Back when I began working at Market Umbrella, our founder, Richard McCarthy gave me the names of a few people that he held in high esteem on market issues that I might check in with regularly. Interestingly, many of these folks led the “town square” phase of markets that Market Umbrella belongs with as well (eras that some of you have heard me talk about over the years.) Some of those names include:
Donita Anderson North Union Farmers Market, Cleveland OH
Chris Curtis, Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets, Seattle WA
Pam Roy (Farm to Table New Mexico)
Greenmarket NYC (many, many staff on that list. back then, Gabrielle Langholtz and Kelly Verel nee Williams, now of PPS, come to mind.)
NY leaders Diane Eggert and Bob Lewis
Massachusetts leader Jeff Cole
and two he always spoke of with great affection: Bernie Prince and Ann Yonkers at Fresh Farm in DC. I met Ann first at a Dallas TX farmers market meeting where we were both invited to speak. Ann was (and is) a woman of great style and well-formed opinions and those qualities along with her belief in markets and food systems led the energy in that room and, I am sure many others. Every time I came to DC, she and Bernie took the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to sit and talk with me. I remember once driving around MD and DC with Ann as she generously showed me her markets and we talked of mobile markets, organic farming and market logistics for most of the afternoon. In many ways, she always reminded me of Richard-both lead with their charisma and their strength of character but can also discourse on dozens of subjects easily. You leave their presence with clarity of purpose and gratitude to have leaders like this around.
On to Bernie…I didn’t know her as well in those early days, but then I began to talk more with her when she joined the Farmers Market Coalition board (and ultimately led it as its President) during its transition from its founding board and then the transition from its founding Executive Director through its present days of more staff and more advocacy. Slowly, I realized that she was a indefatigable worker and a champion strategist who would always take the time to share what she knew with her peers when asked. Whenever I visited her markets, she was picking up trash or chalking a kids game on the ground or most of the time, introducing people to a vendor through a very detailed and empathetic outline of their business history, both in and out of the market. Then, we’d often have a chat about plans she and Ann had to add markets or to raise funds or to build capacity and I’d leave sort of stunned by what they had and would continue to accomplish. I have had the privilege of hearing Bernie present more than a few times over the years and have always enjoyed basking in her energy and passion during the talk and then watching her afterwards with the newer market leaders who crowd around her, soaking up her advice and support. Her warmth and her great joy are so part of her regular personality that as soon as I just hear her voice, my mood is elevated.
As for FMC, I know how much she has personally given in time and talent and I always appreciated her constant support of the staff and the board. In my estimation, FMC owes its survival to two people more than any other: Stacy Miller and Bernie Prince, and their deep affection and respect for each other made that survival possible and set the tone for FMC as a whole. The story linked below promises that Bernie may very well stay on at FMC, which I fervently hope happens. (FYI-Sharon Yeago, Liz Comiskey and Jen O’Brien Cheek are sitting very close behind those two in credit due at FMC….)
Ann and Bernie have done so much with the food system and farmers markets in DC, Maryland and Virginia that (as I wrote on FMC’s Facebook page) it cannot be properly calculated. I will leave it to their peers at Fresh Farm and I assume civic and food leaders across the area who will take the time to honor them. I hope all of you will have the chance to meet these two giants before they hand over their market bell(s) and to thank them for all that they have given to us and will give to us in their next leadership role in our food and farming system.