Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) promotes environmentally sustainable, economically viable, socially just, local food systems through policy development, advocacy and education. One of their recent policy actions tackled local food safety regulations.
The Bishop Family, of PrairiErth Farm, has farmed their 300-acre farm in Central Illinois for 30 years. Their crops include corn, soybeans, oats, alfalfa and grass hay, as well as a large assortment of vegetables, fruit and flowers. Their livestock operation includes pasture-raised beef cattle, free-range chickens for meat and eggs, and heritage breed pigs. They also restored an acre of native prairie.
The nature of being a small, diversified farm often means selling in markets in multiple counties. The Bishops ran into a problem: food safety regulations at Illinois farmers’ markets varied dramatically from county to county, creating a tremendous burden. When they needed help navigating these complicated food safety regulations they turned to the Illinois Stewardship Alliance.
ISA worked closely with State Representative Mike Tryon and Senator David Koehler to create food safety regulations that made sense for market farmers. The Smarter Rules for Farmers’ Markets law creates a statewide sampling license to allow product selling and sampling at any farmers’ market in the state under one consistent set of rules. The law requires produce market vendors to have a small sign explaining where their food was grown. This law also helps the cottage food industry (value-added products) by capping local health department fees.
One of the most important aspects of policy change is implementation. ISA actively worked with farmers, the farmers’ market community and the Illinois Department of Public Health to develop the regulations for the new sampling program and ensure it stayed true to the intent of the law and would be as beneficial to farmers—like the Bishops—as possible.
The Bishops are very excited to start offering samples of their produce. Existing customers rave about their lettuce and carrots—and if potential new customers can snag a taste, sales are sure to increase and people will come back for more!