Farmer Struggles After Unpaid Services at a Local Farmer’s Market

Staff report

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — May 22, 2024

A local farmer says she is in financial hardship after participating in a farmer’s market and not being compensated for goods and services. Brandi Williams, the owner and operator of Solidago Acres and Primally Inspired Eats, shared her story with the Bloomingtonian, detailing her struggles and the impact on her farm.

Williams, who runs a BIPOC, woman-owned, queer, and trans-run farm, emphasized the mission of Solidago Acres to provide seasonal harvests and nutrient-dense food to historically marginalized communities. The farm partners with Middle Way House, an anti-violence center, through programs like Flowers for the People and Cooking for a Cause.

However, after securing a series of agreements with the People’s Cooperative Market (PCM), including catering gigs, a salaried position, and farmer contracts totaling nearly $200,000 for 2023-2025, Williams encountered financial and communicative inconsistencies from PCM. This led to substantial unpaid invoices and loss of income, jeopardizing the farm’s future.

“In farming, or any small business, there is little room for shifts in income and support,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, we began experiencing harmful delays in payments, nonpayments, and spurious commitments of financial agreements.”

The financial strain has been compounded by Williams’ personal circumstances, as she has a child with chronic health challenges and substantial medical bills. The situation escalated with PCM’s alleged unscrupulous practices, resulting in the loss of significant grant funding and unpaid services, including catering for a four-day agricultural workshop.

“Our experience with PCM has left us in a vulnerable position with substantial need for support,” Williams stated. She is now appealing for donations and financial collaboration to keep Solidago Acres operational.

In response, PCM announced a community transparency session scheduled for Sunday, May 26, at First United Church. PCM aims to address questions and share their mission, values, and recent accomplishments. According to a Facebook post, PCM has raised over $965,000 in grant funds since its inception, benefiting local, marginalized populations.

The Herald-Times reported Wednesday that the State of Indiana canceled an $800,000 grant to PCM due to “financial improprieties.”

Williams is urging the community to support Solidago Acres through donations and collaboration to prevent the loss of the farm and continue their mission of providing hyper-local, nutrient-dense food and supporting underserved farmers.

For more information, visit Solidago Acres’ website at solidagoacres.com and follow them on social media @growingsolidago.


Here is the full text of William’s statement:

My name is Brandi Williams, I am the owner and operator of Primally Inspired Eats, and Solidago Acres. Solidago Acres is a BIPOC, woman-owned, queer and trans-run farm. We prioritize access to seasonal harvests and nutrient dense food for historically marginalized and exploited members of our community — which includes us and the people we love. We look to our own and our communities’ experiences and relationships with food and land to shape the bounty, beauty, and nutrition Solidago has to offer. Solidago partners with Middle Way House, the regional anti-violence center, through Flowers for the People (FTP) and Cooking for a Cause (C4C). FTP grows flowers to adorn the crisis center and shelter, while C4C, hoping to launch this season, brings community members together to harvest and cook prepared meals for shelter residents while learning about equity and food justice.The location of the farm provides a hyper-local access point for freshly grown food, reducing the climate footprint of vehicular travel, and is easily accessible, walkable, and bikeable from many neighborhoods, local schools and churches, and is only 7 minutes from IU Bloomington. Solidago is also home to Primally Inspired Eats (PIE,) and its community supported bakery program (CSB), and catering service.
We are excited to build community around our mission of feeding folks and strengthening our local food system. It does however take an immense amount of planning, creativity, and adaptability to support a successful farm, small business, and endeavor like Solidago Acres.
Last year at this time our membership as a farm and business, as well as an original co-founder, incorporator, and planning committee member of PCM, prompted us on our journey toward Solidago. PCM offered an enormous opportunity in the form of agreed upon catering gigs for PIE, a salaried position for myself, and substantial farmer/grower contracts. All of this totaling nearly $200,000 over the course of 2023-2025.
With both written and verbal agreements in hand, and a confirmation from PCM leadership / the Executive Director (my boss), we launched into the planning and purchase of Solidago Acres. We asked PCM / the Executive Director to assist in this process, as farm purchase mentorship was being offered. We created a detailed business plan, financial projections, and a path forward, accepting mentorship at each step and checking in with the Executive Director (my boss) regarding the agreed upon financials necessary for the purchase and success of the farm. After months of gathering the appropriate resources, we once again, tediously combed through and confirmed the necessary financial agreements with PCM / the Executive Director, for submission of our application for a direct farm loan through the FSA. With the inclusion of the agreed upon catering services, salaried position, and farmer/grower contracts, confirmed by PCM / the Executive Director (my boss), we were approved for the purchase of Solidago and moved forward with our business plan.
In farming, or any small business, there is little room for shifts in income and support, let alone large financial shifts in the form of unscrupulous agreements and unpaid invoices for products and services delivered. Unfortunately, not long after our purchase and activation of needed investment in the farm property, we began experiencing inconsistencies, along with a lack of direct, clear and consistently reliable communication. We observed harmful delays in payments to vulnerable farmers and businesses, nonpayments to others, and spurious commitments of financial agreements. When questioned, we experienced not only gaslighting and direct dishonesty, but even more harmful, a quick and shocking piecemealing of my salaried position, the loss of a $15,000 grant mentorship bonus, the loss of approved grant funding for our the 2024 & 2025 growing season totaling $90,000, as documented in our direct farm loan application, and further experienced complete nonpayment for catering services provided for a 4 day agricultural workshop held at Sobremesa Farm in August of 2023. We were, and remain stunned by this experience.
As many in the community know, I have a child with chronic health challenges that significantly affect his mobility, and is accompanied by corresponding substantial medical bills. Our family could not afford to take such an enormous risk of purchasing a larger farm without the assurance of these described funds, something discussed directly with PCM leadership / the Executice Director (my boss), on multiple occasions throughout the farm purchase process.
Further, the same unscrupulous practices of PCM resulted in the loss of an impactful grant contract, requiring the source of that grant to abruptly end its contractual relationship with PCM. Presently, this continues to delay the disbursement of more than 1.5 million dollars in grant funding meant to support our local food system, historically marginalized farmers like myself, and feed those in our community experiencing food insecurity and food apartheid. For Solidago and PIE, it has resulted in significant financial distress, loss of imperative income and agreements, and substantial unpaid debt for products and services delivered.
Our mission is to serve those in our community who are under-resourced, provide an access point for hyper-local, nutrient-dense food, strengthen the local food system, and support historically underserved and/or socially disadvantaged growers and farmers. Our experience with PCM has left us in a vulnerable position with substantial need for support. The amount being raised is reflective of the harm incurred.
We need to either raise immediate funds to fill this gap via donations, investment/financial collaboration opportunities, or be forced to lose the farm.
Please consider supporting Solidago, our community programs, and our mission. Donate, visit our website solidagoacres.com, and follow us @growingsolidago. Thank you for your support!
Note: please contact us directly if you desire a deeper conversation about the sensitive details and specifics of our experience, or if you have interest in supportive collaboration, or know of other resources that could be of assistance.
With sincere gratitude,
Brandi Williams


Meanwhile, The People’s Cooperative Market has promised the community, in a Facebook post, that there will be a transparency session:

“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
People’s Cooperative Market to host a community transparency session.
Are you interested in learning more about People’s Cooperative Market’s (PCM) mission values and goals for the food system? Have you been unclear about how PCM operates? Do you have stories to share about the impact on the community? Do you have questions about PCM’s recent accomplishments? We invite you to join us for a listening session and Q&A at First United Church, located at 2420 E 3rd Street. The session will occur on Sunday, May 26th from 1:00 to 2:30 pm.
Questions for the session can be submitted in advance to [email protected]. A recording will be made publicly available on the People’s Cooperative Market website, peoplesmarketbtown.org.
Since 2020, PCM has secured local, state, and federal funding to provide access to free, nutrient-rich, local food for populations marginalized by systemic racism. We expect that our vendors, volunteers, and committee members abide by our working agreements that are rooted in intersectional anti-racism, including restorative justice.
Due to the unpaid efforts of Black Women, PCM has raised over $965,000 in grant funds since its inception in 2019, including grants from Farm Aid, Bloomingfoods Round-Up, and Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County. We have distributed more than 5,950 bags of local produce, meat, bread, eggs, and dairy to people requesting food support. More than 40 local businesses, most people of color and/or queer owned, have sold products at our weekly market. All of our work is made possible by volunteer labor.
People’s Cooperative Market Management Team”

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