By Wes King, Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Regional planning commissions, communities and economic development organizations are consistently including local food and farmers markets as part of their long term development plans. As a state we should be doing everything we can to support the growing local food and sustainable agriculture sector.
The nature of being a small farm selling at farmers markets often means selling in multiple counties, however when it comes to food safety regulations for farmers markets we have a patchwork quilt of regulations that varies sometimes dramatically from county to county burdening farmers and limiting consumer access to local food and farm products. Illinois needs smarter rules for farmers markets to support farmers markets, the jobs they retain, the jobs they create and the businesses they incubate.
Smarter rules for farmers markets are now on their way to becoming a reality thanks HB5657 sponsored by Representative Mike Tryon and Senator David Koehler. On Tuesday April 9th after considerable negotiations between public health stakeholders, the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Environmental Council and Illinois Stewardship Alliance; HB5657 passed the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously!
You can read the full text of the bill as amended, engrossed and passed by the House here. In summation HB5657 does 4 things:
- Creates a timeline for IL Department of Public Health’s Farmer Market Task force to complete recommendations for state wide rules and regulations for farmers markets and strengthens that task force’s authority and process for developing and finalizing said rules and regulations. The task force was originally created in statue by the general assembly in 2011. The bill gives the task force until December 15, 2014 to create their recommendations.
- Sampling of products is critical to any food business including those at farmers markets. HB5657 would authorize and instruct IDPH and the farmers market task force to develop a statewide sampling certificate/license that would allow a farmer or entrepreneur to offer product samples at any farmers market in the state under one certificate/license and under one consistent statewide set of rules.
- “Re-sellers” are a perennial issue at farmers markets, individuals who buy vegetable and fruits from a wholesale market and then show up at a farmers market pretending to be actual farmers. HB5657 would require farmers market vendors that sell produce to have a small sign, label or packing slip that said where their produce was grown. This only applies to specialty crops i.e. not meats, eggs, dairy or value-added products.
- Lastly this bill would cap the fees that local health departments can charge cottage food operations for registering at $25 per year. Most charge $0-25 but some outliers are charging $75, $90 and even $200. It also makes a change to the cottage food definition that allows a kitchen in an out building on someone’s residential property to be used.