TRAVERSE CITY -— Lori LaClair will be able to keep selling her Natural Northern Foods salsa, hummus and cheese spreads at the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market when it opens for the season May 4.
She’s been a farmers market vendor since 2007, and LaClair and other producers of value-added products such as jams, jellies and other processed items who don’t grow most of their own produce or product ingredients have been able to peddle their wares as long as they use at least 25 percent Michigan-grown ingredients.
Traverse City’s Downtown Development Authority late last week approved rule changes that now require processed products to be composed of at least 25 percent of material grown or gathered by the vendor. But producers of value-added products who were grandfathered in from previous years will be able to continue to sell, as long as they continue to meet the 25 percent Michigan-grown requirement.
“For my business, it’s a wonderful thing,” said LaClair, who uses Michigan cranberries and cherries as well as produce from local farmers in her products. “For other people, I don’t know how easy that is to do.
“It’s going to be tough in this economy for the average entrepreneur who is trying to start, to do that. To me, it’s getting a little political. But again, I’m grandfathered in, so it’s hard for me to have an opinion.”
In addition, those who buy and then resell produce from elsewhere and were grandfathered in when other rule changes were implemented last year now must grow more than half of the goods they sell. Vendors also are required to display signs with produce that they’ve purchased for resale, indicating where it originated.
Current market rules state that bread products are eligible for sale, as long as they are baked from dough made by the vendor.
“In 2007, we had some significant rules changes and there were vendors who were grandfathered in during that period because the rules changes were pretty dramatic, and as time has gone on, we have slowly sunsetted the grandfathering,” said Rob Bacigalupi, DDA deputy director. “This is one of those years, resellers being one and the other one is value-added.
“We made an exception, if they’re grandfathered, value-added but getting ingredients from Michigan, they can remain in. That was to keep some of those popular value-added vendors in.”
Bacigalupi said the market averages around 120 vendors and estimated about 15 percent sell value-added products. Neither he nor this year’s new Market Manager Christina Carson could say how many of those might be affected by the rules change.
“There’s nobody who’s really far from meeting those new rules,” Carson said. “Anybody could change their practices so that they meet the rules, as well. I don’t envision it affecting very many people at all.”
The DDA is collaborating with the Grand Traverse Conservation District, which administers the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program that helps farmers reduce groundwater impact and will conduct farm visits, Bacigalupi said. DDA officials haven’t conducted farm visits, but teh agency will be able to utilize information Conservation District officials gather, if needed.
“We think it will help us enforce the rules without us spending a lot of time doing farm visits,” Bacigalupi said.
All of it — the rule changes, the expectation that market patrons will know where the produce and products they buy come from — is to help the farmers market stay on mission, Bacigalupi said.
“This is a very important venue for local farmers,” Bacigalupi said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”