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Gail Prince: Thanks, Manchester, for saving farmer’s market

October 28. 2013 5:35PM

Good news, citizens of Manchester, the city government works! This story is about how the city government worked cohesively and quickly to oblige the people they took an oath to serve.

I am the owner of Common Earth Farms in Bedford. Until recently we partnered with the International Institute of New Hampshire (IINH), a refugee resettlement non-profit agency in Manchester. Our farm provides refugee farmers currently settled in the Manchester area with land and resources to practice their traditional farming methods and to earn much-needed income. One of our primary sources of revenue was our Tuesday independent farmer’s market located at IINH on the corner of Pine and Merrimack Streets.

At this popular market we accepted EBT cards and offered produce at a significant reduction in pricing to better serve the city’s low-income, refugee and immigrant populations. The market also offered traditional ethnic foods most familiar to new Americans.

IINH suddenly relocated its offices, thus precluding our use of the parking lot where we were licensed to operate by the city. These licenses, along with health permits issued by the city, are, by regulation, non-transferable. Therefore moving to a new location would require the purchase of a new license upon Department of Health inspection and approval of the new location.

This problem was compounded by the difficulty of finding a new location close to the original to ensure continuity with our customer base, customers who walk to the market. The challenge appeared insurmountable given our limited funds to procure a new permit and the challenge of finding an alternate location to conduct the market on very short notice.

To start, I conducted an unscheduled office call with Mayor Ted Gatsas less than a week before our market was due to be shut off. To my amazement, he welcomed me in with a gracious greeting. After I explained our situation and the impact on his citizens, he called in some of his senior staff for their insights. He then personally started making calls to rectify the situation.

In my mind, it was the call to Alderman Pat Long that proved to have the greatest impact. I heard the mayor most eloquently explain the situation to Alderman Long and then ask the alderman to try and rectify the situation. Within an hour, Alderman Long obtained approval from the Manchester Department of Health to transfer the permit at no cost. He then found the perfect site in front of the old Police Department to move the market, well within eyesight of our original location. Perfect so far.

But this process still required the approval of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. I was most concerned about this hurdle, but Alderman Long was confident they would come to the right conclusion with his advocacy and the support of the mayor. Within a day, he presented our case before the board and obtained complete support. Alderman Long then called me personally to share the good news and then instructed me on procedures to obtain the necessary paperwork.

Thanks to the personal involvement of Phil Alexakos of the Health Department and Kevin Kincaid of the City Clerk’s Office, all necessary forms were completed without event. Crisis resolved!

All of us here at Common Earth Farms wish to thank the mayor and all those in our city government for their admirable advocacy to keep our market thriving.

Gail Prince, a retired Air Force colonel in Bedford, is owner of Common Earth Farms.

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