State law sets up task force for overseeing farmers markets

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Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a law aimed at helping vendors and farmers sell produce at local farmers markets.

Approved June 21 the action creates a timeline for the Illinois Department of Public Health to select rules for streamlining and making consistent the regulations under which vendors will operate.

The health department has a Dec. 15 deadline to present the recommendations, and State Rep. Laura Fine, D-17th helped pass House Bill 5657.

“Each summer people from around our community enjoy visiting our local farmer’s market for the freshest produce and homemade goods,” Fine said.

“Unfortunately, the many regulations imposed on vendors have become confusing and burdensome, said Fine, whose district covers Evanston, Glenview, Golf, Morton Grove, Northbrook, Northfield, Skokie and Wilmette.

For instance, current rules vary widely on how farmers give food samples to customers, and how to refrigerate market food.

The task force will develop a sampling program that operates under one certificate and a set of statewide rules, explained Glenview resident Roxanne Junge, co-chair of the state’s Public Health’s Farmers Market Task Force.

“These regulations will be very favorable to vendors. Some farmers markets required them to have plug-in refrigeration for produce and food,” said Junge, who also manages Glenview Farmers Market at Historic Wagner Farm.

“Can you imagine how much that could offset vendors at farmers markets because of no available electricity?

“While other markets allow frozen products and foods to be maintained at safe temperatures with ice,” she said.

Glenview village health inspectors visited the farmers market two to three times during the 17-week season, she added.

“There have been no citations. I would been have alerted otherwise,” Junge said.

She also said vendors would be required to sell unprocessed produce that is labeled with addresses so that buyers can be assured of where it was grown.

Fine believed vendors posing as local growers or reselling out-of-state produce like grocery stores were a problem in the past.

“We suspected they were doing this, but they are out now. There is a certain trust between grower and buyer,” she said.

“I saw the new law coming so we required labeling this year in Glenview.”

Junge has visited about 15 farms in Illinois, Michigan and Indiana to verify growing locations.

For food made in home kitchens, known as cottage food operations, the health department would cap registration fees at $25 per year.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is developing educational materials to inform farmers, farmers’ market managers and the public on the impacts and changes set by the new law.

“Farmers, farmers market managers and those that support the burgeoning local food movement, have been asking for and working toward a number of the reforms included in House Bill 5657 for several years,” said Wes King, executive director of Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

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