St. John farmers market delayed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 16, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

EDGARD – The scheduled April opening of the St. John the Baptist Parish’s Red Barn Farmers Market in Wallace has been pushed back until at least sometime during the summer, Parish President Natalie Robottom said during a recent parish council meeting.
Robottom cited several reasons for the delays, mainly because the previous administration acted before actually receiving the money from a $99,000 United States Department of Agriculture grant, which is providing funding for the market.
Once opened, the market will be located on Louisiana Highway 18 at the foot of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wallace.
“(The previous administration) did not follow the process of the grant,” she said. “We proceeded outside of the guidelines.
“We messed up. There were mistakes along the way that cost us money.”
In a follow-up email to L’Observateur, Robottom said her administration learned of the problem during a meeting with a USDA representative March 14. She said they were advised of several stipulations that were not followed, including architectural, ADA and purchasing requirements.
Violation of the purchasing requirements, which require the building be bought after the grant money is received, appears to be the most egregious error. The building was purchased June 14, 2011, Robottom said, after the grant was approved but before the money was received. The funds were received in 2012.
“The council was anxious to see the project move forward and thought the funds could be reimbursed once the grant was received,” Robottom said. “That was not the case.”
The building is a 4,800-square-foot metal building that will have space for 12 vendor bays on each side of the facility that growers will be able to drive into with their vehicles.
She said subsequent meetings have been held with USDA and others, including the hiring of an architectural firm, to ensure compliance with all of the requirements.
Some of those requirements include hiring of an architectural firm, compliance with ADA requirements, developing market policies and procedures and using open and free competition procurement guidelines.
“The USDA has more requirements that (similar grants) don’t typically have,” Robottom said. “There are a lot of strings attached to their money.”
Robottom insisted the purchase of the original building at a cost of $36,381 is not a total loss because it will be used for storage by the public works department.  
Robottom said the new building, which is expected to come with a $30,000 price tag that will be covered by the grant, has not yet been purchased. She said the parish is awaiting USDA approval for the design and specifications.
Once completed the market will operate Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and potentially to a weekday if there is demand. A market manager has not been selected although the EDC department will oversee the facility.
No restrooms will be available, but Robottom said they could be added in the future.
“This project has excellent potential both as a tourism and business development initiative,” she said.