ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Farmers Market Executive Director Anton Burkett has resigned his position after being accused of racist behavior during a recent incident at the market involving a Black employee.

The Ithaca Farmers Market’s Board of Directors confirmed the resignation in a statement to the Ithaca Voice on Saturday, Oct. 16, and said Burkett’s resignation was effective Oct. 7. Burkett is a well-known figure in the local farming and organic food scene and served as the leader of the farmers market since September 2020.

“The Ithaca Farmers Market Board of Directors offers our sincere apologies to our community in light of a recent incident involving our Executive Director’s treatment of a youth employee,” read the statement, signed by the market’s Board of Directors. “We acknowledge that this incident was mishandled and worsened through a series of actions and decisions that were unprofessional and racist.”

More specifically, the incident apparently occurred during a recent workday when Burkett noticed that “a substantial amount of cash” was missing from his wallet in the office at the market, as well as other items from the office. Only two employees beside Burkett had access to the office, one of whom is Black—Burkett then ostensibly accused that employee of the theft. Later, another employee was found in possession of the items.

Burkett said that after the situation had ended, the Black employee, who is a minor, “indicated that [Burkett’s] handling of the situation left them feeling accused of theft and singled out because of race.”

“I wasn’t aware of the impact of my actions until hearing accounts of the young employee’s feelings after the incident had concluded,” Burkett wrote in a statement. “At that point, I realized that I handled this situation insensitively to the different ways that we experience the world. It was particularly insensitive to how a member of a racially marginalized group would receive my actions.”

Burkett continued that upon realizing “the pain I had caused the employee and their family, I immediately sent a sincere apology.” Days later, after reflecting on the situation, Burkett said he resigned from his position. Now, he said he is seeking ways to “close the gaps” in his racial awareness and grow from the process so he can provide leadership in the future.

Board of Directors President David Stern declined to identify the employee because of their age. He said in an interview that the farmers market community had reacted strongly to the situation as versions of the story spread around, but that he appreciated people holding the market accountable.

“We recognize IFM’s responsibility for decisive action due to the harm this has caused and for examining the underlying context in which this harm occurred,” states the letter from the Board of Directors. “The Executive Director has expressed his deep regrets and apologized, and in response to comments and calls for decisive action, he has tendered his resignation. We have accepted his resignation with full understanding that while it addresses the immediate need for accountability, it is only a step in working towards fully championing and embodying diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism at our market.”

The resignation comes at a crucial time for the farmers market, as it seeks input about what should be included in its expansive planned renovations that could take place over the next few years. Word of the resignation began to spread widely last week in a Reddit post, though certain details of that post have been disputed by both Stern and Burkett—specifically that vendors at the market had been told by the Board of Directors to keep quiet about the incident.

“The IFM Board is keenly aware that word of this incident has reverberated throughout our community,” the statement concludes. “We humbly ask for your support and goodwill as we navigate IFM’s future with new awareness of lessons learned.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com