6 minute read

Farmers who sell produce at the OSU-OKC farmers market are angry about the hardships of being forced to move to a new location by the end of February.

And, at least one of the full-time producers at the market has raised serious questions about the application of grant money the university received from the USDA to promote the market.

They were informed in an email December 12 that the market would be moving outdoors to Scissortail Park in downtown Oklahoma City after being at the south end of the OSU-OKC campus at 900 N. Portland in a climate-controlled building for 26 years.

farmers market
The Pavilion, where the OSU-OKC farmers market has been held each Saturday for 26 years. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

And the move will mean going from a 12-month indoor market to a seven-month outdoor market.

Especially the full-time producers see it as a sign of fundamental disrespect for their business needs by OSU, the land-grant university established in 1890 to support farming in the state.

OSU-OKC did not respond to our voicemails left at the contact number or to emails sent to an email address, both referenced in their press release.

“Complete shock”

Carrie Chlebanowski and her family work full-time on their naturally-grown certified farm in Alex, Oklahoma — branded The Looney Farm — and have been vendors at the market for a year.

She told Free Press on a phone call that “complete shock” was their reaction to hearing the news.

She said the only real hint they had that the university was thinking about doing something else with the building was in a single meeting they had in August with Brad Williams, the president of OSU-OKC. Nothing seemed to come out of it.

“We do not feel appreciated,” Chlebanowski said. “But, we are going to go where the people are.” So, they will try to sell some of their products at the Scissortail Park market and the Public Market at the same time if they can find the right help.

“Disservice”

“I feel like OSU/OKC have done their farmers/vendors a real disservice,” said Brandon Crow who runs a full-time farm near Meeker and sells a broad array of produce at the OSU-OKC Farmers Market.

“My family farms year-round and do it for a living. It is not a hobby,” said Crow.

“This market contributes a significant amount to our income. A six-month market just doesn’t cut it. We now have to look for ways to make that money up.”

He said the development will hurt their bottom line.

“I’m certain this will cost us tens of thousands of dollars,” Crow said.

“Of no concern”

“The only ones who benefited are OSU and Scissortail,” Doni McClain told Free Press in a text message. “We were of no concern to them and we have no idea what OSU is planning to do with the building.”

McClain and her husband, Retired Rear Admiral Douglass McClain, run a full-time farming operation in McClain County called Rockin’ HD Ranches.

She said OSU-OKC “gave no indication this was to occur except about 2 hours prior to it being on the news.”

OKC Farmers Public Market

“We and at least 20 other vendors have moved to the OKC Public [Farmers] Market and we couldn’t be happier,” said Doni McClain. “They have gone out of their way to welcome us, accommodate us and they even buy from us!!”

Thursday afternoon we found a crew setting up fixtures that filled the large, indoor first floor of the historic main building of OKC Farmers Public Market.

“We are thrilled to get these full-time vendors over here now to join those who have already been here,” said Jody McAnally who owns what locals just call “Farmers Market” at the corner of S. Klein and Exchange Avenue.

farmers market
First-floor indoor market area, OKC Farmers Public Market (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

They don’t have cold storage but do have ample storage for fixtures and allow vendors to hang signs on the walls behind their displays around the perimeter of the large room.

“We are pretty much full now that full-time producers have moved over here,” said McAnally. “They need a 12-month market location that people know and a place to store some of their fixtures. We have those accommodations.”

Carl Hart has been the Market Manager for OKC Farmers Public Market for many years. He said that they have been working with the producers to find a way to meet their needs for connecting with their customers.

Grant money questioned

Douglas McClain wrote an involved letter to the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents, the board for Oklahoma State University – originally named “Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College.”

OSU is the modern manifestation of the land-grant colleges funded by the U.S. government throughout the states in the late 1800s to provide research and training for agriculture and engineering.

He complained about the actions and raised questions about money that had been granted to OSU-OKC by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about a year ago for promoting the market at 900 N. Portland.

“The remarkable success of the OSU OKC Famer’s Market is a direct result of OSU’s
support,” Douglas McClain wrote. He added:

The $280K USDA Farmer’s Market support grant that you received is validation that the federal government sees the value in what is happening at NW 4th and Portland. We assume the USDA will want the remaining funds returned which I am told were allocated for an associate director’s salary (which was never filled) and advertising of the market.

When Free Press talked to both Stacey Aldridge in public relations for Scissortail Park and Lance Swearengin, director of Horticulture and Grounds for Scissortail Park they both confirmed that “a grant from OSU” would be supporting the new Farmers Market at the park.

They were unclear about what specific grant it was.

One question we would have asked OSU-OKC is about the application of the grant money referenced by McClain.

Expand?

Attributing the statement to OSU-OKC President Brad Williams, the press release from OSU-OKC in December said that the move from the Portland campus to Scissortail Park “allows the market to expand exponentially and provide a more robust experience for visitors.”

But the market is planned to open only April through October in an uncovered area on the northeast corner of the park.

And Aldridge and Swearengin said that there were 16 vendors who had committed to making the move from the campus location. In all, according to other vendors, there are around 30 vendors who have been at the Pavillion before the early exodus began.

Arrangements

Questions still remain about the logistics of how people will be able to make purchases for an entire family and move those items to their cars that will have to park all around the perimeter of the blocks-long park.

And Doni McClain was clear about those problems related to their operation of selling meat as well as heavy green produce.

“Scissortail will be a great craft, artsy market,” she said. “It’s a beautiful park. But no one is going to buy ten pounds of beef in the heat of an Oklahoma summer and walk three blocks to their car.”

Free Press will continue to cover developments.


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