Farmers market legislation: Growing pains

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate June 14, 2014 03:28 pm

An Ocean Air Farms booth sells produce at the Crescent City Farmers Market on June 7. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
 The Crescent City Farmers Market continues to boom with 60 vendors expected on Saturday. Meanwhile, Gasquet and Klamath farmers markets kick off on Sunday.

But a new Assembly bill making its way through the California Senate may limit the variety of produce Del Norte County’s markets are able to offer. 

If passed, AB 1871 will require agricultural vendors at certified farmers markets to display signage that states the vendor only sells product they have grown or raised on California land that they control. Agricultural vendors will also be required to display a sign with the name of the farm or ranch and the county where their product was grown or raised.

The bill would also increase the daily stall fee that the California Department of Food and Agriculture charges certified farmers markets for each vendor from the current rate of 60 cents to $2. This would be used for state and county enforcement efforts. 

Sacramento Assemblyman Roger Dickinson introduced the bill in February in response to problems with fraud at more than two dozen Los Angeles area farmers markets.

A staffer in Dickinson’s office confirmed that if AB 1871 passes, out-of-state farmers selling fresh produce and flowers will no longer be allowed at certified farmers markets in California. It would not affect farmers and artisans selling other products, she said.

However, Ron Phillips, manager of the Crescent City Farmers Market, said if the bill passes it would prevent him from offering produce from Southern Oregon. 

If passed, legislation moving through the California Assembly would prevent out-of-state farm products from being sold at the Crescent City Farmers Market if it retains its status as a certified market. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson

In addition to selling Del Norte County produce, the local farmers market offers corn, tomatoes and peaches grown in Kerby, just north of Cave Junction. The market has also offered mushrooms from Bossi’s Mushroom Farms in Gold Beach. If AB 1871 passes, Phillips worries that the Crescent City Farmers Market will shrink.

“That would leave us back down with Ocean Air Farms, and hopefully this new (farm), Yung Lake, will do well enough they will continue to come to the market,” he said, referring to a new vendor based on Lower Lake Road. “We’re trying to build a market and get people to eat healthy and those kinds of things. For us up here on the border (AB 1871) could be a real problem.”

Currently, Del Norte County farmers who want to sell at the Crescent City market receive a certificate from Agricultural Commissioner Jim Buckles listing the items they want to sell, Phillips said. Growers from other California counties receive similar permits from their local agriculture departments. If those farms want to sell new products, Phillips said, he makes sure they get in touch with the agricultural commissioner to get those items listed on their certificate.

For the Oregon growers that sell at the market, Phillips tries to maintain the same level of scrutiny as the Del Norte producers, he said.

“I visit all of my farms once I know what they’re growing,” he said. “I know what they can sell and what they can’t sell.”

Phillips said he also worries about having to increase the fees his vendors pay to have a stall at the market. These fees would apply to anyone who wants to have a stall at the market, he said, including local artists. 

The extra revenue would be used to make sure farmers are only selling produce and products they themselves have grown, raised or crafted, but Phillips said that task should fall to individual market managers. He said he takes the job a step further and requires that anyone selling any arts and crafts be the actual person who created the items they are selling.

When he took his concerns to the Certified Farmers Market Advisory Committee, Phillips said he was told that if AB 1871 passes, he could sell Oregon produce as an uncertified farmers market. But, he said, one of the benefits of being a certified farmers market is that market goers know they are buying their products directly from the folks who grew, raised or created them.

“There are 800-something certified farmers markets in California. Why wouldn’t we want to be a part of that?” Phillips said.

Phillips added that he’s communicating with Del Norte County’s Assemblyman, Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), about how this bill would affect the local market.

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