Atlanta, Dallas and Cleveland among cities looking to regulate farmers markets
One complaint came from a citizen concerned about market safety. The other was from a vendor who was refused a spot in a local Atlanta market. What was that vendor looking to sell? Mobile phones. Sour grapes, anyone?
Part of regulating the weekend markets involves requiring permits, which is a big deal for these small ongoing markets. Organizers need to keep their prices low, so that small farmers can afford to come set up. Right now, they city is requiring the same permits that apply to large one-time events, such as a $250 administrative permit which must be renewed every 90 days.
Markets with more than 250 attendees also may be required to hire a public safety officer.
I spoke with Judith Winfrey, one of the organizers for the East Atlanta Village (EAV) Farmers Market. The EAV farmers market has been running for five years, boasting around 20 vendors and 250-300 shoppers each week. She talked about how the new rules were affecting them:
For the first time in 5 years, we have been required to obtain two permits from the City of Atlanta: The Special Administrative Permit and the Special Event Permit. Additionally, we are voluntarily obtaining a police officer to oversee the market and keep our vendors and shoppers safe.
Judith says that she's "found the city to be very cooperative in this process," and points out that "producer-only markets are very different from a flea market or arts festival. We are comprised of small, local farmers who are bringing their goods to sale directly from the farm." Atlanta does have regulations in place for other sorts of markets, but trying to apply them to farmers markets places an undue financial burden on the organizers and the farmers. Fortunately, the city is open to working out rules that will apply specifically to farmers markets.
The concern is what those rules will be and what fees will accompany them. Judith says that at the EAV market, they "charge our vendors just enough to pay for our costs. In that regard, even an extra $250 in fees is a signfigant line item in our budget." She seems hopeful that the city will be supportive but points out that we won't really know until we see the code that they're drafting.
City of Atlanta officials insist that they fully support farmers markets and only want regulations to help keep people safe.
Help a Farmer Out
The city is working right now to come up with the new code for intown farmers markets, and your voice matters! Slow Food Atlanta shared a great letter that you can send to Mayor Reed to let the city government know that you support our local farmers markets:
Dear Mayor Reed and City Government Leaders,
I am writing you as a constituent, to ask for your support in ensuring that local farmers markets are able to operate sustainably in our city. I appreciate the support your office has provided as your administration seeks to create a space for farmers markets in the city policies. I ask that the city not place undue burden, financial or otherwise, on our farmers markets as the policies are being drafted to govern their activities.
Sincerely, Farmers Market Supporter
Market Crackdowns in Other Cities
Atlanta isn't the only city where farmers markets have had regulation problems.
The Urbana Farmers Market in Champaign, Illinois had issues last year when the city enforced a rule banning the sale of home made baked goods. Like in Atlanta, problems arose when the city turned its attention to these markets. However, unlike the situation here, there was a long-standing law on the books about selling baked goods commercially.
Last summer in Cleveland, vendors at area markets faced shutdowns because of improperly refrigerating meat and dairy products. An old rule on the books required "mechanical refrigeration," which these small vendors couldn't afford. This makes sense in some ways from a public health perspective, but it feels like inspectors took things too far in some cases. Raw meat is one thing, but they shut down a pie vendor for improper refrigeration, despite him freezing the pies before heading to market and storing them in a cooler full of dry ice.
Vendors in Clevelend selling "potentially hazardous food" now have to apply for city licenses at $30 per week or over $200 per year. For a small farmer, that amount of money is a big deal.
Dallas had a similar situation last year where health inspectors were visiting markets and shutting down vendors that didn't have mechanical refrigeration for their cold foods or hot water to wash their hands. The Dallas Health Department wants these farmers to have quarterly permits, which the vendors say are cost prohibitive.