City of Plano Pushes Back on Farmers' Market Fight

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Update from Kari Gates: "We've been told the hearing and the vote can be on the same evening because of the way they posted it."

Kari Gates grows seasonal fruits and vegetables over several acres of land at Spring Creek Organic Farms in Plano. She drives her produce to several markets around the region, including Greenling. But, more recently she's exploring her options closer to home, particularly Fairview Farms near U.S. 75 north of Parker Road.

"It was built specifically in the '90s to be a farmers' market," explained Gates. "They have one produce vendor out there, but he is just a reseller. In the '90s they had other vendors, but city permit fees went to $300 and most of the vendors at the time could not afford that. The owner ended up converting a good portion of the spaces into office space and has leased it out since then."

In a somewhat futile effort, Gates has been working with the Plano Health Department to get the definitions of the farmers' market broadened to allow for more vendors; as it stands now it restricts meat, cheese, dairy and packaged goods.

According to the city of Plano, they've been working on tweaking those definitions for more than a year. In their preliminary City Council meeting Monday (available online) Brian Collins, director of environmental health, explains that they've been working on a set of "regional guidelines."

"We decided to step out in front [of the state] and they're watching very closely what we're doing here in Plano," said Collins. This is the group that also went to Austin to fight the Cottage Food Laws.

Collins and his department presented a slide show of the worst of farmers markets around the country. They specifically used pictures from the Dallas Farmers' Market as their counterargument, which while a valid point, is a bit banal. There are many wonderful farmers markets around the city and country. Plano should use this as an opportunity to "show 'em how it's done."

In terms of getting the farmers market ordinance changed in favor of local farmers, things aren't looking too hot. They're primarily focused on "safety" (which is a big Plano City Council meeting buzzword) and "mitigating" (another buzzword) illness. The highlight reel from a draft of the proposed changes to the "ordinance" (token buzzword) would:

• Limit products to only vegetables. • Require vendors to submit a list of all their produce five days before the market opens. • Require a certified food manager be on duty at all times. • Require every person who works at the market, including volunteers, to take a two-hour food handlers course.

C'mon Plano. You're a really healthy crew already. You don't need organic farm fresh veggies.

The next board meeting is on November 12. The mayor told Gates he wanted to have a public meeting on the issue at the last meeting, which would allow more residents to voice their opinions. But, the health department also wants to put the new guidelines on the agenda for the next meeting, which would kill the public meeting. As Gates explained, you can't have a public meeting about something that is on the agenda.

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