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County modifies Certified Farmers' Markets vendor licensing process


February 26, 2014
A Certified Farmers' Market can include vendors other than certified agricultural producers, and the County of San Diego will be modifying its ordinance on the licensing of the vendors.

A 5-0 San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote Feb. 25 introduced the first reading and introduction of an ordinance which will allow for a single solicitor's license obtained by the Certified Farmers' Market operator rather than requiring each non-certified vendor to obtain a solicitor's license. The second reading and adoption of the ordinance is scheduled for March 11, and if approved on that date the change would take effect May 1.

"This allows for a much easier process," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

"Farmers' Markets are growing and changing in our unincorporated areas and it is important that the county keep up with these changes," said Supervisor Bill Horn. "The revisions to the licensing process will help ensure these Farmers' Markets continue to operate safely and successfully."

In 2008 the Board of Supervisors allowed a Certified Farmers' Market to operate on public property (with permission of the public agency) and in commercial zones in unincorporated San Diego County. A Farmers' Market becomes a Certified Farmers' Market upon issuance of a certificate from the county's Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures. A Certified Farmers' Market may be indoors or outdoors but is limited to one day a week by the ordinance.

"The agriculture economy is booming in our county," Jacob said. "Farmers' Markets are ideal venues that connect farmers and their goods to customers."

The county currently has eight Certified Farmers' Markets.

"Farmers' Markets are great places for people to buy fresh local food," said San Diego County Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson. "Over time they've become community events as well."

Many of the Farmers' Markets include vendors who are not authorized as a "certified producer" by the county's agricultural commissioner. An incident involving the Farmers' Market in Alpine indicated the Sheriff's Department belief that a solicitor's license is necessary for any vendor not certified.

"This proved a hassle to vendors and a logistical nightmare for the Sheriff to oversee," Jacob said.

The Sheriff's Department has oversight and enforcement of the solicitor's ordinance and thus issues a solicitor's license for any vendor not authorized as a certified producer. The County of San Diego does not require a business license for commercial activities in the unincorporated area, and the solicitor's license is intended primarily for door-to-door or other mobile activities.

On October 22 the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to direct the county's Chief Administrative Officer to work with the operators of Farmers' Markets, the San Diego County Farm Bureau, and the Sheriff's Department to streamline the licensing process for operators of Certified Farmers' Markets and to return to the supervisors with the recommended changes within 90 days. The county departments involved in the process also included the Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, the Department of Planning and Development Services – which handles zoning, the Department of Environmental Health – which regulates food permits, and County Counsel.

"I think the compromise that's been worked out is very good," Larson said.

Each Certified Farmers' Market operator or organizer will obtain a solicitor's license for the entire year and will be responsible for the single annual fee. The operator or organizer has the discretion of how to recover the costs of that fee from the non-certified vendors. The license shall apply only to one specified location and is not transferrable.

The operator or organizer must also submit a list of all non-certified vendors to the Sheriff's Department licensing division at least 48 hours prior to each Farmers' Market event which will include the vendors' business names, addresses, intended items for sale, and other information.

The Sheriff's Department will approve a form to be submitted. If a new non-certified vendor arrives less than 48 hours prior to the event, the vendor may appear in one market pending the outcome of future Sheriff's Department approval while the organizer or operator shall be responsible for ensuring that vendor's compliance with the solicitor's ordinance. Non-certified vendors appearing multiple times at the same location will be included on a list of approved vendors not needing approval on a routine basis.

The Sheriff's Department has the right to reject a vendor based on items and services for sale and for public safety, and all sales shall be limited to new items only. A Certified Farmers' Market with three or fewer non-certified vendors will be exempt from the fee but will still be required to comply with reporting mechanisms.

"It was great what we were able to accomplish," said Alpine Farmers' Market manager Diane Haworth.

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