June 27, 2022

New legislation expands farmers market opportunities

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — New legislation passed by the General Assembly will bring more meat, eggs, dairy and farm-raised frozen products to farmers markets across Illinois.

The Farmers’ Market Permit Act, SB3838, sponsored by Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, and Rep. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City, creates smart new regulations to govern the sale of meat, eggs and dairy at farmers markets, enabling farmers to reach new customers, while giving the public greater access to farm-fresh Illinois products.

Illinois is home to over 300 farmers markets and thousands of small farms that rely on these markets as a primary means of connecting with customers. While the sale of fruits and vegetables is largely unregulated and requires no local licensing, a patchwork of complicated regulations governs the sale of meat, eggs, dairy and other refrigerated products.

In Illinois, local health departments often regulate farmers selling meat, eggs and dairy at farmers markets in the same manner that they might regulate restaurants and grocery stores. The associated licenses and fees are often not scale-appropriate for farmers market vendors.

Additionally, there is no reciprocity across county lines. The licensing procedures and fees vary county to county, and farmers must get a license and pay a fee in every county in which they vend.

In some counties, that fee is as high as $400 annually. Selling in multiple counties was not economical for many farmers.

“My farm is just an hour away from farmers markets in Bloomington, Danville and Champaign, but when I started looking into the regulations and cost to get a permit in each county, it was just too expensive and too complicated to navigate,” said farmer Ed Dubrick of DuChick Ranch in Cissna Park.

“A restaurant or retailer selling daily could perhaps afford those fees, but for a farmer like me trying to sell at a farmers market once a week it didn’t make sense.”

Heather Althoff of Althoff Farms in La Prairie was also impacted by the current system. Althoff noted that she wished to expand sales of her grass-fed beef into farmers markets in surrounding counties, but the fees in those counties had prevented her from doing so.

Both Dubrick and Althoff worked with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Farmers Market Association to help draft and champion the Farmers’ Market Permit Act.

The Farmers’ Market Permit Act will:

• Create a new, scale-appropriate Farmers’ Market Permit to govern the sale of meat, eggs and dairy by farmers at farmers markets, clearly delineating farmers from restaurants and retailers.

• Standardize the regulations and permitting requirements across counties so that farmers fully understand what is expected.

• Cap fees for the permit at $75 for farmers that only sell eggs and $175 for farmers that sell any combination of meat, eggs and dairy, ensuring that it is economical for farmers to vend in multiple counties.

“This new legislation will support the livelihood of small farmers, improve farmers markets and make it easier for Illinois shoppers to buy local meat, eggs and dairy products,” said Molly Pickering, Illinois Stewardship Alliance deputy director.

“Looking at the big picture, Illinois imports an estimated 95% of the food consumed in our state. All that money goes out-of-state instead of supporting small farms and building local economies here in our hometowns.

“We see the Farmers’ Market Permit Act as one step towards helping Illinois farmers feed Illinois, making our communities more self-sustaining and resilient and ultimately improving the health and wealth of the people in our state.”

The Farmers’ Market Permit Act passed the Illinois House and Senate unanimously and now awaits the governor’s signature. Once signed, the bill will go into effect on Jan. 1.