Enforcing a producer-only market

The Columbia Farmers Market is a producer-only market with a strict radius; the rules make that very clear. Not only must you grow or produce the items you sell, that production must happen within a roughly 55-mile radius that is defined by county boundaries.

Not everyone knows or believes this. Most market-related comment threads on the Tribune eventually feature someone claiming this isn’t so, and I occasionally get customers who don’t realize or don’t believe that the products are really local.

It’s a good rule but difficult to enforce perfectly, and it’s fair to keep an eye out for possible violations. Last winter the market amended its rules to clarify that CSAs distributing shares at market were also covered by producer-only; several CSAs that were offering purchased non-farm items in their shares had to stop or change their practices as a result. The market also conducts inspections to help verify whether a given operation is legitimate; I took part in several during the two years I served on the market board.

The penalty for obvious violations of either producer-only or the radius is expulsion. This happened in the past week to one of the fruit vendors, which I learned about when they didn’t show up to the spot they’ve occupied next to us lately. This vendor had had an orchard in Missouri for years, but when I asked, I was told that the vendor had apparently moved to a new orchard in Illinois but hadn’t told anyone, and had started bringing peaches and fruits from Illinois. And thus they were asked to leave the market.

This isn’t just second-hand; the next day I found a listing in the Columbia-area Craiglist Farm & Garden section that spelled out the story from the vendor’s point of view:

We were previously selling from our orchard at the Columbia Farmers Market; however, because we are Illinois growers, we have been asked to not participate

I liked them; they were the only vendor offering limited amounts of no-spray peaches, along with excellent grapes. But rules are rules, and are there for a reason. I thought this story would be of interest to market shoppers who often don’t get much of a view of how things operate behind the scenes.

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