Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Arkansans should support SB820 "Farmers Market" law.

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 this bill. They have hired lobbyist 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. This argument is without merit and nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t know what’s confusing about a law that says that if you call it a Farmers Market, that only farmers are allowed to sell produce there. It does not prohibit crafts and other non-produce items from being sold there; it just says for the PRODUCE that is sold there, it has to be farmers selling it.

This does not add work that most farmers are not already doing. Most professional growers maintain a list of the crops they grow. North Pulaski Farm’s list is published on our website and is a key tool in marketing our crops. This information can be used by the markets to help better supply the public. Markets can analyze the information and make recommendations to farmers with regards to projected supply. An example would be if everyone decided to grow tomatoes and 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.

This will require each farmers market to fill out a form and pay a small fee to get certified by the state. The AR department of Agriculture wants this process to be as EASY as possible. Small markets will not have to pay the same fee as larger markets.

Farmers growing and selling their produce will NOT have to buy a label gun. The farmer only has to identify what is in the container that the product is sold from. This is already happening.
This 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. This bill may 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. Food recalls have and will continue to happen. Knowing who grew a product and where it was gown informs the public so they can make good food decisions. More small farmers will have access to direct distribution channels enable them to collect retail prices for their crops. A dollar spent with a small farmer re-circulates in the economy more than most any other dollar spent. 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 UA surveyed farmers markets in Arkansas and found that 71% of farmer’s market customers go to the market to 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 3 years waiting on a spot 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.

Call To Action!!

Please contact the following state representatives currently serving on the Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committee and urge them to support SB820.
There has never been a more critical time than now or a better law to help small farmers in Arkansas.

Senator Gene Jeffress, 870-689-3537 ,
Senator Stephanie Flowers, 870-535-1032 ,
Senator Jimmy Jim Jeffress, 870-364-8291 ,
Senator Jim Luker, 870-238-8588 ,
Senator Mary Anne Salmon, 501-753-4521,
Senator Randy Laverty, 870-446-5005 ,
Senator David Wyatt, 870-613-3014 ,
Senator Mike Fletcher, 501-802-3114 ,