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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Food Rules: Garden Guru Explains Need for Labels and Regulation

Political discussion erupted last Friday at the South Dakota Magazine Editor's Notebook. Bernie Hunhoff mentioned "brouhaha" over the new labeling rules for homemade food at farmers markets, and he got brouhaha in the comment section. Commenters went ape over "ridiculous rules" and "government growth" and "nitpicking."

Fortunately, committed gardener and local foods booster Rebecca Terk was available to discuss the issue in depth. In the comments at SDM and on her Flying Tomato Farms blog, she showed that the new rules are not some simple black-and-white issue for hot-button rhetoric about big government. Rather, House Bill 1222 is the product of conscientious and cooperative effort among producers, Dakota Rural Action, and state officials to find the proper balance between protecting consumers and promoting local commerce. Terk makes clear that local commerce can't run on the selfish "we should do whatever we want" fantasies of the armchair libertarians among us.

Saying that farmers markets should be entirely unregulated is kind of like saying that the little cafes in small towns should be unregulated–they’re only serving regulars, after all–everybody knows them.

But we all know that the little guys (and gals) in rural South Dakota have been a long time at the brink of drying up and blowing away–especially as our farms continue to swallow each other up and our rural populations continue to dwindle.

If we have an insular attitude about how we’re only going to do business with people we know–we’re only going to serve our “regulars,” we’re not going to grow–sustainably or otherwise–and we’re continually sitting on that ever-finer line between making it and not.

We need to be willing to step up and take responsibility for the safety of our products if we want to market to a broader audience. If you want to barter your homemade cheese for your neighbor’s homemade jelly, fine. If you want to walk out into the marketplace and sell to the public, that’s a different thing [Rebecca Terk, "In Defense of 1222," Flying Tomato Farms, 2010.07.02].

Commerce is about community. It requires responsibilities and clear rules. When government establishes clear rules, as South Dakota's Legislature is doing with HB 1222, it removes uncertainty from the marketplace and encourages businesses to invest and produce and sell, sell, sell. (Hmmm... just like how big utilities and other industries would create a green-jobs boom if the Senate would quit dinking around and pass climate change and energy security legislation!)


  1. We the People vote for safe food.

  2. The rules all seem very much common sense and very reasonable. Especially when compared to other States that require that a commercial kitchen be used for anything sold to the public.

  3. I'm sorry, but I hadn't realized farmers markets were rife with food borne disease. If the broader market wants to stipulate conditions on it's suppliers than I trust those companies to determine what they want to do to ensure quality rather than a bunch of clueless politicians in Pierre.
    I doubt WalMart was waiting on government safety inspectors before it began looking into local food (a relative term yes, but a good step) The government did such a great job regulating the deep water horizon after all.


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