WOODLAWN — South Side farmers markets are worried they could be run out of business if the Obama Presidential Center follows through with its own desires for a market.
The 61st Street and Hyde Park markets both said this week there isn’t enough of a customer base or enough farmers to support another market and splitting the existing demand would endanger all of the weekly markets.
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Connie Spreen, executive director of the Experimental Station, which runs the 61st Street Farmers Market. “There’s already such a proliferation of markets and there’s not enough product.”
The Obama Foundation, which is planning the center, has said it's considering a farmers market to liven up its outdoor areas and to support its planned community garden programming.
Spreen said she thinks the Obama Presidential Center’s heart is in the right place, but she was particularly hurt by the idea of a new market because it could kill off a program she thinks is very much in line with Michelle Obama’s drive as first lady to expand access to healthy and local food.
The 61st Street market, now in its 10th year, was the first to allow customers to buy directly from farmers with a LINK card, a program Spreen and others fought to get implemented at 40 other markets around the city.
“It’s already so hard to get farmers to stay and to get customers to come,” Spreen said. “It would be so horrible we would just quit.”
The Obama Foundation declined to comment.
Mick Klug of Klug Farms in St. Joseph, Mich., said an upstart market would have to offer a lot to convince him to come in.
He said he would consider adding another market if the operators promised to buy all of his leftover produce at the end of market day.
“If they’re serious, money talks,” Klug said.
Eric Reaves, who runs the Hyde Park Farmer’s Market, said he can’t afford to lose farmers to another market.
He said a new market at the presidential center would be OK if it was largely geared towards tourists and other visitors and did not pull away customers from the neighborhood.
Spreen said she would like to see the center put its efforts more towards job training and other things people have said are gaps in the community and support the existing programs that line-up with the Obamas ideals.
“Instead of starting something that already exists, support what’s here,” Spreen said.