Have you ever been to a farmers market in South Dakota? Did you love that homemade chokecherry jam and those fantastic handmade pies? Did you know that selling those products is actually illegal in South Dakota?
Of course you didn’t. Neither did your legislator, and neither did the sweet old grandma who was making those products with loving care. After all, it’s a grand tradition that has been going on for decades–what would a farmers market be without the pickles and pies, the jams and rolls?
But because we lack a specific exemption–an exemption that every bordering state has codified–markets that have just taken off in this state have already started to languish once word started getting out last summer at the Black Hills Farmers Market–after the Health Department made a visit and shut down vendors there.
But this isn’t to call the Health Department a bunch of bad guys–they’re enforcing the laws of this state, and they’ve made clear that it’s not their intention to be spoilers (no pun intended). They’re simply doing their job.
And this winter, representatives from the Health Department met and worked with members of the Dakota Rural Action Small Farms Committee (myself included) to help draft HB 1222–to provide a safe way for market vendors to continue providing these homemade products and to alleviate what is fast becoming an overwhelming burden of enforcement.
This Bill, with bipartisan support, is coming through the House Commerce Committee. This makes sense because should the bill become law, it would significantly boost the ability of markets to start up, grow, and flourish in rural and not-so-rural communities. And that’s HUGE–especially in a time of economic difficulty.
Not only are market vendors remitting state and local sales taxes (markets are required to submit a list of vendors to the Dept. of Revenue), they’re bringing the entrepreneurial spirit, as well as cold, hard cash, into the communities in which they sell, and they, in turn, are more likely to spend the dollars they earn at local businesses.
The multiplier effect of dollars spent at locally-owned businesses is well-documented, and what’s more local than a farmers market?
On the other hand, if HB 1222 fails to pass, it’s not unreasonable to expect farmers markets to be greatly diminished in the 2010 season, and for the smaller and start-up markets to simply collapse.
Another possible outcome is that the growing local foods economy will simply go “underground”–out of sight, and out of the view of the state and local tax-man (or woman–let’s be fair). And really, those jars of preserves will be awfully heavy under grandma’s trenchcoat.
Neither of these scenarios is helpful to the state, nor to communities already struggling with a lack of funding.
As previously mentioned, HB 1222 is currently making its way through the House Commerce Committee before (hopefully!) passing on to the full House.
Members of that committee include: Susy Blake, Kristin Conzet, Mitch Fargen, Brock Greenfield, Phil Jensen, Patrick Kirschman, Shantel Krebs, David Novstrup, Eldon Nygaard, Carol Pitts, Tim Rounds (Chair), Darrell Solberg, and Roger Solum.
Maybe it’s time to make a phone call or shoot off an e-mail asking for their support of farmers markets, local economies, and HB 1222.
Simply click here, then click on the names of the State Reps for their contact information. While the bill’s in committee, you can (and should) contact any or all of the members on that committee, even if they’re not from your district.