New Farmer-To-Locavore Business Model At Odds With State Regulations

Sep 18, 2014

A Colebrook woman is trying to make it easier for people to buy locally grown foods while giving farmers an economic boost. Her idea is a variation on the classic roadside farm stand, and it is a model that could be used around the state.

But it’s going to require a change in state law.

Farmer Dean Stockwell is delivering produce to the North Country Marketplace & Salvage in Colebrook. Stockwell is one a dozen or so local farmers who bring produce and other goods to Beverly White’s store. White rents them space. Then she handles the sales and puts their money aside until they come back.

Unlike a farmer’s market that operates a few hours once a week, White’s store is open five days a week. Year around.

Indeed the shelves and refrigerators are filled with produce, fruit, eggs, cakes, cookies and jam, all provided by local farms.

“So, we have Hurley’s Honey on Carleton Hill Road here in Colebrook. This is one of our neighbors. They do raw honey. It flies off the shelves and they do vegetables galore…”

It is a collection of the foods that would normally be sold at farm stands scattered around the countryside.

But in the North Country – and some other parts of the state – farms are tucked away on roads where there isn’t much traffic. That makes a classic farm stand impractical.

“I am not on Route 3. I don’t have a farm stand on the road as some other farmers do.”

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

That’s Kitty Kerner of WinterGreens Farms & Aquaponics in North Stratford.

“So, we’re really happy that Marketplace and Salvage is here for us who are a bit more off the beaten track to have a central place to bring our produce and sell it fresh as if it was a farm stand.”

But the state health officials do not see White’s store as a farm stand.

“We have some questions about when a number of farm stands are brought together and put in one location.”

Michael Dumond heads up the state’s Bureau of Public Health Protection.

When a number of farm stands are brought together and put in one location from our perspective that becomes a retail store.”

“And if that location is open five to six days a week and there are products that are being sold there that need temperature control because they might be potentially hazardous if they go out of the temperature range then from our perspective that becomes a retail store.”

And, that means a lot of requirements, says Dumond.

“Hot water. Sanitation requirements for food contact equipment. Water systems documentation if a retail establishment is using well water, is not on city water. Making sure they have an approved septic plan….”

But as White and her farmers see it they are not selling anything that consumers couldn’t buy at a stand-alone farm stand.

For example raw or unpasteurized milk can be sold at a stand-alone farm stand but not at White’s store.

The idea is that consumers at a classic farm stand know they’re not buying at a store and they can judge for themselves whether to trust the farmer. And, the state assumes that the farmer will act in the best interests of consumers.

Rebecca Brown is a Democratic state representative from Sugar Hill who supports what White is trying to do.

“I’m not sure there is any magic to relying on the consumer to make a judgment about whether milk or meat is properly handled.”

It is also possible to sell homemade cookies at a farm stand.

But selling those cookies at White’s store requires the farmer to spend $150 for a state license and  inspection. That takes a big bite out of a small profit margin.

So, White says to help consumers and farmers there needs to be a change.

What we need is for this business model to be recognized as something more of a farm stand than a retail.”

Earlier this year Rep. Larry Rappaport, a Republican from Colebrook, introduced House Bill 1382. It’s an attempt to redefine farm stand and make operations such as White’s possible without a “retail” label.

The House’s Environment and Agriculture Committee has been trying to refine the proposal. Rep. Tara Sad, a Democrat from Walpole, is the committee’s chair.

“So, what we are trying to do here is to somehow accommodate the farmers in the North Country and other places in the state because if this goes into law it will not just be for that one particular model it will be for everybody in the state.”

Lawmakers will likely consider a proposal aiming to fit that bill when they return to Concord this winter.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR