As recent events have shown, our community's farmers' markets are vulnerable to unexpected regulatory action. Thankfully it looks like things are working out this go around, but I'm more worried about the next surprise. The rapid growth of farmers' markets has moved out ahead of the regulatory environment, meaning that most energy is spent trying to retro-fit and deal with things as they crop up (pun intended). Instead of continually reacting, it's time for interested parties in Spokane County to put together a good piece of legislation that strengthens our local food systems and provides needed support to farmers' markets and other organizations seeking to close the gap between farmer and consumer.
A year ago the Seattle City Council passed a local food initiative that could serve as a good model. As reported in the Capital Press:
...the initiative's goals include strengthening local farmers' markets, securing their locations, expanding resources for food banks, developing solutions to reduce the cost of food for urban consumers and planning for a secure food supply during emergencies and disasters. One year later, the initiative has borne fruit, and work is continuing on implementing the goals that received funding.
Lowering fees is perhaps the most important part of any such kind of initiative we might pursue in Spokane County. At a Farmers Market Managers meeting early this week, high fees paid by farmers, especially from the Spokane County Health District, were the greatest concern expressed in the group. If a Farmers' Market is not a restaurant, a grocery store, Pig Out In the Park or Hoopfest - why should it be treated with the same set of fees.
An example of the change in Seattle is that the Lake City Market has gone from paying $4500 to close the street for the day of the market to $251. That's change you can believe in. It's in everyone's interest to move towards a healthier, more local and sustainable food system. The question is, which organization or, as in the case of Seattle, which politician, is going to step up to the plate and take the lead on these issues? Slow Food? Spokane Ag Bureau? Washington Extension? Or maybe it will be you. I look forward to seeing if our community has the activist mojo to pull it off.