The Greenbank Farm has its first casualty as a result of ongoing turmoil between the Port of Coupeville and Greenbank Farm Management Group.
For the first time in at least 20 years, there will be no Holiday Market at the farm.
Market volunteers Nancy Skullerud and Caroline Gardner said there is no viable way for the market to happen this year without the support of the management group.
Judy Feldman, executive director for the management group, said the nonprofit is scaling back and cutting employee hours in preparation for its departure from overseeing the farm.
As a result, the management group said it doesn’t have the staff time to put into hosting the market this year, but offered to let the volunteers rent the barn space for $500 each day and required a post dated check for $4,500.
“We’re not a business,” Skullerud said. “We’re not set up for that.”
Officials with the port said they see the decision as the management group not fulfilling its contract obligations.
“They’re just doing their best to mess things up the best they can,” said Marshall Bronson, chairman of the port board. “They’re still getting all the lease money and the same money from the port. In my opinion, they should be giving the same level of service they did this time last year.”
Years of cheer
The Greenbank Farm Holiday Market is as much an institution as the farm itself.
A market vendor for decades, Gardner said she attended the market when the farm was still owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle and vendors set up around manufacturing conveyor belts in the big barn.
After the port purchased the farm and the management group was created, a market manager position was created to handle the holiday market. Several years ago some of the vendors stepped up to volunteer to help run the market.
“Everything was funneled through the management group,” Skullerud said.
In return, the management group acted as the host. It fronted the cost for promotional materials, handled all the vendor fees, covered staff time for marketing and bookkeeping and held the event insurance.
Last year the management group grossed $6,200 for the event.
After the port’s July 8 decision to cease negotiations with the management group, Skullerud and Gardner said they were unsure how to proceed with plans for the market. They had concerns about tenant leases and if tenants were going to be staying.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we love the farm,” Skullerud said. “We volunteer for the market to help the tenants.”
Because of that uncertainty, the volunteers were a little behind their usual timeline in preparing for the market, and discussions on how the market could happen didn’t occur until September.
At one point, Feldman suggested the group find a nonprofit to sponsor the market and the management group could lower the rental rate to $300 a weekend.
But all suggestions didn’t include the management group’s participation beyond providing the space.
“The take home message is we don’t have the staff and the time to take it on,” Feldman said. “We required the check because we needed some kind of commitment that they could fill those vendor spaces.”
Feldman said because of all the turmoil at the farm, projections by the management group saw the holiday market as not producing the revenue worth putting the employee time into the event.
“Because of the peculiar situation this year,” she said. “The market was looking to net $1,500 to $2,000.”
And that’s with the management group underwriting the propane, covering restroom maintenance and investing staff time of 20-30 hours over the four weeks of the market.
“I felt like the rug was kind of pulled out from under me,” Skullerud said. “I’m distrustful of both sides because we don’t have accurate information.
“The issue is there’s so much crap going around on both sides people are gun shy to get involved. It’s unfortunate, but it’s too late for us to pull something together.”
“We would have liked the market to happen, but we knew it would be a stretch,” Feldman said. “We didn’t say no to the market, we said this is how the market can happen.”
Because the management group’s contract ends Dec. 31, Feldman said the nonprofit is already taking measures to scale back staffing, reduce costs and get things closed up.
The group’s events coordinator position has already been cut, with the exception of covering one scheduled event.
Feldman and Julie Dougherty Winger, who serves as visitor experience coordinator, will cut their hours down in November. Come November, a new owner will take over the wine shop, which will eliminate staffing positions there.
On Dec. 1, Feldman will be down to three days a week and Winger will be down to two days a week.
“Basically in December we’re making sure we’re here enough to keep up our port responsibilities,” Feldman said.
During that time employees will be winterizing the farm and taking care of cleaning out the farm’s filing.
“That’s something I’d like to see them start doing,” said David Day, Executive Director for the port.
Bronson said the port pays the management group $50,000 a year to maintain the grounds of the non-commercial areas of the farm.
This is something the port argues the management group has not been keeping up with for several years and is one of the contributing factors to the decision to cut ties.
“Our nonprofit purpose is winding down,” Feldman said. “I really don’t want to strike a tone that this is all the port’s fault. We have worked incredibly hard with a great sense of awareness that change happens and we have gone to great lengths to not fan any flames. This is the decision, let’s move on. What people see beyond that, I wish I could control.”
Breach of contract?
Bronson said he was disheartened to hear the Holiday Market wouldn’t happen this year and sees the management group’s actions as a failure to fulfill its contract since it still gets the same funding from tenant leases and the port contract.
Feldman said the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the farm and not having another long-term contract has affected the nonprofit’s ability to raise funds.
“Since Sept. 2013 we’ve been going every six months to six months,” Feldman said. “We think we’ve done pretty well, but you can’t do that forever.”
Projections from management group treasurer Steve Holmberg put the nonprofit ending the year with about $37,000 in cash with $31,000 in debt, $22,000 of which will be transferred to the Port of Coupeville.
Any funds left at the end of the year will go into supporting the Organic Farm School.
“It would be great if we could operate the nonprofit at full force and simultaneously dismantle it, but I have yet to see how to do that,” Feldman said. “I don’t want to believe that the Port of Coupeville would expect us to operate as we have and then walk away and not leave it in some kind of order.”
There’s no reason, he said, that the management group couldn’t start breaking things down in January and questions why the group wouldn’t want to be involved in an event that in the past has put money in its coffers.
“I don’t believe that at all,” he said. “I find that a direct affront to the public.”
“I find it inexcusable that they haven’t retained the Holiday Market,” Bronson added. “It has been long supported by the public.”
And while the holiday cheer at Greenbank Farm will most likely be lacking in 2015, Bronson has hope for it in the future.
“Santa’s sleigh is going to miss the Greenbank Farm this year,” he said. “But we’re going to ensure he makes it next year.”