A meat smoker that a Lawrence couple have been using at the downtown farmers market has become a smoldering controversy for some market organizers, who will decide whether to allow the couple to continue to cook at the market.
Nate and Jan Brown, who have been selling smoked meats and vegetables to downtown patrons on Tuesday and Thurday afternoons at the farmers market for about a month, were asked Tuesday not to return to the market because, they were told, their cooker was producing too much smoke.
"They said there had been complaints that there was too much smoke," Jan Brown said. "We just want to continue to go to the farmers market and participate."
LISA BLAIR, downtown administrator of Downtown Lawrence Inc., which runs the market, later told the Browns they could return to the market with their smoker on weekdays until the Downtown Lawrence board of directors considered at its next board meeting whether to allow meat smokers at the market.
The meeting, which is not open to the public, is set for 7:30 a.m. July 14.
Officials at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, the local office of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the state office of food inspections in Topeka said Thursday they had received no complaints about too much smoke at the market.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said one person complained to him about the smoker, but he said the complaint had nothing to do with the smoke it created.
"It wasn't about smoke but the concept of having a smoker at a farmers market," Wildgen said. "The person was questioning whether this (smoker) should be at a farmers market, where produce is sold.
"There was some feeling that it was in competition with local (food) business."
Wildgen would not say whether the complaint came from a business owner, a farmers market participant or a nearby resident.
Brown said the smoker isn't a big money-maker.
"We're not making a lot of money in this," Brown said. "We're a very small fish in the pond."
SHELLY PUCKETT, manager of the market, said she received no complaints about excessive smoke but was told by Downtown Lawrence organizers to ask the Browns to no longer bring their smoker to the market.
Blair said Downtown Lawrence was not trying to discriminate against the Browns.
"Our goal is to maintain unanimity and to keep the concept of a farmers market," she said.
Puckett said market vendors sell crafts and baked goods, in addition to produce.
She said complaints caused by "personality conflicts" at the market are not unusual.
"It just sounds to me like this is one of those things that got blown out of proportion," Puckett said.
The market, set up at 10th and Vermont, is held from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 6:30 a.m. to about 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Vendors pay a fee to sell their products at the market.
Although the Browns have been bringing their smoker to the market on weekdays for about a month, another local resident has been bringing his smoker to the market for about 2 years on Saturday mornings, Blair said.
SHE SAID organizers hadn't had any complaints about the smoker until recently.
"We don't want to cause any problems, we just want to do something about the smoke level," Blair said.
Brown said she spoke with all the vendors at the market, who told her the smoker was not producing too much smoke.
"This is a real big monumental problem that the city has to tackle our smoker," Nate Brown quipped. "If they don't have enough problems . . . it makes you wonder."