3/20/2014 4:37:00 PM State stepping up to simplify and clarify farmer market rules
by DENISE MARTIN
Local farmers’ markets may not open for months; but even though Mother Nature is taking a break there’s little rest in the world of farmers markets. Market managers are figuring out ways to get more farmers into the local venues, and to provide more sites, and one way to do this is for local governing bodies to be able to know exactly what legally constitutes a farmers market. The state legislature is being asked to adopt definitions and to also provide consistent state standards, while streamlining some of the department of health rules to make it simpler for farmers’ markets to do business. Local state Representative Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, is carrying a bill that would do just that, HF 2178.
It passed the House Agricultural Commitee last week, Rep. Barrett reports, and is headed to the floor of the House. “The definition has never been in state law,” said Barrett in e mail correspondence. “Certain cities were given authority to regulate themselves...all of this led to inconsistent application of various law.” He noted the bill has bi-partisan support, co-authored by representatives for Northfield and St. Cloud and that the companion bill in the senate SF 2060 is carried by Sen. Lourey, D-Kerrick. Cecilia Mangini-Coulter, Chisago City farmers’ market manager, was one of the individuals Rep. Barrett met with over the last several months crafting the measure. The problems Barrett heard about had to do with state health department regulations on demonstration, sampling, hours, etc. at the markets.
Barrett says the bill provides for the same level of food safety by vendors as before. Improving access to farmers markets is something Coulter is actively involved in. She’ll be a presenter at a regional vendor meeting at Mora City Hall, March 25. The formation of a regional farmers’ market consorium is on the agenda along with offering EBT card transactions at markets, insurance issues and other discussion. The Mora Farmers Market will be four-years old this summer. The regional informational session starts at 6 p.m. March 25. The city hall is located at 101 Lake Street South in Mora. You can refer to the city website at www.ci.mora.mn.us or call Beth Thorp at 1-320-225-4807. After March 25 the market website should be up at www.farmersmarket.cityofmora.com.
Nationally, there’s a lot of conversation about sustainable agriculture. The congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011 in response to a law that hasn’t really been updated since 1938 and to deal with national food contamination and illness situations that are becoming more prevalent. The public comment period for new FDA rules just ended in 2013. The “rulemaking” will continue but there has been some progress in recognizing the role of family farms and small producers. Tom Vilsak, U.S. Dept of Agriculture, said in a news release last week the FSA is expanding loans for farm storage facilities. Also, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition state it is “working with the FDA” on key issues that surfaced during review of the federal FSMA. The coalition is hopeful the federal rules will clarify “direct marketing operations” and place them under less burdensome regulations as the large food growers. The goal is leading to a flexible scale and supply chain-appropriate framework supporting a more sustainable food and agriculture system.”