- Published: Monday, June 23, 2014 11:05 AM
Under Illinois' current system, local health departments set the rules for buying and selling food at farmers markets, which has resulted in a hodge-podge of conflicting regulations. Koehler's new law allows the Illinois Department of Public Health to establish a single set of regulations for the entire state.
"Farmers markets are such an important link between the people who truly grow our food and the consumers," said the Peoria Democrat, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Creating a single, statewide standard will make it easier for more farmers to participate in more markets."
For example, state law requires that all raw meat be kept under 41 degrees. However, right now some local health departments require that all meats be sold frozen. Some say that farmers must use mechanical refrigeration units. Others allow coolers and ice packs.
"This change would be very helpful for local growers like me," said Doug Day, owner of Spring Bay Farm in Woodford County. "It would lower our costs, both in time and money."
The law also creates rules for offering samples and requires labels that make it easier for customers to identify where the food they buy was grown or produced.
Illinois has more than 375 farmers markets with more than 1,000 farmers and other vendors. They connect farmers and other producers directly to customers, providing locally grown and produced fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, cheeses, meats, nuts, baked goods and more.
Many now accept credit cards and debit cards, and the state has pushed to make the markets more accessible to food stamp users. Farmers markets often offer fresh produce at rates that are competitive with – or even cheaper than – grocery stores.