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A petition to ‘save’ the Raleigh State Farmers Market went viral. But is it accurate?

An image of what the Raleigh State Farmers Market could look like in the master plan.
An image of what the Raleigh State Farmers Market could look like in the master plan.

More than 15,000 people have signed a petition to save the North Carolina State Farmers Market, prompting comments from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Raleigh’s mayor.

But what exactly needs to be saved at the market is less than clear.

“Don’t let the city of Raleigh trade our farmers market for luxury, high end, expensive condos,” the petition website says.

But housing isn’t set to replace any part of the market, according to documents prepared for the agriculture department.

And while condos, apartments and townhouses could show up on another nearby part on the state-owned land, state and nonprofit leaders say any changes there wouldn’t happen for decades when their leases are up.

What does the petition say?

“I oppose any plans that would fundamentally change the face of the Raleigh State Farmers Market in ways that are not reflective of the mission of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture,” the petition states.

The city can be diverse by having a great park and great farmers market, it says. It calls on people who are concerned to email the Raleigh City Council, the Dix Park Conservancy and state leaders.

“Developers believe the ‘cost of the dirt’ the market sits on is more important and valuable than the businesses that occupy it,” the petition states. “I respectfully disagree. I believe that there is no better use of land than feeding our population. The market exists to help farmers recoup the ‘cost of their dirt’ that they grow our crops on.”

You can read the petition at www.savingthemarket.com.

Who created the petition?

The petition was created by some of the wholesale businesses that sell produce at the farmers market, according to Jessica Ward McNeill, the sales manager of Ward’s Fruit & Produce.

Most market visitors don’t see the wholesalers. They’re more likely to visit the open market to buy produce directly from the farmers, visit the stall merchants or go to one of the restaurants. The wholesalers — there are fewer than 10 — are in the back two warehouses.

The wholesalers are able to purchase large quantities of produce from farmers and then sell them to businesses and organizations, McNeill said.

On Ward’s Produce’s website, it lists restaurants, school systems, country clubs and retirement communities of some of the places it sells their food.

“At Ward’s, we purchase local products from over 30, 40 farms,” she said. “I’m the fourth generation in our company and some of these same farms are the farms my great grandfather worked with.”

They are also able to sell some of their produce to the farmers located in the open market, so in some cases, a visitor may be buying produce from a wholesaler through a farmer at the market.

Why are they upset?

A master plan created for the Department of Agriculture converts the wholesalers’ warehouses to retail, parking and spaces for restaurants and taverns.

While in the back of the farmers market, the wholesalers warehouses are closest to Dix Park The master plan does not say where they would go.

David Smith, chief deputy commissioner for the Department of Agriculture, said they would be relocated through he didn’t know where to and that the move wouldn’t happen until years from now.

McNeill said moving the wholesalers would be harmful and that some farmers and businesses might struggle if the warehouses are moved to a less centralized location that forces some farmers to find closer buyers for what they grow.

Perkins Orchard of Durham said redevelopment could “bring the end to wholesale operations for thousands of farmers and businesses,” the company wrote on Facebook.

The wholesalers were not included in the master planning process, leaving many in the dark about their future, McNeill said.

The master plan architect did interview some vendors and patrons, Smith said but added he didn’t know if that included wholesalers.

Are “luxury, high end, expensive condos” coming to the farmers market?

No, but they’ll be nearby — one day, according to the master plan.

The master plan calls for 450,000 square feet of mixed-use development on a sliver of the property next to the big field at Dix Park toward Blair Drive. The area is now home to Meals on Wheels Wake County, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Food Runners Collaborative and L&M Raleigh Market & Sales produce distributor. Their buildings would be demolished and replaced.

Christina Ogden is the executive director of the Food Runners Collaborative, which manages the building that also houses the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and Meals on Wheels. They moved there in 2004, have a 45-year lease. and aren’t concerned about the master plan.

“They’ve assured us that nothing is being considered for this area in the near-future,” she said. “Anything for this land would be in phase five and that wouldn’t be until another 40 or 50 years from now.” The nonprofits could, possibly outgrow their space by then.

The master plan says the new buildings could be five stories (which would require a rezoning), include street parking, 120 spaces for surface parking and a 500-plus space parking deck. There isn’t a deck inside of the park and some of wondered where people would park.

What else is in the farmers market plan?

The plan calls for several changes including:

  • Moving the dairy barn to Dix Park as an agriculture museum or event space with an outside terrace for events and fine dining.
  • Pushing all the parking to the edges.
  • Adding taverns and restaurants at either end of the converted wholesale buildings to attract evening visitors.
  • Adding a new entrance along Lake Wheeler Road
  • Adding bus parking and bus routes for areas within the farmers market
  • Creating green space that could be used for programming
  • Adding and increasing the plants on the campus.
  • Realigning Agriculture Street to the north and connect with existing city streets.

Implementing the plan will likely take decades and millions of dollars. Smith said the department does plan to remove a fence separating the park and the farmers market in the coming months.

Who paid for the master plan?

The Dix Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that raises money to support Dix Park, paid for the Farmers Market Master Plan. It’s also paid for the master plan for the park itself and several projects happening at the park now.

What will implementation it cost?

Changes to the farmers market could be anywhere from $66 to 88 million, according to the master plan. Nothing has been included in the department’s budget to begin paying for any of it, said Smith.

And it could be another $120 to $130 million for the private development, though that would likely include a private/public partnership.

How is the city involved?

It isn’t, technically. But it’s more complicated than that.

The city of Raleigh spent over a year asking residents what they would like to see at Dix Park. One of the things included in that plan is its connections to the surrounding neighborhoods, parks and organizations like the farmers market and N.C. State University.

Raleigh is just starting to study the edges of Dix Park to see how it will change and if some of the more affordable places to live near the park can be preserved. Gentrification has been one of the concerns expressed by community advocates and development critics.

City leaders have gotten hundreds of emails since the start of the wholesalers’ petition this week.

At a City Council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the wholesaler warehouses are where the forklifts and big trucks are used, and it’s “the dangerous part of the pedestrian connection.”

“I would say that the (petition) website and a lot of the things that are out there are a little alarmist,” she said. “A lot of the local merchants, especially the smaller farmers I hear are very excited abut it.”

Where can I read the master plan?

The News & Observer has uploaded a copy of the master plan so you can read it yourself.

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Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University.
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