A proposed bill that would change how St. Louis County permits and regulates farmers markets drew questions—and some support—at a meeting Tuesday in .
Several market officials spoke before the St. Louis County Council Committee of the Whole, arguing the changes are unnecessarily restrictive, provide no accommodations for markets in the off-season and put the legal burden of ensuring food safety on market managers.
It marks the latest in and the can co-exist.
Health director defends proposed farmers market changes
Dr. Dolores Gunn, director of the health department, said the proposed changes would keep fees lower than those found in St. Charles or Jefferson counties while prioritizing food safety.
For example, vendors who prepare food at the market would pay $75 for a seven-month permit at a single market, as opposed to the $35 they currently pay every two weeks. It would also cap permit fees at $193 for vendors who sell at multiple county locations throughout the regular season.
Gunn took issue with an alternative proposal by some market managers. She said it would extend the lifespan of permits to 12 months, putting vendors on par with restaurants and requiring them to adhere to stricter food standards
"You're operating as a restaurant without the full laws," Gunn said.
Additionally, she said, it would create a fee exemption for Illinois farmers—something that would require state approval—and allow pets at markets, increasing the risk of food contamination.
Market managers question provisions for winter markets, liability
Gunn's presentation to the committee didn't appear to convince Clayton Farmer's Market manager Deb Henderson.
"This bill still has a lot of problems," she said. Henderson said permits should function for one year to accommodate winter markets that operate in cities such as Clayton and Maplewood.
Gunn responded that the new regulations would allow for winter markets. Vendors would be required to get two permits, one for the regular season and another for the winter market.
Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger (R-Town and Country) said the proposal's language can be tweaked if necessary to clarify the winter market issue.
"I think that's reasonable," she said.
Henderson also questioned the proposal's language as it relates to the liability of market managers. She said while market codes of incorporation in cities such as Ellisville hold vendors responsible for food safety, the proposed changes would hold managers responsible.
Gunn said the changes only require market managers to follow basic steps such as ensuring vendors are permitted, knowing which vendors are present at a market, ensuring that running water and bathrooms are available.
A violation by one vendor would not require the shuttering of an entire market, she said.
Other commenters address permit duration, thank county officials
Market manager Brian DeSmet of the Maplewood Farmers Market also questioned the seven-month permit. He said it's not possible for vendors to operate a restaurant year-round at his market, and he asked whether current permits might be updated for use over 120 operating days as opposed to consecutive ones. That might eliminate the need to get both regular-season and winter market permits.
At the same time, he acknowledged that the proposed changes would help vendors who make food on-site. DeSmet described one Maplewood vendor who makes tofu from Missouri soybeans and provides samples to visitors.
"He's definitely in a better situation now," DeSmet said.
Kathy Noelker, manager of the Ferguson Farmers' Market, encouraged the committee to keep the county moving ahead with whatever regulations it approves. She said it would be easy for the health department to trace an outbreak of salmonella to a specific farmer selling at a market.
"It's important that St. Louis County does not appear to be moving backward," Noelker said.
Kori Thompson, market master for the Kirkwood Farmers' Market, thanked the committee and the health department for their work to streamline the permitting process.
She recalled a kettlecorn vendor from Columbia, MO, who stopped coming to St. Louis because of the cost of permits.
Now she is more optimistic.
"I hope that we can all come together, let this go through," Thompson said.