A bill scheduled to be heard in the assembly appropriations committee on May 14 aims to give farmers more flexibility in what they can sell at roadside stands.
Assembly Bill 2168, sponsored by Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), would change the California Retail Code to allow farmers to sell bottled water, soda and processed agricultural products such as pies and jam made from their own crops. The bill passed the Committee on Agriculture unanimously Apr. 16 and is currently going through analysis by the appropriations committee.
Current law prohibits growers from selling anything at roadside stands except whole items grown on their property. If farmers wish to sell processed goods, they must become classified as a retail food facility, such as a supermarket.
“This bill addresses some of the very onerous and cumbersome regulations that treat farm stands like grocery stores,” Jones said. “If they’re selling any simple things like jams they’re required to meet all sorts of requirements like adding sinks, additional plumbing and all sorts of code requirements that make it impossible for them to stay in business.“
The legislation also aims to change a seldom-enforced regulation making it illegal for chefs to purchase produce at a farmer’s market for use in restaurant dishes. The bill changes the language in the regulation from allowing sale only to “consumers” to permitting sale to the “public.“
“There is no way to know what the customers are going to do with the produce once they buy it anyway,” said Noelle Cremers, director of natural resources and commodities for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
The California Farm Bureau Federation along with the Federation of Certified Farmers‘ Markets brought the idea for the legislation to Jones.
“We were approached by some of our members on Contra Costa County who alerted us to the issue that now if a farmer wants to sell a fresh [processed] product at a farm stand, they can’t do that without meeting additional requirements,” Cremers said.
Due to zoning requirements and the added expense, this is impossible for many farms, she said.
During this especially difficult budget year, almost all bills requiring state expenditure of money are being put under suspense file – a process which holds the bill to better determine its cost implications, said Dawn Clover, the legislative analyst for AB 2168.
“It’s a pretty standard process,” she said. “All the bills are heard in a massive hearing.“
The bill’s sponsors are hoping to avoid suspense file.
“We just met with committee staff today and they haven’t done the analysis yet so they don’t know if it will [go under suspense file],” Cremers said. “We’re hoping that it doesn’t because it shouldn’t have significant cost.“
Proponents of the bill cite convenience for patrons of farms, allowing customers to pick their own fruit as an additional benefit of the bill.
“If you want to go to a U-Pick orchard they can’t sell you bottled water out there on a hot, thirsty day,” Jones said.
Robert Ramming, owner of Woodland’s Pacific Star Gardens, thinks the bill is a good idea, but doesn’t anticipate taking advantage of the increased flexibility.
“We put out free jugs of water for people who need something to drink, but I doubt we’ll be selling anything,” Ramming said. “But it’s nice to have that option.“
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