Bloomington Mayor Hamilton Shares Recommendation for Farmers’ Market with Board of Park Commissioners

(BLOOMINGTON) – The Board of Park Commissioners Tuesday received a statement from Mayor John Hamilton recommending that the City of Bloomington continue to operate the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market in 2020, with adjustments. 

The Parks Board is scheduled to vote to determine whether the City will continue to run the market at its meeting Thursday, January 9 at 4 p.m. in Council Chambers (Room 115) at City Hall (401 North Morton Street).

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

The mayor’s statement accompanies a report, budgets, and recommendations from the City Parks and Recreation Department together with revised drafts of the farm vendor application, contract, handbook, and rules of behavior at market, which may be viewed here

The mayor’s statement to the Parks Board follows:

During its 45 years of operation, the City-run Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market has grown into a very important part of our local agriculture community, and also a thriving and vibrant part of Bloomington community life. The market encountered significant challenges in 2019, with the surfacing of deep, troubling issues of racism and white supremacism, and resultant tensions and lowered sales and attendance. 

As Mayor, I have denounced the scourge of racism, decried the increase in bias incidents, and urged our community to continue our essential efforts to acknowledge and overcome the legacies of white supremacy every day. That painful struggle played out vividly in the market in 2019. I am proud that so many in the community, in varied ways, have stood up to embrace each other and the inclusive and welcoming values for which Bloomington stands, and to reject the bigotry and racism that some seek to nurture. I know we have not always agreed about every action taken in connection with the 2019 market, but I am confident this community shares deep values and goals to become more inclusive and to continue the work to overcome racism’s painful legacies.

Indeed, as a community, we have recently begun to identify a new, specific framework for confronting and addressing deep issues of race in a long-term, comprehensive way, with the Bridge Initiative and its report released late in 2019. This ongoing effort is meant to continue and build on decades of essential work in this community to address pervasive histories, legacies, and manifestations of racism.

The question facing the Parks Board is a specific one: whether to continue to operate or to terminate the public market after 45 years of operation. I urge that the Parks Board approve and support the continued operation of the Farmers’ Market for the 2020 season, as a city program. We as an administration are proposing adjustments and changes to enhance the safety, success and inclusiveness of the market. We acknowledge that we have a great deal of work to do on the deeper struggle against racism in our community. And we acknowledge also that this is not the time or venue to determine who will be vendors at the 2020 market. That process will follow with staff in the weeks ahead. What is before the Parks Board at present are recommendations on how to continue the operations of the public market in 2020. We look forward to your continued, ongoing stewardship of this and all the assets and resources of our Parks and Recreation Department.


One of the largest farmers’ markets in Indiana, our City-run market plays a key role in the local food economy and our long-term sustainability. It provides direct income opportunities for more than 120 families of small farmers and artisans and generates economic activity in downtown Bloomington for many adjacent businesses. 91% of residents in the 2019 Community Survey rated the market as “excellent” or “good,” and 70% called it an “essential” or “very important” city service. As part of its commitment to sustainability, the market helps thousands of residents access fresh, local food, with special programs supporting that access through WIC, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, Plant a Row for the Hungry, the Farm to Family Fund, Farm Fresh Field Trips, MarketRx, and the Market Bucks program, which doubles a patron’s SNAP benefits. Grant funding from the Bloomington Health Foundation will expand benefits for seniors and WIC recipients at the market and enhance awareness of the Market Bucks program in 2020.   

Tension at the market in 2019 arose after the revelation of a multi-year vendor’s association with white supremacist circles and ideology. After initial denials, the vendor in late July described her political views as “identitarian,” a label associated with the American Identity Movement, a rebrand of the group Identity Evropa. That group was instrumental in organizing the deadly August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and the “identitarian” label has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as “simply a cover for rampant racism and antisemitism.”

The news that a vendor openly acknowledging affiliation with such a hate group participates in a major City-run weekly event alarmed many of us in the community. In early June, a petition to eject the vendor from the market garnered hundreds of signatures. A new local group launched, “No Space for Hate,” whose members demonstrated around the market and organized a boycott of the vendor. By mid-July, individuals and groups in support of the vendor such as the Three Percenters, a far-right militia movement that the SPLC describes as an “anti-government” group, started attending the market, as did individuals and groups opposing the presence of the vendor, including representatives of the anti-fascist movement Antifa. On July 29, a protestor who violated rules against signs in the market vending area was arrested.

Tensions seemed to rise each week. In light of information identifying risks of specific individuals with connections to past white nationalist violence, we suspended the market for two weeks in early August in the interest of public safety. The market reopened August 17 with enhanced programming, staffing, outreach and security measures. Protests and calls for a boycott of the vendor continued. A new group, the Purple Shirt Brigade, joined in demonstrations and activism. Several members of that group were arrested November 9 after they refused to discontinue disrupting the market vending area with demonstrations that violated market rules. The market continued operations through November, with no violence or injuries, albeit with continued tension and lower attendance and sales. 

From June through December, the City sponsored multiple public forums to hear from the community and to examine legal avenues for making the market more inclusive and safe while respecting the free speech rights of all patrons and vendors. Members of the public thronged meetings of the Parks Board and the Farmers Market Advisory Council. Experts in constitutional law and in hate groups provided analysis and recommendations. The Advisory Council established a Broadening Inclusion subcommittee to recommend ways to make the market more inclusive. City staff consulted with leaders in government and law enforcement from around the country and engaged the Community Justice and Mediation Center to convene advocates and vendors, and the Divided Community Project’s Bridge Initiative from The Ohio State University’s Moritz School of Law to forge a framework through which our community could continue to work together to address racism and discrimination. Open avenues to receive public input via email, an online comment form, letters, and social media have offered many residents the chance to weigh in with their views and suggestions.

This extensive public engagement has greatly informed the deliberations and recommendations for the future course of the market. 

City Role:

The city administration gives voice to community values and works assiduously to put them into practice. This includes condemning white supremacy and racism anywhere in our city, including at the market, and doing all we can to make sure everyone in our community feels included and welcome, particularly individuals who through history have been excluded, marginalized or discriminated against, and who have borne and bear unequal burdens. As I said in June: “I join the vast majority of Bloomingtonians in abhorring and unequivocally condemning the odious doctrine of white supremacy. We know how important speaking out against hate is these days, with events and statements in our country and around the world seeming to open the door for hateful ideologies.”

At the same time, the city must also respect the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections, which prohibit the government from using its coercive powers in response to the content of individual speech or belief, even those odious to our community. That protection creates stress and challenges when abhorrent views are protected in their expression.

The city administration can regulate conduct and can place non-content-based restrictions on speech (such as “time, place and manner” restrictions). We have done both in connection with the market, and will continue to do so, to sustain a vibrant, successful market, protect public safety, and support a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, while respecting the civil rights of all our residents and visitors. Thus we have rules prohibiting political signs or demonstrations in the vending area — regardless of the content of those signs or demonstrations — and encourage them instead in “Information Alley” or other public spaces around the market. The administration investigates and responds as warranted to actions or conduct by any vendor or patron of the market that violate applicable laws or rules or standards of conduct.

Recommended Path Forward:

Our community’s market operates on at least two levels.  First, fundamentally, it is a market for farmers, where local growers and artisans can sell their goods, make a living and support a more sustainable local economy, and where patrons can access local, healthy food, including through special programs that facilitate food equity and access. This is how and why the market began 45 years ago, and it is the foundational reason for the market.

A second level of operation is as a community gathering place, a place where members of our community come together to create community, to meet and to share ideas and celebrations, to hear new music and taste new foods, to be a “great, good place” where civic muscles are exercised and strengthened, bonds created and nurtured, progress made.  

The city can run a market for that first level — connecting buyers and sellers to strengthen our community and help us be more sustainable. That is the origin of the market, and its foundation. As the vast majority of recent vendors wrote to me: “We don’t believe that the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, an institution with much history, knowledge and resources, and that has done so much good, must be destroyed in order to break the current impasse.”

I agree, and would cite several critical factors counseling that the city should continue to run the market:

  • Overwhelming support from the vendors of the market that they want the city to continue to run the market, for their livelihoods and for local sustainability
  • The leadership of the winter market urges that the city continue to run the summer market
  • Public comments from many interested patrons urge that the city continue the market
  • Failing to run the market would likely work a serious hardship on many of the vendors and their families, given the difficulties of any non-public market replacing the scale and effectiveness of the current market

Numerous individuals and groups urge that the essential decision to be made is to remove the vendor in question from future markets, whether a public or non-public market. And that if a public market cannot legally remove such a vendor, then the market should be closed, to allow a non-public market to develop and operate in such a manner. For several reasons, we do not recommend this path:

  • Giving up public institutions and spaces because of challenges or social stress has a bad history — for example cities that sought to close and privatize public pools rather than desegregate them as required by law — and sets a bad precedent that puts public assets and activities at risk
  • Deciding whether to continue the public market should be based on what is in the long-term interest of the city and all our residents, not a decision focused on any potential future specific vendors
  • Any non-public market very likely would be unable to provide the range of access and equity supports so important to patrons (and vendors), including extensive civic programming and subsidy programs
  • If some vendors or community members want to launch a new non-public market, the city would certainly welcome such discussions (one model is the independently run Winter Market, which began in 2005 at Harmony School, and continues to thrive at the new Switchyard Park pavilion)

The city can and should facilitate the second level of operation, to do all we can to assure the market is truly inclusive and welcoming as a civic space. We strive to assure that all members of our community, especially members who have been marginalized or discriminated against in our history, in fact perceive that to be the case. The market operates in the larger context of our community and world, where racism continues to be a real challenge, where state-mandated gun laws restrict our ability to protect our own community, where larger political forces can aggravate tensions. We all have work to do on all these fronts, work that will demand energy and commitment from all our community members directly, far beyond the city administration.

At present, I urge the Parks Board to approve operating the market as a city program in 2020. This recommendation is accompanied by a number of proposed adjustments to promote the market’s basic function of sustainable commerce and to preserve public safety, as well as to foster the spirit of inclusion essential to its being a “great, good place.” As is more thoroughly described in the Parks staff report, these changes include an enhanced staff presence, refining the physical boundaries of the market, actively recruiting more vendors of color, and expanding the market’s appeal for a diverse clientele through programming and entertainment. The recommendations include updates to governing documents, including the vendor application, contract, handbook, and rules of behavior at market. We will continue to protect free speech in a fair-handed, content-neutral way, while seeking to sustain a vibrant, safe, welcoming, and inclusive market.  

In reopening the market last August, I said that “we must protect our civic spaces and our civic culture of inclusion and justice.” I believe the market is indeed a civic space we must protect for our vendors, our patrons, and our community. And I believe that in doing so, we also can and must protect and enhance our civic culture of inclusion and justice. Your support for the recommendations and leadership of our outstanding Parks and Recreation staff is encouraged and most welcomed. Thank you for your steady and thoughtful stewardship of this community.