Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market coordinator Marcia Veldman will spend the last day in her position at the City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department on Thursday according to her email to vendors at the market. Her resignation ends her 24 years of overseeing the market’s operations.
“This has been an incredibly difficult decision in large part because of the great respect I have for you and the work you do not only to provide healthy food to our community, but to do it with great care for the customer,” she wrote to market vendors.
Leslie Brinson, community events manager of the parks department, said the market coordinator position won’t be filled for a while, but in the transitional period a group of staff in the parks department will take over the tasks of the position.
Veldman’s resignation comes after a controversial year at the market. Last summer, evidence surfaced that tied Schooner Creek Farm co-owner Sarah Dye to the American Identity Movement, formerly Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a hate group.
More recently in June, the Broadening Inclusion Group, a subcommittee of the Farmers’ Market Advisory Council, was dissolved following widespread criticism over its statement condemning Black-on-Black violence. The statement addressed the death of George Floyd and other Black people killed by police and the protests following Floyd’s death. Veldman was the liaison to the BIG.
Over the past year, activists and community members have called for Veldman’s resignation for her lack of action despite being a leader of the market. At the end of 2019, there were talks about privatizing the market, but the market remains under city management after a vote by the Board of Park Commissioners.
Abby Ang, founder of No Space for Hate Bloomington, is in favor of privatization. She said she has been very frustrated with Veldman’s leadership and that Veldman should have done more to address issues of white supremacy at the market with her status and connections in the farming community.
“People listen to her, and people respect her,” she said.
But Brinson said Veldman was caught in a difficult position.
“It can be stressful trying to do what’s best, trying to balance city government with requests from the public,” she said.
Veldman said in an interview that the challenges over this past year made her increase her time commitment at the market while she also needs to spend time growing and selling food for her own farm. She said she had originally planned to leave her position earlier but decided to stay longer to help the market through several transitions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Veldman, an IU alumna who grew up in South Bend, moved to Los Angeles after graduation but moved back to Bloomington permanently in 1995 to accept the market coordinator position and live closer to her family, who had moved to Bloomington. For 24 years, she has worked with the market’s vendors, customers, staff, stakeholders and community partners as a city official.
“When the position managing the market opened up, I was delighted for the opportunity to work on building a stronger, fairer local food system,” she said.
Her leadership led the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market to grow into one of the largest, and at one point the largest, farmers markets in Indiana, Brinson said.
In 2002, Veldman and community members started the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, through which she said farmers have donated over 400,000 pounds of produce to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank. Over the years, she has also helped establish multiple food stamp and nutrition programs that benefit low-income people.
“She’s extremely passionate about food security and local food and food safety,” Brinson said. “She brings both a wealth of knowledge and passion and great commitment to the market.”
“I’ve always felt that she had our best interest at heart,” said Janice Lehman, co-owner of the Olde Lane Orchard and vendor at the farmers market. “She really worked hard to help the farmers succeed at the market.”
Lehman said she and her husband, Chester, are good friends with Veldman, who called the couple before emailing all the vendors about her resignation.
“I think my first words were, ‘No,’” Janice said. “I cried.”
Chester said when their farm had no fruit harvests for the season in 2011 because of a severe hailstorm, Veldman mentioned their situation to her extended family, who then gave the couple financial help to get through the time, despite never having met them.
“There’s just a few people in this world that have an open-home policy, that use their homes and their resources to really help people in quiet ways,” he said. “And she was one of those people.”
Although the resignation came abruptly for many in the community, Veldman said a few years ago, she had already been planning for the next phase in life. She said after she leaves her position, she will spend some time off gardening and biking while exploring her next steps. She will also continue to work as the state coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby, which she had to give up last year because of her increased time commitment at the market.
“Ultimately I want what's best for continuing to build a strong local food community,” she said about the future of the market. “I want to see a higher percentage of dollars spent on food in this community stay in this community and help farmers and food artisans be successful in their business. We're facing serious environmental change, and developing a resilient local food system will enhance food security for all of us into the future.”