Productive discussion leads to city action <br />that&rsquo;s pleasing to Farmers Market supporters

Supporters of the Vermillion Farmers Market received good news Monday night.

The Vermillion City Council voted unanimously in favor of an amended city ordinance regarding itinerant merchants that exempts farmers markets and creates a special event permit.

This action will prevent future problems foreseen by those who sell items at Vermillion's Farmers Market from occurring.

"The item arose when we were working with the Farmers Market group about the possibility of using some additional public space for a low-cost satellite or additional facility in addition to their main facility Thursday evening at the fairgrounds," City Manager John Prescott said. "As we were having that discussion, some information arose regarding items that were not fruits and vegetables, which is what the core of the code currently exempts."

Three sections of the amended ordinance address concerns that arose from those discussions, he said.

The ordinance was changed to read that businesses based in Vermillion that are not conducting door-to-door sales would not be deemed as itinerant merchants.

"If they have a location on Main Street, if you will, and they want to sell at another location in the community, they are not considered an itinerant merchant in that regard," Prescott said.

The ordinance was also revised to include an exemption for Farmers Markets. This exemption is designed to allow items sold for human consumption at "open air markets that apply to all applicable city, county, state and federal health and safety provisions.

The ordinance's language adds that such markets are designed "to provide an opportunity for individuals that are locally grown or produced by them for human consumption, garden produce, farm produce and arts and crafts."

This language, Prescott said, provides an exemption from the city's itinerant merchant, peddler and solicitor code for farmers markets.

The third change to the ordinance authorizes a special event registration permit designed to make it easier for groups, such as the Vermillion Farmers Market, or the Ribs, Rods and Rock 'n Roll organization, to complete one registration process rather than having individual vendors complete the process.

"It would be a bit easier, we feel, for them to utilize that process rather than each of them individually," Prescott said. "If any group decides they don't want to use the special event permit, they could just have their vendors come in and individually apply.

"I believe through our discussions, we have worked out some good language going forward that will help provide the exemption request that came before the council to begin with, and also provide, hopefully, a little easier process for some of our other events," he said.

Several individuals attended Monday's council meeting to urge aldermen to approve the amended ordinance.

Rebecca Terk, who farms north of town and is president of the Vermillion Area Farmers Market Board, said the exemptions crafted with input from the board, Prescott, and Steve Howe of the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, will benefit the market, its vendors and the city.

"If I've seemed passionate during our discussions, it's because we have a substantial number of vendors and they depend upon the market for a portion of their livelihood – in some cases, a substantial portion – and I take that very seriously," she said.

The Vermillion Farmers Markets, Terk added, is working with similar markets in communities across South Dakota "to help them implement the program and expand access to fresh, local foods to everyone in their communities."

It is common practice in other South Dakota cities to exempt farmers markets from itinerant merchant ordinances, she said, adding that the Vermillion Area Farmers Market is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to promote locally-grown and produced goods no matter where they are sold.

"We encourage our vendors to partner with other local organizations and businesses," Terk said, "whether it be through providing vendors information about events … or by letting our customers know when one of our vendor's goods is being offered at one of our locally-owned brick and mortar businesses.

"We hope that local business owners will consider the Farmers Market as an incubator for establishing a following for products that might eventually be carried on our own store shelves," she said. "Our model is one of cooperation, not competition."

Several other individuals voiced support for changes that would enhance the local Farmers Market, including Kelly Fuller, a Vermillion resident.

"I think it's very important that we get this worked out so that the Farmers Market can continue to offer the same types of products it is offering now," she said.

Fuller said she works for Plains Justice, a non-profit organization with an office on Vermillion's Main Street.

"We were offered the chance to go anywhere in North or South Dakota to locate our office," she said. "We chose Vermillion. One of the things we looked at, in wanting to coming to Vermillion as opposed to another community, was whether there was access to fresh, local food, and was there evidence that Vermillion was starting to grow its own local foods movement, because that's something that's very important to myself and many of the people I work with.

"Farmers Markets, and the full range of products that they offer, are a normal part of life," Fuller said. "For professionals who come to the town – we expect a Farmers' Market here, and we expect that is going to have all the different products like this one does, and I was just dismayed when I heard that there might be a problem with it."

The ordinance will receive its second reading and is expected to be approved at the next city council meeting April 19.

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