Ashland (Ky.) city officials - led by Mayor Steve Gilmore - envision the old railroad depot on 15th Street eventually becoming the home of a year-round farmer's market where locally produced foods could be sold. However, to turn that vision into reality, Ashland will have to overcome the failure of similar markets in other, much larger cities.
Growing interest in seasonal and locally sourced foods has created support for indoor public markets, where fresh fruits and vegetables would be sold in the summer, and breads, home-made jams and pickles, candies and other locally produced foods would be sold throughout the year. The beautifully restored depot - which also now serves as the city's transportation center where passengers board and deboard Amtrak's Cardinal and intercity buses, and where the Ashland Bus Service is based - would seem to be an ideal location for a year-round market.
However, similar markets in other cities have met with mixed success. Tourists have crowded places like San Francisco's new Ferry Building market and the Granville Island market in Vancouver, B.C., and the markets have encouraged nearby residential and commercial redevelopment - just as the promoters had predicted they would. But public markets have failed to catch on in Portland, Maine; Toledo; and Vancouver, Wash. Public markets in Portland, Ore., and Boston have been planned since the turn of the millennium, but construction at permanent locations has not begun.
Toledo's downtown market opened 10 years ago with a lot of promise, but vendors who sold meat, cheese, pastries and wine have abandoned the Erie Street Market in recent years. They've been replaced by antiques dealers. An open-air outdoor market where farmers sell fresh produce, jams and honey still operates on the weekends, and draws decent crowds.
Ashland's depot has been home to a farmer's market on Fridays during the past few summers, but that market has not been nearly as popular as the outdoor one at Fannin Motors on U.S. 60 on Saturdays. The Ashland market seems to caught in a “Catch 22”: The shortage of customers discourage farmers from setting up in the depot. By the same token, shoppers don't go to the depot because there are not enough farmers there.
With a bit of patience, we think a summertime farmer's market eventually will succeed at the depot, but we have our doubts about the market becoming year-round. The success of such a market must begin with a commitment of those who have food goods to sell to set up at the depot between October and April. Then they must have the patience to remain there until enough customers discover what they have to offer.
Will it ever catch on in Ashland? Maybe. But it's going to take a lot more than just city officials wishing it will happen to make it so.
- The (Ashland, Ky.) Independent