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Farmers’ Market Season Could Be Extended

“There’ll be some sort of modification to the 14-day limit.”

– MIKE LEBLANC, MANAGER OF THE HEALTH PROTECTION UNIT WI TH MANITOBA HEALTH

Farmers’ markets could be in business more than 14 days per year once Manitoba Health completes an overhaul of the rules governing their operation.

The rules will also give vendors clearer direction on which foods can be sold at markets, which can be prepared at home and which require a public health inspector’s permit.

The province’s Temporary Food Market Guidelines (TFMGs) have been under review this winter with input sought from the Farmers Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM).

One of the changes proposed is to ease the restriction on how many days a farmers’ market can operate. Currently, the TFMGs dictate that no market may operate more than 14 days per year.

It’s a restriction some vendors have argued has curtailed growth opportunities for the farmers’ market industry in Manitoba.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Health told the Direct Farm Marketing Conference in February that his department is now “grappling with what to do with the 14-day limit.”

It’s a rule put in place back in 1988 to restrict street food vendors like hotdog stands from operating year round, said Manitoba Health manager of the health protection unit Mike Leblanc. Farmers’ markets fell into the category of temporary food markets, thus the restriction also applied to them. A former farmers’ market co-op, representing markets of the day, had no problem with the limit.

But both the new FMAM and the provincial government now see the restriction as outdated.

“We believe that the farmers’ market industry has matured, the needs have changed and it’s probably time that the provincial government changed its point of view too,” said Leblanc.

The revisions will allow for more flexibility on days to operate, he said, adding that government wants to have the new TFMGs in place in time for the 2009 market season. “There’ll be some sort of modification to the 14-day limit.”

FMAM did specify how many days it wants to operate but an economic impact study done for the group shows most markets now have capacity to operate at least 26 days a year.

Public health inspectors have, on request, issued some markets a second 14-day permit to expand market days in the past.

Other provinces in Canada do not restrict days to operate for farmers’ markets, Leblanc noted. He said his department wants more flexibility in new guidelines so that regulation isn’t impeding future development of farmers’ markets, such as the permanent, year-round, indoor facilities now found in other Canadian cities.

Public Health’s role is to be a regulator of food safety, not the marketplace, Leblanc said.

MORE CLARITY

The new guidelines will also contain more clarity on why certain foods are deemed potentially hazardous and must first be prepared in an inspected kitchen, before being sold in farmers’ markets.

“We need to do a better job of explaining (in the guidelines) why there are those different classes of foods,” Leblanc said. They also aim to compile a list of inspected kitchens in halls and churches around Manitoba potentially available for vendors to rent, he added.

CONSULTATION

FMAM consulted its members for the guidelines’ review, which took place during a meeting Feb. 3 between FMAM, Manitoba Health and MAFRI.

Their consultation found good working relationships between member markets and their public health inspectors, said Tamela Friesen, a former FMAM board member who did the consultation. As well, they found a high level of willingness among vendors to comply with regulation governing food safety and public health, Friesen said. When there’s been problems or confusion it’s generally because a vendor hadn’t been informed of what they were supposed to do, she said.

Sheri Blaylock, a co-founder of FMAM said the organization wants to educate member markets and vendors on food safety regulation, but needs more funding support to do so, said Blaylock.

“We would like to take the role of educator with support from the Manitoba government,” she [email protected]

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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