Editor’s Note: Updated on March 13 at 11:37 a.m. for clarity
A bill overhauling farmer’s markets regulations is moving quickly through the Iowa legislature. House File 278 would change how vendors are licensed, revamping the current county-based process as a state-wide one that the Department of Inspection and Appeals (DIA) would oversee.
Currently, farmers and food vendors must apply for farmer’s market licensing in each county they want to sell in, which hinders their ability to expand into new markets. Additionally, any food vendor that sells temperature-controlled products must be inspected by the DIA or its subcontractors.
HF 278 would streamline this process. It would eliminate the county-by-county fees with one license that would allow vendors to sell across the state. “We’re hoping that maybe it would expand [farmers] willingness to set up a stand in multiple counties,” said bill author Rep. Chris Ingels, R-Fayette.
The Iowa Farmers Union, a “grassroots organization committed to promoting family agriculture,” is in favor of the bill. IFU lobbyist Chelsea Hoye thinks small-town farmers will appreciate the changes.
“I think folks are going to be really excited about not having to fill out five different applications for the different counties that they want to participate with,” Hoye said.
Hoye explained how HF 278 would simplify the current regulations and ease some burdens faced by farmers. Applying for licensing to sell in each county costs $150 per county, and while these fees aren’t necessarily “exorbitant,” Hoye said, it is a burden to small farmers looking to sell in multiple counties.
The bill, originally HF 80, was recently approved by the House Agriculture Committee and moved to the Ways and Means Committee. The Iowa Senate’s version of the bill, Senate File 134, is also being considered by the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. If passed, these bills would force counties to shift their licensing operations to the DIA, which already “does the inspections for 63 counties,” Ingels said.
In an email statement, Department of Inspections and Appeals Communications Director Stephanie Bond said the DIA had not taken a stance on the bill but predicted, “The bill will likely result in fewer farmers market licenses being purchased and decreased revenue for DIA,” while also making the “application process easier and less expensive for farmer’s market vendors who operate in multiple counties.”
The DIA currently receives licensing fees from the 63 counties where it conducts farmers’ markets and vendor health inspections and a portion of the fee if the application is completed online. In counties where local health departments conduct inspections, they keep the fees, according to emails from Bond.
Ray Schmidt is the founder of Farm Story Meats, based in Ames, IA. Because of the current costs of getting licensed, he only sells in two counties – Story and Polk. Schmidt sells weekly at the Ames and Des Moines farmers markets and does events in five other counties.
“One of the things holding us back from doing potentially more markets is the fact that you [have to be licensed in] every county,” Schmidt said. “We’re looking to be guest vendors at other counties, but then you have to weigh if $150 for maybe a one-or two-time vending situation is worth it.”
HF 278 also adjusts vending permits for significant multi-county events like RAGBRAI. Right now, Iowa Code, Section 137F.6, states that temporary food establishments that operate for less than 14 days will have to purchase an annual license of $200 in each county.
The change will make it cheaper for vendors to sell goods at multiple temporary locations and festivals. Instead of paying $200 per county for a temporary festival license, it will apply statewide, easing a financial burden for farmers and food vendors like Schmidt who want to sell in multiple counties. Schmidt hopes to be a vendor on this year’s RAGBRAI route.
“Depending on how many days we do… that’s like another four or five or six counties that we have to register for,” Schmidt said. “And that definitely adds up.”
HF 278 was recommended for passage by the Ways and Means Committee. It’s passed two House committees and awaits further debate.
HF 278 survived the first legislative funnel. On March 7, it was renamed House File 661 and placed on the Ways and Means calendar.