Bloomington Farmers' Market To Reopen Saturday With Increased Security

Aug 15, 2019

The farmer's market will reopen two weeks after it was suspended due to safety concerns.
Credit Adam Pinsker / WFIU/WTIU News

The City of Bloomington announced Tuesday it will reopen the Community Farmers' Market this weekend, after a two-week suspension due to threats of violence and amid weeks of unrest over a vendor with alleged ties to a white supremacist group.

In a news release, the city says the market will include some new safety measures, including security cameras, increased presence of police and other public safety officials, "market ambassadors" and clearly marked flyering and expression areas. 

The city also says it will close portions of public streets bordering the market to traffic during market hours: Morton Street, Seventh Street and Eighth Street.

Mayor John Hamilton says the city will also review how the market is conducted and consider changes for next year. 

"There have been suggestions from things like privatize the market or change where it’s located, or change the rules of the market and who can be where and who can demonstrate," he says. "And, I think all of that should be looked at and on the table."

The city is not making any changes regarding the presence of Schooner Creek Farm at the market, which remains a point of contention in the community. 

The controversy publicly erupted earlier this year, after the Nashville Farmers Market Board voted to force the owner of Schooner Creek Farm, Sarah Dye, to step down as president. The vote came after complaints about Dye's alleged ties to Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a white nationalist group.

Shortly after, a Bloomington activist sent a letter to the Bloomington Farmers' Market Advisory Council about the alleged ties. The city hosted several meetings about the issue, but said removing Schooner Creek would infringe on the First Amendment.

After weeks of protests and other groups showing up to support Schooner Creek at the market, the city announced it was suspending the market for two weeks to ensure the public's safety. 

Some vendors say the city's plan for reopening doesn't make them feel any safer. 

Goldleaf Hydroponics Owner Monica Billman is one of the few minority vendors at the market. She says the presence of Schooner Creek is a threat. 

"Whether they stand for whatever their beliefs are or not, it’s bringing a lot of radical, conservative groups to support them and making the market space feel unsafe," Billman says. 

While the city has said it isn't aware of any instances where Schooner Creek has violated its vendor contract, Billman says the attention the controversy is bringing to the market creates a hostile work environment for other vendors and customers. 

"We can all try to be more understanding of what is going on with families like my own," Billman says. "They don’t ever have to come up with exit plans and precautions to take in these situations because they’re not the ones being targeted. White people fortunately don't have to put themselves in those situations."

Billman says she stopped taking her child to the market because of the situation. She says some vendors feel they’ve been intimidated by people who are supporters of Schooner Creek Farm.

Capt. Ryan Pedigo with the Bloomington Police Department says the department's heard from some market vendors who’ve noticed unfamiliar cars driving by their residences, but no police reports were filed.

He says the department is investigating an incident where a vendor reported suspicious activity at a store that made them feel uncomfortable, although Pedigo says no crime was involved. Pedigo says the department is investigating whether the behavior was because of the person’s association as a market vendor.

Mayor John Hamilton says there's no guarantees against violence anywhere, but it's important for the community to reclaim the market. 

"If you don't feel comfortable going to a public space, that's your prerogative," Hamilton says. "But I don't want to give up the essence of our community which is engaging together, coming together, enjoying lots of amenities like the farmers' market together."

Hamilton didn't know whether vendors who choose not to participate in the market because of safety concerns would receive any reimbursement from the city for their yearly fees. 

Emma Atkinson contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.