Farmers’ markets have the green light to open more often under new rules that now expand the number of days they can operate.
The province has ditched its old 14-day limit to the days of operation, and will now permit farmers’ markets to open as often as two days a week – every week all year round.
Manitoba Agriculture and Manitoba Health and Healthy Living jointly announced the change to the new Temporary Food Market Guidelines last week, saying this will give vendors more chances to sell, and Manitobans more opportunity to shop and support farmers at these markets.
The 14-day rule dated back to the early 1980s. With so much interest in shopping locally and buying direct, it was clearly time to look at this again, said Manitoba Health’s chief public health inspector Mike LeBlanc.
“Things have changed a lot in the 20 years since we first developed those guidelines,” LeBlanc said. This change now allows markets to open up much earlier and stay open later in the fall, potentially expanding the outdoor farmers’ market season to six months, he said.
“If they want to operate year round, they could,” he added, provided suitable indoor locations can be found.
Manitoba Health consulted with the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM), Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives and other stakeholders over the winter to come up with new recommendations.
This gives vendors more opportunity to sell, and they won’t have to wait an entire week when produce is fast coming into season, said Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba president Dave Kowslowsky, a market gardener and vendor at Killarney.
“When things are going strong and the vegetables are coming in, they don’t wait until Saturday or Thursday. We’re going to be able to move more produce and meet the demand of people. The consumer demand is there.”
Koslowsky said Killarney doesn’t plan to expand its market days at the moment. He doesn’t expect a lot of markets will adjust their schedule either right away. Some locations, such as in Brandon, will be glad for the chance and have been asking for this change. But it’s a lot of work to set up and run a market.
“Most places have trouble finding vendors as it is. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of changes.”
VENDORS IN SHORT SUPPLY
The association has posted a “help wanted” notice on their website this month, noting demand for vendors is now at an all-time high.
LeBlanc said there’s clearly no impact on public health to let markets open more often, so long as all other food safety requirements are met by vendors, he said.
“We want to be legislating or regulating public health. We don’t want to be regulating business,” he said.
The other major change in the guidelines is the wording of the document. It now offers a better explanation of how to sell more types of foods instead of simply stating that certain types of foods can’t be sold. Even foods on a “potentially hazardous” list such as those containing egg or dairy, can, in fact, be sold, if prepared in licensed food premises, the guidelines now point out.
“Just because a food product is on this list does not mean that it cannot be sold at a farmers’ market” the new guidelines now state and go on to outline clearer steps to food protection and labelling, including how to find an approved food handling establishment, and getting a permit from a public health inspector.
Local church halls, community centres, and legions and nursing homes are all good places to make inquires to use, the guidelines note. They also list the phone number of the Food Development Centre at Portage la Prairie for people to call with questions.
“We’ve tried to take out the scary language so instead of being forbidding, it’s enabling,” LeBlanc said.
The new guidelines can be found on the FMAM website at http://www.manitobafarmersmarkets.ca/.