The following article was written by Kelly Carney of North Pulaski Farms. Several of our local farmers have contacted me asking for support for SB820. It seems the general concensus from local farmers I have spoken with is that, while there are problems this legislation may not resolve and a few it may create, overall it is a good piece of legislation. Our farmers who are actually growing their own produce should not have to unfairly compete at "farmer's markets" with those who are reselling cheap produce. Also as a consumer, I believe sellers should be require to disclose food sources (hint: if you see little stickers on the produce, the seller didn't grow it.)
Unfortunately, this morning I just got an update that this bill was pulled for an "interm study." Politics....sigh. In spite of this development, please still contact the Senators involved (see contact info below) and express your support for this legislation. Hopefully, if they hear our support the legislation will be revived. Our voices are important.
Every summer Saturday in Arkansas tens of thousands of dollars are spent on imported produce under the guise of “Farmers' Markets.” It is no wonder that legacy distribution providers and Arkansas’s big agriculture corporations are opposing SB820. (PDF found here.) They have hired lobbyists to work the system using old arguments in hopes of preserving the status quo. They are claiming that the law is too confusing and would hurt small farmers.
But this argument is without merit and nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, I don’t know what’s confusing about a law that requires all produce to be sold only by farmers at anything called "a Farmers' Market." The law does not prohibit crafts or other non-produce items from being sold there; it just says for the PRODUCE that is sold there to be sold only by farmers.
Another thing to note is that this does not add any more work than what most farmers are already doing. Most professional growers maintain a list of the crops they grow. In fact, North Pulaski Farm’s list is published on our website and is a key tool in marketing our crops. This information can then be used by the markets to help better supply the public. Markets can analyze the information and make recommendations to farmers with regard to projected supply. An example would be if everyone decided to grow tomatoes while no one was growing squash. The market could then make recommendations to its farmers accordingly. Farmers will be allowed to amend their list if they see an opportunity to fill a need.
SB820 requires each farmers' market to fill out a form and pay a small fee to get certified by the state. (Small markets will not have to pay the same fee as larger markets.) The Arkansas Department of Agriculture wants this process to be as EASY as possible.
Farmers growing and selling their produce will NOT have to buy a label gun. The farmer only has to identify the contents of the container from which the product is sold. This is already common practice.
The bill does NOT change the current tax rules. Today the ONLY people exempt from collecting sales taxes are farmers selling RAW produce directly to customers. In fact, this bill may actually increase sales tax revenue because the disclosure policy will force more accurate accounting of imported produce.
This bill will help small farms and increase food safety. As you know, food recalls frequently happen and will continue to happen. Knowing WHO grew a product and WHERE it was grown informs the public so it can make good food decisions. Additionally, more small farmers will have access to direct distribution channels to enable them to collect retail prices for their crops. A dollar spent with a small farmer recirculates in the economy more so than most any other dollar spent. And this bill will help create jobs because it helps small farms be sustainable from a business perspective.
The argument for local foods systems is obvious: the greater the amount of local production, the better for local communities. Study after study confirms that even small percentage shifts in buying practices create huge economic impacts. It’s what Arkansans expect at a farmers' market. In 2009, the University of Arkansas surveyed farmers' markets in the state and found that 71% of farmers' market customers go to the market for local reasons.
At a recent meeting of The River Market, I talked to a small farmer who has been spending his Friday nights for the last three years waiting to obtain a spot from which to sell. Since he does not re-sell any products, his attendance is based on when his crops are ready and does not score as well as others who mainly re-sell produce. Is it not enough that he is working the land and is subject to all that Mother Nature has to offer? Must he continue to sleep in his truck because legacy providers don’t want to give up their cash cow?
Arkansas should treat its small farmers better...and this bill does exactly that.
There has never been a more critical time than now or a better law to help small farmers in Arkansas.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?????!!!
1. Call To Action!! Please contact the following state representatives currently serving on the Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee and urge them to support SB820.
Senator Gene Jeffress, 870-689-3537 , Gene.Jeffress@senate.ar.gov
Senator Stephanie Flowers, 870-535-1032 , Stephanie.Flowers@senate.ar.gov
Senator Jimmy (Jim) Jeffress, 870-364-8291 , Jimmy.Jeffress@senate.ar.gov
Senator Jim Luker, 870-238-8588 , Jim.Luker@senate.ar.gov
Senator Mary Anne Salmon, 501-753-4521, email@example.com
Senator Randy Laverty, 870-446-5005 , Randy.Laverty@senate.ar.gov
Senator David Wyatt, 870-613-3014 , David.Wyatt@senate.ar.gov
Senator Mike Fletcher, 501-802-3114 , Mike.Fletcher@senate.ar.gov
--Kelly Carney, North Pulaski Farms
Speaking as a local-buying, farmers' market-frequenter, I absolutely favor farmers' markets where the produce sold there is actually GROWN in Arkansas! The River Market Farmers' Market shamelessly allows food from all sorts of places, pushing out our small, local farmers. The whole idea of buying locally is so that our revenue stays HERE as our revenue. Besides, it's more environmentally-friendly and sustainable and puts the power back in the hands of the consumer. You want more squash? Ask for it. You want to know the methods by which that squash gets grown? Ask...and get a real and honest answer straight from the horse's mouth. Isn't that better than buying from people who didn't do the growing and who purchased the produce from two or threes states away and then trucked it in, passing it off as implied "local produce" at your local farmers' market?
The simple fix is to let Congress know we support this bill (SB820) and want to see farmers' markets certified by the Department of Agriculture, the most important requirement of which is that produce sold there must be grown in the state or within 150 miles of the market itself. We want our "local food" to actually be...ummm...LOCAL!