Small scale farmers and market gardeners meeting on April 16th in Berryville were excited and elated by the passage of Arkansas House Bill 1323. Passage permits farmers' markets vendors to sell foods they prepare at home to market customers.
State Representative Bryan King was a principal author of the bill and responsible for steering it through the legislative process. Although the bill drew little attention from the general public, it has enormous potential to increase small farmer's incomes and is a consequential and important economic development step.
The title of the Bill is as follows:
AN ACT TO EXEMPT COTTAGE FOOD OPERATIONS, FARMERS' MARKETS, AND OTHER SIMILAR FOOD SALES ENTITIES FROM PERMITS REQUIREMENTS.
What the bill does is to declare home production of certain types of food a "cottage industry" not requiring time consuming and sometimes complicated approvals and oversight from health departments and other regulators. It means, briefly, that people can prepare certain foods in their home kitchens and sell them directly to the general public at farmers' markets.
Among the approved foods are bakery products, candy, fruit butters, maple syrup, sorghum, honey, and jams and jellies. Fresh fruit and vegetables, mainstay products of farmers' markets are, as always, allowed. What these products have in common is that they present minimal hazards for contamination.
One important point in the Bill is that the person who makes the product must be the person who sells the product. This assures that the vendor is available to answer customer questions, and helps customers identify the responsible party for the safety and quality of the sold product.
Local farmers are delighted by the Bill's passage because it allows them to lower costs and expand income. For example, a fruit producer who has good fruit, but which may not attractive because of bruises or shape, can process the fruit into a jam or jelly and sell it at the next market--or at the next several market events.
This helps farmers "time" markets better because they can process foods that don't sell, and it frees them from worries about spoilage and wrong decisions about over or under production of certain types of products. It also helps them avoid expensive cold storage investments and the associated energy costs.
The passage of Bill 1323 also signals awareness among legislators of the growing contribution that small farmers and market gardeners make to our overall community food security. As transportation costs go up, along with costs for field inputs such as chemical fertilizers and herbicides, local and natural production becomes more and more affordable and allows small farmers to provide communities with consistent access to safe, high quality, and locally grown foods.
We thank and salute Rep. King for sponsoring and securing this important farm, family, and community friendly legislation. Well done, Mr. King!