After 70 years, the District of Columbia finally is getting around to raising the fee charged farmers for space at the Eastern Market.
The charge will go from the 20-cent fee set in 1913 to $1 a day, if a plan backed by Mayor Marion Barry is approved by the City Council.
The current charge for a 4-by-7 foot outdoor stall on Seventh Street SE undoubtedly is the lowest rental rate for real estate in the city. Although the spaces are used less in the winter, as many as 50 are taken by farmers during the summer on Fridays and Saturdays.
Legislation to raise the fees was introduced two weeks ago by City Council Chairman David A. Clarke at the request of the mayor, who said a $1-a-day charge would be comparable to the fees charged at similar facilities, such as the market at the D.C. Armory. The daily fee covers sweeping, clearing and hauling refuse from the market area.
Barry maintains that the proposed fees--which reportedly would raise more than $2,000 a year--would not have an adverse economic impact on the farmers.
"In no way do we seek to discourage this activity," Barry wrote in a letter to Clarke. "The proposed charge is far below the fair rental value of the public space involved."
"It could run up right smart," said Louise Morgal, a farmer from Mitchellville, Md., who was using three spaces at the Eastern Market this weekend. But she said she would come even if the fees were raised. "This is my income," she said.
According to the city's weights, measures and markets division, the District runs two outside farmers' markets--Eastern and the recently reopened Georgetown Market at 30th and M streets NW. The city also rents Maine Avenue wharf space to boats for $5 a day.
Another market used by farmers at the RFK Stadium is sponsored by the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of the District of Columbia and the Mayor's Commission on Food, Nutrition and Health. Al Smith, who runs the stadium market through the United Planning Organization, said farmers there were charged $10 a day last summer for a 10-by-15 foot space. Smith said, however, that he hopes the fee can be decreased this year, because last year's charge included some one-time equipment purchases.