The following was submitted to the Santa Cruz County Health Department during the public comment period for the proposed new health code:
Farmers markets are targeted for licensing, inspection and grading under the county’s proposed new 67-page Health Code. Farmers markets are low-profit operations that offer products that often are not available in traditional food establishments. They have a clientele that is often looking for natural, healthy or non-industrial foods. The items may be holistic, organic or cutting-edge products that don't fit into the defined regulatory structure of government inspectors.
My family participates in farmers markets as vendors and consumers. These markets offer great products and allow an eclectic mix of sellers and buyers to interact with each other. It is understood that they are outside the industrial food production economy. That is part of the appeal.
The vendors obtain repeat customers by producing quality products and by explaining their production methods to their consumers in face-to-face encounters. Often, the items sold are produced in traditional farm or home-type environments or in backyard gardens to fit the desires of consumers. Production facilities don't fit the definition of commercial kitchens or commercial agricultural operations.
Commercial upgrades would negate the idea of “farm-produced.” Most vendors would quit when faced with required commercial upgrades. Those that survived would no longer be producing truly natural home-grown, home-produced food. The result would no longer be a farmers market.
Avoidance of standardized, homogenized and pasteurized industrial-produced food is one of the appeals. Many of the trends in probiotic and raw foods containing beneficial living elements started in farmers markets. Such things had been considered unhealthy per established food-inspection protocols.
The raw milk revolution was the first wave of the kefir and probiotic trend. The previously unknown benefits of unpasteurized products were first revealed in farmers markets. Homemade living-culture yogurt products broke the taboo on unpasteurized products in the 1960s. The persistence of natural food producers in farmers markets led to many healthful products becoming mainstream.
The requirement within the proposed new health code to require farmers' markets to submit to licensing and grading will potentially destroy these alternative food sources. Many people procure alternative, organic, or holistic foods and remedies from farmers markets because of their desire to avoid factory-produced “officially approved” food.
Farmers markets also represent one of the bastions of freedom in the economy. People who want to be their own boss sometimes choose the farmers market environment. It is a small part of the economy, but one that offers the American dream of running your own business without having to ask for permission.
Sometimes vendors are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and trying to do what they can to serve their fellow man and to raise their families out of poverty. Let's not hinder them and kill that little bit of the American dream that exists in the farmers' markets. Any additional expenses, inspections, or licensing requirements could spell the end for these small businesses and could sour the appeal of farmers’ markets.
Let people “live on the edge” and buy home-made tamales out of the back of a beat-up station wagon from an impoverished little old lady or buy cheese for quesadillas from a rancher that makes delicious cheese from the milk of his own cows.
(Hathaway is a resident of Rio Rico.)