Between the Lines: Nothing silly about the state’s pickle law

The codified laws in our nation�s 50 states can promote some vigorous head scratching. For example, in Connecticut, in order for a pickle to officially be considered a pickle, it must bounce.

I�m sure South Dakota has its fair share of silly laws similar to this, if they haven�t been wiped from the books yet.

South Dakota, however, has its own �pickle law,� and we urge local people with green thumbs to take advantage of it, especially since it appears winter has finally left us and the outdoor Vermillion Area Farmers Market is once again setting up each Thursday at the Clay County Fairgrounds.

A pickle law, as these measures have come to be known in other states, is a legislative remedy that allows people to sell home processed foods � including pickles � at farmer's markets and roadside food stands without having to meet many of the same state licensure regulations that govern commercial food sales.

Without a pickle bill, the small farmers markets that have existed for generations and others that have sprung more recently in Vermillion and other communities across the state were at risk of breaking state laws.

Back in 2009, for instance, before this law was passed, it was illegal to sell a jar of home canned chokecherry jelly, or a baked-to-perfection loaf of homemade bread or a pint of spicy home-processed relish unless it was prepared in a state-certified kitchen.

The Rapid City Journal noted in an editorial last year that vendors at the Black Hills Farmers Market at Founders Park in Rapid City found that out in the summer of 2009, when an inspector from the South Dakota Department of Health showed up to warn them that many of the products they had for sale must be prepared in a certified kitchen, a burdensome regulation that involves a long list of requirements, as well as a $100 license and other annual inspection fees.

�That doesn�t just hurt the vendors� profit margins, it hurts consumers who want to support local agriculture by buying locally-grown and made products,� the Journal noted. We agree with that sentiment.

That�s why the Small Farms Committee of Dakota Rural Action, a political advocacy group, worked closely with the state health department in the winter of 2010 to draft HB 1222, a home processed foods bill that allows vendors to sell certain goods direct to consumers without a commercial food license.

Under HB 1222, people can sell shelf-stable baked goods and home canned goods that are prepared in home kitchens without a food license. All such products must have a label that lists basic information about ingredients, date it was made, producer contact information and a disclaimer that it was not prepared in a commercial kitchen. In addition, home canned products must be third-party certified as to the safety of their recipe and processing method.

I admittedly am not familiar with all of the details of this law, and exactly what is required of gardeners who want to sell their canned gherkins or tomatoes or jams and jellies at the Vermillion Farmers Market.

Representatives of our local farmers market, such as Amy Putthoff Schweinle and Grace Freeman, likely will be able to help. And you can learn more about preserving and marketing homegrown produce by attending the weekly workshops being held in Vermillion. Go on line to http://vafm.wordpress.com/ for the schedule.

Thanks to the South Dakota �pickle law� and the people that help make the Vermillion Area Farmers Market a reality, consumers are given more healthy food choices while the small-agriculture economy of our community is strengthened.

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