California bills aim to help CSAs, farmers' markets
By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- A pair of bills aiming to improve the marketing environment for small farms is advancing in the California Legislature.
A bill by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, would enable community-supported agriculture businesses, or CSAs, to prepare and ship their own products without having to obtain expensive retail food permits or have commercial facilities.
Assembly Bill 224 would instead require CSA programs to register annually with their county agricultural commissioner and meet certain other standards, including properly labeling their products and keeping records.
Another bill by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson would crack down on fraud at farmers' markets by increasing penalties for misrepresenting how and where fruits, vegetables and other food items were grown.
The bills, both of which are supported by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, are before the Assembly Appropriations Committee after having unanimously passed the chamber's Agriculture Committee on May 1.
"CSAs have not been regulated ever," said David Runsten, the Davis-based CAFF's policy director. "They're not included in direct marketing legislation. County environmental health officers discovered that and said these people need to get a retail food permit and be inspected by environmental health. That was going to cost people hundreds of dollars a year."
CSAs are a relatively new phenomenon, with the first ones starting in the early 1990s, noted Noelle Cremers, the California Farm Bureau Federation's natural resources and commodities director.
However, since 2004 the number of CSAs nationally has more than doubled, and recent estimates place their number in California at 276, Cremers told the Agriculture Committee.
The Gordon bill resulted from discussions with producers held last year by an ad hoc committee on direct marketing set up by the state Department of Food and Agriculture, Cremers told the committee.
The Dickinson bill, Assembly Bill 996, comes after a Los Angeles television station did an undercover story several years ago exposing a farmers' market vendor who was not producing what he was selling.
The bill uses a CDFA task force's recommendations to restructure and expand the requirements for certified farmers' markets and producers, according to an Agriculture Committee bill analysis.
It requires producers to declare that they are "selling what they grow," creating a claim that can be pursued by district attorneys or consumers if it turns out to be false, the analysis explains.
Among its provisions, the bill increases fines for violators and designates the money to be used for future prosecutions.
"Californians are fortunate to have the highest concentrations of farmers' markets in the nation," Dickinson said in a statement. "AB 996 will increase consumer protections and accountability at our certified farmers' markets, protect local farmers and help this growing sector of the economy continue to thrive."
Assembly Bill 224
Proposal: Define community-supported agriculture under California law and establish registration and guidelines for producers
Author: Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, http://www.asmdc.org/members/a24/
Proponents include: Community Alliance with Family Farmers, http://caff.org/
Read the bill: http://leginfo.ca.gov/
Assembly Bill 996
Proposal: Increase penalties for misrepresenting how and where foods sold at certified farmers' markets were grown
Author: Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, http://www.asmdc.org/members/a07/
Proponents include: California Federation of Certified Farmers Markets: http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com/
Read the bill: http://leginfo.ca.gov/