Saturday, August 9, 2014

Are Farmer's Markets Under Attack?

The farmer's market today only resembles the markets I remember as a child. Pickup trucks lined up what whatever they had for sale. It actually looked more like a yard sale with veggies. I remember hoe handles, chickens, piglets, fruit, veggies, jams, jellies, bread, pies, salsa, pickles, and even bacon. Yup the old style bacon that after it was cured you could hang up somewhere and just cut off what you needed. Those were real farmer's markets. Seems like I even remember them having outhouses.

Sadly those are long since gone. Now they are much nicer. Covered places with electricity at each booth. Fans blowing, music playing and an authorized food vendor. Just because they are nicer doesn't mean they are better.

The first thing to go was of course  the outhouses. I understand completely, but they went to port- o- potties which in my opinion is the same thing. Then finally they moved to site built restrooms. Some of these are as nasty as the outhouses, some are really nice.

The next thing to go was the animals. They smell bad and you have to clean up after them. Oh and you know people cannot stand to hear crowing all the time. Having animals there will force parents to tell their children where supper comes from. Oh we can't have that!

Next was the meat. It didn't matter that it was salt cured or smoked in a smoke house. It didn't come from an inspected slaughterhouse. It doesn't matter that that was the way people had been preserving meat for hundreds if not thousands of years. We have evolved beyond that and don't want it around. By the way, I love salt cure ham and plan on building a smoke house of my own soon.

Okay, all of the undesirables are gone. Veggies, great. Fruits, great. Baked goods, fine. Jams, jellies, all good. Pickles, salsa, pepper sauce, no problem. Canned veggies....Wait just a minute! Are we sure these were processed properly? I know old Joe is here every week, and has been for years but what if? Okay so what if has been asked. Canned corn, potatoes, vegetable soup, peas, and beans gone. Pickles are still okay. High acid foods like salsa and canned tomatoes, they are okay too. Homemade jellies and jams, really anything with fruit is fine. 

Baked goods........well now. These people don't have commercial kitchens! How can we guarantee the public's safety? Yup that's right, baked goods are going away. In fact in a lot of areas even bake sales are becoming illegal. That's right! Churches and civic organizations that have used bake sales as a fund raiser are finding out they can no longer do so. These are just examples of what is happening locally. But it is not just happening here, this is occurring all over the country. Don't believe me, try buying some fresh milk. Milk that has not been pasteurized. In our state any raw milk sold must be labeled "Not for Human Consumption". 

If you are on social media at all you have heard about how the Michigan Department of Agriculture forced a Co-Op to dump hundreds of gallons of milk and break 100 dozen eggs. I have done as much independent research into this event as I have time for. I have been in contact with the dairy that sold the milk to the co-op and can confirm that this actually happened. As for the reason why I have been unable to ascertain. I have tried to contact the co-op, but I am sure they have been inundated with requests for information. The fact stands that this did occur and according to the dairy involved, the following article had the most contact with the coop owner. Michigan Farmer Forced to Dump 248 gallons of Milk and 1200 Eggs.

Why Is This Happening

If you will look closely at the places that are most strict you will find one of two types of places. First is the place that is fairly affluent. Places don't like "country people" being in their area. They want to go to Whole Foods. They don't want to know who grows their food. If it were up to them farmer's markets wouldn't exist close to them. It should be an adventure. They want to go "out there" if they want something special. A trip to the country is an adventure. There is an exception in this area. Sections that are considered artsy a lot of times will welcome farmer's markets. These people want homemade- especially cheeses and breads.

The second reason I believe, pressure is being applied to farmer's markets is also the biggest reason the changes are happening. Money. In order to sell at a farmer's market here you have to take a class, which you have to pay for. You have to rent a space. You have to declare sales tax. Remember I said baked goods were going away. Well, that is not technically true. You can still sell baked goods if you are willing to take another class. A more expensive class. Who holds these classes? The state. Now if you go through all of this stuff you will be certified. That state has protected the public. Add on top of that the local fees. Some counties charge a fee for being a seller at the farmer's market and all cities I know of do as well. 

So let's review. You grow something in your garden. You grow more than you need and want to sell the surplus to someone who wants it. Great. One thing first; you have to pay money you haven't earned yet to be able to sell what you haven't grown yet. After you have gotten the okay from the state the hands start showing up. County and city all want their piece of the pie you cannot sell unless you spend more money you haven't earned yet. If you don't do these things this way and we find out you are selling stuff on your own,the county or city will put you out of business because you do not have a business license. Remember the little girls and the lemonade stand? The link I provided was to Forbes, hardly alternative media.

What I Think

I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist. If you will think about this objectively I think you will agree with me at least on some level. I think it is all about control. Now I do not think Tropicana is worried about little kids having a lemonade stand. Heck the kids may have even been selling Tropicana lemonade. The initial desire for control is local, HOA, city, county, then state. Tax revenues are going down, I do not care what the media says. Look at it, you will see the truth. 

I do believe that big agriculture does not like farmer's markets. Every person that buys from a local producer, does not buy that item from big agriculture. GMO seeds are not available to the backyard gardener so companies like Monsanto who are starting to feel the backlash of public opinion. Since labeling of GMOs is not required, big agriculture wants people to buy at the grocery stores. Everyone wants your money and they don't want anyone else to get any. If you can only get your food in one place or from one source, they have the control.

A truck farmer used to be able to go to the farmer's market and sell all day. Anything they didn't sell they would just go to the local grocery store and sell their remaining produce to the local grocery store at a reduced price. The grocery store was then able to market locally grown produce. This is increasingly going away. Grocery stores have contracts with big agriculture producers. A lot of these contracts now include an exclusive supplier clause. That means the store cannot buy from anyone else. Truck farmers are finding they have fewer and fewer outlets for what they grow.

Why Be a Part of a Farmer's Market

There are still good reasons to put up with all of the garbage and be a part of a farmer's market. 
  1. The public knows where you are going to be and when.
  2. Networking (get to know the other growers)
  3. Learning (gardeners are very willing to share their knowledge, unless of course they are trying to grow the largest pumpkin or watermelon, that is top secret.)
  4. Advertising (advertising costs are shared by several farmers not just one family)
  5. People do not know where you live. (I have a friend who had a stand in their front yard and people would knock on his door to be able to buy things and would get angry if he told them he was eating dinner and to come back tomorrow.)

There will always be trouble makers. My aunt had canned some salsa and one of the big grower walked up and asked in a bad tone if she had the salsa tested at the health department. My family told her no. She said "You can't sell it then" turned on her heels and went to tell on them (Like a 5 year old) only to find out that salsa due to acid content did not have to be tested.....yet. Score one for the good guys for now.

I Want to Hear From You

Are farmer's markets and local producers being mistreated where you are? I would really like to know.

What I Want From A Politician

I would like just one politician to stand up and declare that it was their goal to make their city, county, or even state the freest place around. I actually want them to mean it. If one would do that, they would have my support.

Every time we grow our own food or buy food from the person that produces it we cut out several middle men. Big agriculture and government are the ones who are left out of that loop. Shouldn't we want to know who produced our food? I have the poster below on my refrigerator. I look at it every day to help me remember that growing your own food or knowing who does has become an act of rebellion.


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