Unemployment, a nonprofit that seeks to train kitchen employees on safe serve and culinary arts.
Food trucks who need to use a USDA kitchen can create jobs by accessing the incubator kitchen. Start-up catering companies requiring commercial kitchen space will create culinary positions by using the kitchen for their events.