...but wait, we're still enjoying the 2017 season, isn't next year a ways off? Farmers and market managers will immediately tell you, no. The next season feels like it will start about 5 minutes after the last, and this time around we're very excited for that. Thanks to the tireless work of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (plus Illinois farmers and local food advocates who have been lobbying our state representatives) there are two big reasons to get excited for the 2018 farmers' market season in Illinois.
This summer two major pieces of legislation were signed that will improve access to local food at farmers' markets in Illinois, making it easier and more affordable for farmers to sell more of their product directly to the consumer and reducing food waste in the process.
The Local Food Business Opportunities Act (HB2820), sponsored by State Representative Steven Andersson (R-Geneva) and State Senator David Koehler (D-Peoria) is my personal favorite, because it tackles an issue that has been a particular barrier to our own market. The act creates statewide consistency in sanitation rules at farmers markets, most notably when it comes to the issue of refrigeration. Certain food items require reliable cooling/freezing methods, which no one disputes. Farmers' markets live and die by the reputation of their vendors, so any of our farmers who sell meat, eggs, fish, or dairy want to make sure their products are not only safe, but sold in a way that ensures the highest possible quality. In Champaign County, selling these types of products has been very costly to small farmers, due to the requirement for mechanical refrigeration (ie, plug-in coolers or freezers). The equipment required is not only expensive, but often unwieldy--difficult for farmers to transport and load at the market. Only the largest markets really offer enough volume for farmers to be able to afford the investment in this kind of equipment, which has limited the variety of products at smaller markets, even though vendors have the local eggs and meat that our customers have been asking for. Other counties in the state have allowed non-mechanical refrigeration options, such as heavy duty coolers and dry ice, to maintain a consistent temperature, and what the Local Food Business Opportunities Act does is clearly define that non-mechanical refrigeration must be allowed across the state.
This act will make a huge impact at a smaller farmers' market like ours, by opening up our product offerings to include even more variety and allowing farmers to expand their income by selling meat, dairy, and eggs without breaking the bank. Even small quantities will become feasible, and even those lower volumes can make a huge difference to a farmer's income.
The second piece of legislation that will be a gamechanger at the farmers' market this year is the Illinois Food Freedom Act (HB3063), sponsored by State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and State Senator David Koehler (D-Peoria). This law is flipping the definition of what can be produced under the cottage food law, which will greatly expand the types of homemade foods that may be sold at the farmers market. Farmers will now have greater options for processing and selling extra produce, which will reduce food waste and offer even more variety to farmers' market shoppers.
Both of these will help make it possible for shoppers to take care of an even bigger proportion of their grocery shopping at the farmers' market--supporting the livelihood of our local farmers and pumping even more money directly into the local economy. Because we do so much work to increase access to fresh food for low-income shoppers in the nearby food desert neighborhoods of Champaign, we're particularly excited to be able to offer even more products next year.