Growing pains

Walker Claridge, Broadway Brewery co-owner, farmer and general bon vivant sells at the Maplewood farmers market.

The Post-Dispatch has an intriguing story on the growing pains – and internal politics – generated by the explosion of farmers markets around the country.

At the Maplewood Farmers Market last year, things didn’t end as well for one vendor.

Word spread in the self-policing world of the market that the vendor operated a concentrated animal feeding operation, known as a CAFO, violating the expectations of most farmers market shoppers.

“They were upset about it, and I understand why,” Bini, Maplewood’s manager, said. “But it’s not written in our rules that CAFOs are not allowed. We just say you have to sell your own product.”

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

3 thoughts

  1. St. Charles has one of the oldest markets in the area. It has been in existance for at least 30 years. It has always been low key-no music,face painting, website etc. With all the markets popping up it has diluted the pool of vendors. Now the county is further putting the screws to the vendors.

    http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2010/03/01/stcharles/news/0303stc-farm0.txt

    This is an email I received with further info.
    Hello friends,

    I am writing to you in hopes that you will consider joining our effort against outrageous fees for local farmers at our farmer’s markets in St. Charles County. First I will provide a summary of the situation, will invite you to attend the upcoming county council meeting, and finally will give you a list of representatives you can contact regarding our shared concern.

    This February, the St. Charles County Health Department announced it will require a $50 permit–that is good for only two weeks–of vendors who sell meat, cheese, or who provide free samples of food (such as sliced produce or cooked egg casseroles). This law dates back several years but has never before been enforced.

    The health department maintains that because farmer’s markets are offering a greater variety of products, they are now subject to routine inspections. It also states that the $50 fee amount was based on manhours needed within the department to enforce this policy.

    However, it is clear that farmers are disproportionally charged when compared to stationary vendors in the area. For example, Whole Foods pays nothing for its annual health inspection permit, and is inspected four times yearly and carries several thousand different products. Also, the health department explains that there is no definition of a farmer’s market, and therefore it falls under the “temporary” permit category (as opposed to stationary) alongside festivals. The reality is, farmer’s market vendors sell their products to small crowds on a Saturday morning, while festival vendors typically sell cooked food to hundreds and even thousands of people over a 2-4 day event.

    The option exists for a farmer to choose to purchase an annual permit at the cost of $100 ($75 to renew in subsequent years), but to qualify is required the additional investment of several hundreds of dollars and up for industrial-type equipment: the “mobile hand-washing and ware-washing” station, the commissary, equipment to haul the equpiment, and $200 and up for ServSafe training.

    Needless to say, some farmers are financially unable to meet either of these permit requirements, and will not participate in the market this season.

    Missouri is home to approximately 140 farmer’s markets. No other county in the state requires permit fees that range between $550 and $800 a season. In comparison, Adair County charges $20 per season, and requires a $15 class every 3 years. St. Louis County charges $75 per season.

    Enforcement of a policy that eliminates farmers from their own market will prove a tri-fold disservice to ours: it will drive farmers out and customers across the river; it will leave fewer patrons for remaining vendors; and it will eliminate access to organically, humanely, and locally produced meat and meat products from our area.

    Please show your support for local farmers and local food by attending the County Council meeting on Monday, April 12, at the courthouse on Third Street, at 7:00 p.m. We will ask the council to set a lower permit fee that is congruent with other counties in our state and fiscally reasonable for farmers.

    Please forward this email to anyone you feel would be interested to know this information.

    Many thanks,
    Karen Schone

    Not sure how the county council meeting April 12 turned out- no news reports or minutes posted.
    Sorry this so long.

  2. Fascinating article, thanks. One of the things I most appreciate about selling at the Columbia Farmers Market is that the producer-only rule is taken very seriously.

    It’s also interesting to read about another silly Health Department, as I know many vendors who think our local one is over the top. They’ve threatened legal action against CFM multiple times. When I visited the Ferry Plaza farmers market in San Francisco a few years back, and talked to those farmers about our H.D. rules back home, they were astonished. Shows how screwy the food world is, that there’s more intrusive government in food in Missouri than San Francisco.

    Finally, the CAFO incident is fascinating. I’ll just say that could happen at CFM as well. Certainly we have vendors who are also large crop farmers receiving typical subsidies for typical commodities. I think that’s their business, between them and their consumers, but it’s fair to say that many customers assume every face at a farmers market is a nice, small, independent homestead farm and that’s often not the case. Know your farmer means more than the face.

    Funny how success for small farmers means more red tape, but it doesn’t work that way in other industries. Any chance I can have the same free client relationship that Goldman Sachs is claiming? Not to mention the absurdity of assuming a customer at a market can’t tell for themselves whether a sample is clean. You can order raw meat or fish at a restaurant, for Pete’s sake, but in Columbia or St Charles you can’t cut open an apple or a tomato in front of a customer.

  3. Loads of nonsense out there, that’s for sure. We’ve got ourselves in a position where food is the enemy, only to be understood by scientists and experts and health inspectors. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

    How hard is that to remember?

    And Martha, thanks for sharing the STL article…I hadn’t seen that.

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