Definition of farmers market under scrutiny

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 01, 2010, at 11:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Confusion over the legal definition of what constitutes a Maine farmers market has prompted a proposal to revise the law.

The proposal will be discussed Wednesday by members of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

A forum on the issue drew more than 100 people Saturday at the Maine Farmers’ Market Convention, held at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast.

“It was a great discussion,” Ned Porter, deputy agriculture commissioner, said Monday.

Porter explained that the issue was formally raised last year when a Maine farmer was denied entry into a local market because the market was full. That farmer complained to the Maine Department of Agriculture, saying there were crafters at the farmers market while a food producer was being turned away.

His complaint led to a discussion that included the issue of whether vendors at farmers markets must grow at least 75 percent of what they sell. That discussion in turn led to a review of the law.

The bill suggests a change in language to require that 75 percent of all products sold at the market must be farmer-made, but the bill could make further changes to the definition, Porter said.

Barbara Anothony, who has worked with the Machias Farmers Market for the past 18 years, said the current law is vague and unworkable.

“We always had trouble understanding the state definition,” she said. “Is it 75 percent of a bunch, 75 percent of all items on a table, or 75 percent of vendors at the market?”

“It never was clear, and we need help,” Anothony said Monday. “I agree that we shouldn’t allow vendors to bring in produce from Canada or Massachusetts, but the law needs to be a lot clearer.”

The current law “appears to be silent on the issue of Maine products,” Porter said, and that also needs to be addressed.

The current definition describes a farmers market as a place used by two or more farmers for the direct sale of farm and food products. The description of those products does not state the products must be Maine-grown or -made.

Many individual markets, however, have requirements that vendors must grow or make their own items in Maine, with Maine materials.

Porter said part of the discussion will center on crafters, other vendors and baked goods.

“We need to include food, fiber and flowers,” he said. “But at the same time, there needs to be a general recognition that the state law will be the minimum standard and that individual markets can adopt stricter guidelines.”

The Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the bill, LD 1586, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/02/01/news/definition-of-farmers-market-under-scrutiny/ printed on September 1, 2014