Lee County denies 24 vendors at Farmers Market
■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Today, October 2,  the sights and sounds of the Boca Grande Farmers Market will return to the Wheeler Road Ballfield from 9:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., and it will be a welcome sight for most island residents who have been waiting for a little excitement. However, when you visit the market this time around you might find a few less booths than you did last year.
It isn’t for a lack of trying. Farmers Market founder Shauna Lee Lange had more than 60 vendors lined up for this year’s offerings and they included everything from photography booths to T-shirts, soaps and hats to paintings and dog washing stations. But Lee County apparently wasn’t happy with the selection.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, just days before the market’s opening, Lange received a letter from Lee County Community Development Zoning Division Director Pam Houck. It stated that 24 of Lange’s vendors were not allowed at a Lee County Farmers Market, regulated by Section 34-3048: Seasonal farmers markets.
After she received the letter Lange wrote to her vendors that were to be excluded, advising them that a complete list had been sent to her and some of them “needed more clarification” in order to obtain permission from Lee County to attend the market. But instead of asking for clarification, it appeared the county simply put a big red “NO” on these vendors: Tarpon Republic, Michael McFarland Shoes, Kathleen Hrad Linens, Salty Sister Soaps, Angelika Gallant Watercolors, Krystal Klean Cloths, Wearable Orchid Jewelry, Chime Tyme Studio, Serendipity, Sea Squirts, Puppy Love, Perry James Photography, The Boca Grande Historical Society, Marie Dyer Silk Scarfs, Terri’s Treasures, Hats of Madagascar, Delight Coture, Second Hand Smoak, Lee Sullenberger Floormats, Garlic Eddy, Painted Flamingo, Lisa McQueen, Ray Butler and Wash N Waggin.
According to Lee County regulations, allowed products and services at a seasonal farmers market include and are limited to: (1) Unprocessed agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, and plants; (2) Processed agricultural products such as milk, cheese, oils, vinegars, meats, poultry, eggs, honey, spices, coffee, jams, nuts, sauces, pasta, soaps, ice cream, herbal preparations, jellies; (3) Prepared foods such as ready-to-eat baked goods, breads, meats, cheeses, cakes, and pies; (4) Food booths, with proper licensing, where preparation of food occurs on site; (5) Agriculture-related crafts, such as handmade wreaths, swags, dry flower arrangements, pressed flowers, scented sticks and potpourri; candles, scented sticks; (6) Items designed to promote water, soil, or energy conservation, such as rain barrels, organic fertilizer, compost boxes, and related educational materials; (7) Musical entertainment may occur only at one location within the market area and must comply with the County noise ordinance; and (8) Other goods and services determined by the Zoning Director to be substantially similar to the above vendor types.
Prohibited items and vendors: Used goods, antiques, collectibles, and all other goods and services not expressly set forth above. The Department of Community Development has the authority to modify or revoke the farmers market temporary use permit upon a finding of a violation of any condition of the temporary use permit approval. Prior to revoking a permit, the permittee will be given written notice of the violation and the action necessary to correct the same.
So according to Lee County, there is a certain amount of give and take if you look at number 8 on the list above. Wouldn’t there be some wiggle room there? Apparently not. Lange said she questioned the vagueness and overbreadth of the regulation, and the fact she was denied due process and equal protection under the law. In her words, the denial of so many vendors at a very popular farmers market could be described as “economically injurious.” In light of those facts, she has asked for an audience with Lee County Commissioners at their meeting on October 6. When asked by the Boca Beacon why some of the vendors who were allowed last year are not allowed this year, a response from Timothy Engstrom (a Lee County government communications specialist) said, “Items that are prohibited under the Code or not considered ‘substantially similar’ include, but are not limited to, arts, crafts, and retail items such as hand crafted jewelry, t-shirts, sandals, candles, stuffed animals, wood toys, etc.
“Of the 63 vendors on the Boca Grande Farmers Market vendor list, 25 were determined to be prohibited under the Code. These rules apply only to Farmers Markets. Under the Land Development Code, a farmers market has a specific definition and approval criteria. Approval of additional vendors selling a broader range of merchandise may be permitted by acquiring the necessary permit for a Flea Market or Craft Fair.” Which really isn’t an answer at all. “Actions and decisions at this time are sure to negatively impact not only the market itself and everything I have tried to build, but also the participating small business and cottage industry vendors who are counting on the venue as economic means,” Lange said. “Last minute upsets of this kind can negatively impact the reputation of a market to prospective vendors for years to come. Vendors talk amongst themselves and this is also sure to reflect negatively on the county.”
More information will be provided in future editions of the Boca Beacon as it is made available.