The Garden City Telegram
4/27/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Fine fare

Farmers' markets deserve strong support from state.

Signs point to warmer weather finally settling in throughout southwest Kansas.

Another indicator of summer drawing near would be in plans for home gardens and bigger planting projects, with such efforts resulting in a bounty of homegrown tomatoes, sweet corn, cantaloupe and other fruits and vegetables offered at farmers' markets.

The interest in farmers' markets in Kansas has grown to such a point that the state had four times as many events in 2012 as in 1987.

Because the markets materialize in sociable outdoor settings, patrons may not give much thought to efforts by state agencies to scrutinize the items for sale. Of course, it is necessary to be careful with all food, including goods produced and sold by friends and neighbors with the best intentions.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Kansas Department of Agriculture are charged with oversight of farmers' markets. They're on the lookout for products that can't be sold legally without a license, such as milk products, eggs, meat, poultry and fish. The list of potentially hazardous foods in place to protect the public from food-borne illness also includes cream and meringue pies, hamburgers, hot dogs, burritos, egg rolls, jerky, summer sausage and home canned products, with the exception of jams and jellies.

While it might be easy to view any state oversight as intrusive, agencies charged with protecting public health have no interest in devouring opportunities to sell homemade pies, canned products and the like. Rather, ensuring that safe foods are offered for sale should make farmers' markets even more of a draw.

And now, a new law taking effect in July in Kansas proves the state wants to help and advocate for farmers' markets.

The measure sets up a central registry for farmers' markets through the state's Department of Agriculture. Those who register would be in line to receive promotional and educational guidance intended to improve their events.

All Kansans should welcome the state's assist for the worthwhile endeavors that not only give people a place to buy and sell tasty fare, but also represent a nice slice of rural economic growth.