Thursday, October 25, 2012
Plano farmers disgruntled by city effort to establish a farmers market
Farmers say the draft ordinance contains several unnecessary and irregular standards.
PLANO Plans to open a farmers market at Fairview Farms have once again been tabled.
Kari Gates, a Plano-based organic farmer, first attempted to get approval from the city earlier this year, but ran into trouble due to the lack of a specific farmers market permit. An ordinance creating the permitting process has still not been finalized, further delaying Gates' progress.
"We still have to formulate our nonprofit organization that will operate the market," Gates said, adding work cannot really begin until the guidelines the market must operate under are known. "... We have been working on this for eight months and [the city has] been working on this for two years -- what is taking so long?"
At Monday's city council meeting, city staff presented a draft version of the ordinance, which they hope will be approved at the Nov. 12 meeting. Prior to the approval, a public hearing will be held to give Gates and her fellow farmers a chance to offer their input.
The 66-page draft ordinance would allow for farmers markets in the city, but would limit vendors from selling anything other than produce.
"We are focusing on the low-risk foods," said Geoffrey Heinicke, the city's environmental health manager. "Basically anything that isn't required to be kept at a certain temperature."
The city is not allowed to require mechanical refrigeration, Heinicke said, so city staff was concerned about the potential for foodborne illness due to items such as eggs and meats being stored at improper temperatures.
Any market operator wishing to sell items such as cheese, eggs or meat must obtain a supermarket permit, which has strict refrigeration requirements. Georgia's Farmers Market on East 15th Street operates under this permit, Heinicke said.
Gates, who has a three-acre farm in east Plano, said ordinances in neighboring cities are much more vendor-friendly, and that Plano's ordinance should be similar to those in McKinney and Frisco.
She said a supermarket permit should not be required if a vendor wishes to sell items such as handmade cheese or farm-fresh eggs, items that are popular at other markets in the area. In addition, requiring a market to install expensive refrigeration equipment would not be cost-effective since the market would be open at the most only a few hours each week, and vendors already have their own equipment to keep foods cool, she said.
Another local farmers market operator was blunter in his criticism of the draft ordinance.
Brian Cummings of EatGreenDFW said limiting the market to only produce is a bad decision and that a portion of the ordinance that requires vendors to submit a list of everything they will be selling five days before the market opens is unreasonable.
"The only thing the ordinance, as currently written, guarantees is that Plano will never have a farmers market," said Cummings, who added that he hoped to open a market in Plano in 2010 before the permitting process caused his partners to lose interest. "I have never seen a requirement forcing people to turn in lists of their foods at any market I have ever been associated with."
Judith McGeary is the executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, a group dedicated to protecting farmers and ranchers and ensuring laws and regulations are written in a fair manner. McGeary said the ordinance proposed in Plano contains several requirements that she has never seen before.
One of the requirements -- that the market have a certified food manager on duty at all times -- is typically only required when people are selling cooked food at the market. She said this is a high-level certification that is unnecessary. Another requirement that every vendor, as well as all of the volunteers that staff the market, to take a two-hour food handlers course is "more reasonable," but also unusual for vendors who are not selling pre-prepared food.
McGeary also said health concerns are being overblown. She said while food safety is always a concern, she was unaware of any outbreaks of foodborne illnesses linked to farmers markets in Texas.
In the two years the city has been working on the ordinance, Heinicke said he and other staff members have worked with the cities of Lewisville, Carrollton, Coppell, McKinney, Allen, Garland and Richardson to come up with a regional farmers market ordinance.
"The goal is to get all the different cities on the same page so we are all operating with a similar set of requirements," he said.
The final version of the ordinance will not be available for viewing until the agenda packet is posted for the Nov. 12 meeting, Heinicke said.
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