County to enforce fee for farmers market vendors

County to enforce fee for farmers market vendorsA group of vendors may have to pay an additional permit fee every two weeks to continue operating at local farmers markets in the wake of a tightened guidelines from Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services.


Steve Baird, who runs the Wunderlich Farms farmers market through the Klein, TX Historical Foundation, said the new county requirements would force certain prepared vendors to apply for an $80 temporary food permit every 14 days. Prepared food vendors would also have to purchase the permit 10 days prior to the event.


“For any kind of monthly market, you’re basically shutting that monthly market down at that point,” Baird said.


An HCPHES official met with Tomball Farmers Market board members in April to discuss the stipulation, said TFM founder Lane McCarty. Prior to the tightened guidelines, the county health inspector evaluated producers on a case-by-case basis, he said.


McCarty said he and the board members were told the $80 fee would be charged to certain vendors in mid-May, but it has yet to be put into action.


In 2011 the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 81 to stipulate that local health departments, including HCPHES, could no longer charge all farmers market vendors $80 for a temporary food permit to last 14 days, HCPHES communications coordinator Brenda Cabaniss said.


As a result, HCPHES established a $125 annual farmers market vendor’s permit in March 2012 to allow qualifying vendors to sell products at county markets, Cabaniss said.


According to HCPHES policy, a vendor is not able to obtain a farmers market vendor’s permit for the sale of unwrapped food or any potentially hazardous food not prepared or processed by a farmer or other producer.


To qualify for the farmers market vendor’s permit, applicants have to meet the county’s criteria of a farmers market vendor, and the venue has to be made of 51 percent qualifying vendors, Cabaniss said. Vendors who do not qualify must also purchase a temporary permit to meet separate food safety guidelines, he said.


Baird said several of the Klein farmers market vendors are prepared food vendors and would be affected by the new requirements. The policy could also hurt the Klein, TX Historical Foundation as the nonprofit is funded from grants, charitable donations and money from the $20 vendor booth fee.


“It’s bringing several hundred people to the museum every month to learn the culture and history of our area,” Baird said. “Without that farmers market, we don’t have people coming in giving donations [and] we don’t have funding from the farmers market.”


HCPHES officials agreed July 17 not to enforce the fee until concerns are resolved, McCarty said.


The Wunderlich Farms farmers market is held the last Saturday of the month at
10 a.m. at 18218 Theiss Mail Route
Road.



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