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Illinois law helps standardize farmers markets

by MATT HOPFThe Quincy Herald-Whig

QUINCY, Ill. - Roger Sharrow has started posting hand-written signs in front of his vegetables in his booth that say the produce is from Sharrow Farms in Golden.

Signs like that will become a normal sight at farmers markets across Illinois, as new legislation signed into law last month by Gov. Pat Quinn will require the signs that state the origin of unprocessed produce.

Sharrow and his wife, Virginia Sharrow, were selling produce Thursday at the Quincy Mall's farmers market, which also takes place Tuesdays and Saturdays. They also sell at farmers markets in Camp Point and Carthage.

The couple had sweet corn, potatoes, green beans and zucchini available for shoppers, as well as salves that Virginia makes from crops on the farm.

Roger Sharrow said the new rule doesn't bother him because he is used to customers asking when he has honey for sale.

"They'd always ask if it was local honey (to help fight allergies)," he said. "So we would tell them where we were from."

Proponents of the new regulation say consumers may assume that products sold at markets are local, but some vendors are resellers selling non-local produce that can be bought in grocery stores.

"If (consumers) get something that is not up to par, they can read where it came from," Sharrow said.

Gary Hull of Mendon sells produce at the farmers markets Thursday afternoons in Mendon and Tuesday and Saturday mornings in Washington Park. He said he has put his name on his produce for several years.

"It's a good idea, with maybe some people bringing in stuff that wasn't locally grown," Hull said.

Produce comes from Hull's garden and his grandson Carson Hull's garden west of Ursa.

Travis Brown is executive director of the District, which operates the farmers market in Washington Park. He said most of the growers at the market should not have a problem, as many already label the origin of produce.

The District's farmers market requires that the produce be grown or the seller must live within 60 miles.

"Pretty much everybody who is at our market is growing themselves or is growing a specialty product like spices," he said. "And those are all labeled like you would buy at the grocery store."

The legislation, unanimously approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, also requires the Illinois Department of Public Health Farmers Market Task Force to recommend statewide rules and regulations for farmers market, instead of each community having their own rules. It also would cap fees that local health departments can charge cottage food operations at $25 per year and have the task force develop to develop a statewide sampling certificate program that would allow samples to be offered at farmers markets.

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