Sunday, February 02, 2014

Victorian Farmers' Markets Association ignoring member concerns

Members of the Victorian Farmers' Markets Association have been concerned about being by-passed in a decision to bring forward the date on which membership fees are payable. Despite complaints to the new committee, members views have been ignored.
There has been a great deal of discussion by stallholders at markets around Victoria, and the problems have been clearly put in the latest newsletter of the Koonwarra Farmers' Market - supported by many others. We hope that the new committee of the VFMA looks at the problems instead of branding all dissenting voices as 'troublemakers.'
Here's the report from Koonwarra Farmers' Market (the first Farmers' Market in Victoria).
'The reaction by producers to the new VFMA member's fee structure has been anticipated for some time. Your present and past market managers had raised producers concerns of VFMA policies and potential fees, closure was denied.
History has repeated itself; the VFMA has failed to communicate with the industry that it represents.
It is documented by this market that the accreditation scheme with its sweeping powers was developed without direct producer input or regional market's consultation; as a result there has
been ongoing resentment. This market's former Market Manager and Treasurer (Juliet & Bill) also stated that eventually the costs associated with VFMA's accreditation scheme would in time come back to all producers.
Founding markets Koonwarra and Yarra Valley had meetings to initiate VFMA's development 14 years ago. This was in recognition that an industry representative was required. That has not
changed only the politics.
Report to VFMA on resolving membership concerns. Koonwarra's market is producer owned and operated, proud of its founding history, devotion to authenticity, considerate of local producer's viability and keeping to the Jane Adams founding farmers' market principles. With this background we take farmers market related topics earnestly.
The producers at Koonwarra are well informed on VFMA activities receiving regular updates by our unique "Market Matters" newsletter devoted to topics relevant to this market's long successful operation.

Summary of discussions:
Below is a clarification and brief of Koonwarra's informal gathering and producer/market management communication. It is a detailed summary with conclusions that convey both Koonwarra producers' opinions and endeavours to resolve their VFMA fee concerns.
• "The existing market VFMA levy becomes the VFMA member/levy fee inclusive due at every market attended".
a. The above amount to be determined by VFMA's ongoing administration budget and necessitates reconciliation between the predicted revenue from VFMA's annual membership fees at regional markets and a VFMA member/levy. An acceptance of the outcome is critical for producers.
b. The user pays: those attending accredited markets regularly have the most to gain and therefore would pay though the above members/levy fee at every market attended. This means that growers/producers attending seasonally or just a small number of markets will pay minimal members/levy, a reflection on their market attendance. They will not be subsidising (through the existing VFMA member's fee) the more active producers achieving far greater financial benefits by attending many VFMA accredited markets.
c. Taking into consideration some members have already paid the VFMA annual fee it was accepted that a dual system may be required for the remainder of 2014.
• "All accredited and non- accredited stallholders at a given VFMA accredited market pay the same member/levy fee regardless of accreditation status. Community groups exempted". This removes
existing discrimination between the farmer, specialty food makers and non- accredited stallholders, all would pay the same and become VFMA members by attending accredited markets as stallholders.
• "Lower member/levy fees at every accredited market in the regional areas and graduating upwards at interface and city markets, similar structure to the existing VFMA levy fees". This is a reflection on the fluctuating and often non-viable returns achieved by many producers attending regional markets with low customer attendance. Many businesses are emerging and require consideration.
The above summary also anticipates that beyond 2014 there would be considerably less demand on administration, both at the market and by VFMA staff. Members/levy fees would be paid by attending markets as stallholders: additional recording or pursuing of fees would not be required, gaining more time to devote to accreditation administration. The VFMA would also gain a predictable and secure monthly cash flow.'

As a result of the complaints by members, the VFMA has removed almost half the members from its accreditation program. The latest figures on the VFMA website show only 218 accredited members.

1 comment:

freeranger said...

VFMA members have at last been contacted to advise them that their complaints have been heard and that a survey will be sent out asking for ideas on how to fix the problems. At least there is an acknowledgement that the changes have been inequitable.