None of the speakers at a Dec. 11 public hearing were particularly intoxicated by the notion of allowing the Carroll County Tourism Department to sell beer or wine.
Carroll County Administrator Steve Truitt opened the public hearing at the Carroll County Board of Supervisors’ December meeting saying the hearing was to discuss the tourism department’s request to be allowed to sell regional wines to tourists and others who visit the Carroll County Visitor’s Center, located at the retail portion of the Southwest Virginia Farmers’ Market. Debby Brady was the first to speak on the topic.
Brady has been in business at the Farmers’ Market with Brady’s Produce since the day the doors opened there 25 years ago. There were only two vendors there at the time, her father, Donald, and Willie Hill from Cana. At the time, there was a rule that there would be no alcohol sales or alcoholic drinking on the premises.
“I thought at the time it probably was due to the fact that my father was a bootlegger and sold liquor, and (Farmers’ Market Manager) Kevin (Semones) was trying to protect the other vendors and maintain the integrity of the market,” Brady said. “But in September of last year it was still those same rules and my father had been dead since 2004, so I am sure Kevin is still trying to protect the vendors and to protect the integrity of that market. It is my feeling and it’s just my opinion, I don’t think that county government should be in the business of selling alcoholic beverages. I think that should be left to free enterprise, simply because of liability issues and everything else.”
Brady said she thought it was a great idea when Semones approached her about the tourism center moving into the Farmers’ Market. She said the artisans’ gallery is “absolutely beautiful” and gives people a chance to market a product they didn’t have before because there is a lot of foot traffic now at the Farmers’ Market. It has taken 25 years to build that following, however, and she said there have been issues recently.
“You never know what is going to hurt. We had a lot of tour buses at that time coming. We had Sunshine Tours, we had Abbott Tours, we had a lot of Christian tours, we had a lot of small church buses,” Brady said. “In this past year we have gotten back a few of the church buses but none of the Abbott Tour lines and none of the Sunshine Tours, not all of the little church buses are coming back. I don’t know what effect alcohol sales at that market would do to that market. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me that.”
Mandi McCraw was the next to speak. She wanted to make it very clear that her father, supervisor Robbie McCraw, had nothing to do with her speaking at the public hearing. She said the two often disagree, and she was speaking on her own accord as a taxpayer and resident of Carroll County.
“I am here for one purposes, and that is to dispute the selling of wine in our tourism office. I do not have a problem with selling wine in general, but I do have a problem with it coming from the tourism office directly,” McCraw said. “I understand the concept of providing wine in the office to promote local agriculture, however, do you know how many wineries are in Carroll County? There are two. Do you know how many farms are in Carroll County? The USDA did a survey in 2012 and it recognized 980 farms in Carroll County. That number astounds me.”
McCraw said the market value of products produced at those 980 farms total over $43 million. Of all those farms, she said the Carroll County Tourism website only recognizes nine farms. “Brady’s Produce has been in business for over 25 years and they are not even on the Carroll County website recognized as a farm in Carroll County. One of the nine is even in Floyd County, not even in Carroll County,” McCraw said. “And in October, I was responsible for a farm-to-table dinner where all of our ingredients were donated by Carroll County farms. It was all grown in Carroll County and not one of the nine is listed on your tourism website. The tourism department wants to promote only two of those farms and I am not sure how I feel about that. I am not sure how the other 980 farmers would feel about that, either. To me it seems really unfair.”
McCraw said if the board is going to allow the sale of wine in the tourism office, then it should allow the other 980 farms in the county to sell their locally-grown ag products as well. That would only be fair, McCraw said.
“It would make much more sense to me to invite the two wineries to have a retail or demonstration space as part of the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market, along with other farmers, that have a vested interest in the agricultural aspect of our county,” McCraw said.
She felt like there are other opportunities the county should explore, such as farm tours. Working together with the Town of Hillsville, which just finished up the first season of its new farmers’ market, is another good idea, she said.
“I feel as if we are not being resourceful with what we have been given,” McCraw said. “Would it not be more appropriate to determine the public interest of this topic, to have a public hearing before an application for license to sell alcohol in our tourism office? In farmers’ language, it would appear to me as if the cart was in front of the horse.”
Donna Peery, Brady’s sister, said Brady’s Produce doesn’t grow everything. It quit growing pumpkins, kale and other items, but has always made a point of featuring other farmers not in the market. She felt like the market could do more to showcase artists like Warren Schlesinger, who she said has beautiful woodwork, and bluegrass music.
“And there are liability issues with wine tastings and stuff like that. We have to carry $1 million in product liability in case someone gets hurt by our product,” Peery said. “Who is going to assume liability for wine sales? What if somebody buys a bottle of wine and goes out in the parking lot and drinks it and wrecks and kills somebody? Who is liable? Does the county bear any liability to that? If not legally, I think ethically we should.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN