The Equity Factor

Philadelphia Loosens Restrictions on Farmers Markets

Last week, the Philadelphia City Council made sweeping changes to farmers’ markets regulations, including dropping a $300 licensing fee.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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Philadelphia has 65 farmers’ markets. Which, given the city’s size, seems plentiful. But it’s no stranger to food deserts, and last week the city council approved measures that make it easier to hawk fresh fruits and vegetables throughout its 134 square miles.

In previous years, Philadelphia markets were required to pay a $300 licensing fee, which the measure eliminates. “It really is intended to make the city even more user friendly for farmers’ markets by eliminating any fees to operate a farmers’ market and to simplify the process at the same time,” Nan Feyler, chief of staff at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, told PlanPhilly.

In addition to making the process cheaper, the legislation aims to cut back on the amount of time applicants spend registering their markets with the Department of Public Health.

This is the polar opposite of the way many U.S. cities handle another part of the food infrastructure chain: food trucks. A study last fall from the National League of Cities explored the impact of mobile vendors and what cities can do to foster a stronger food economy. As it turns out, most cities are pretty scatterbrained about food truck regulations. From a post I wrote in September:

The study’s most glaring finding is the complicated permitting process. Most cities use three to five departments just to vet a prospective vendor, and that’s before owners have to figure out where they can park and sell their food. We all know the government loves red tape, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Philadelphia has removed much of that red tape for farmers’ markets. But the markets aren’t like food trucks — they can’t simply roll into the central business district, sell lobster rolls or tacos, and drive away after the lunch rush. They have to decide strategically where they can best sell their goods. Rebecca Frimmer, general manager of Philadelphia’s Greensgrow Farms, said she was excited about the changes to regulation but cautioned that farmers and potential market directors need to plan properly.

“I feel really positive about it,” she told me. “I just want to make sure that we’re not just starting farmers’ markets in every neighborhood in the city without giving the proper attention to getting people out to them, so that the farmers are actually going to leave at the end of the day having accomplished something positive.”

Basically, you can’t simply barge into an underserved neighborhood and think you’ll sell all your CSA shares immediately. You can create demand for fresh produce in neighborhoods where that demand may not have existed before, but education is a key component. Frimmer said that some “neighborhoods might require more education about the usage of seasonal products that may not normally be on the shopping list.” The city, for instance, has worked with food operators in the past on their demonstrations and sampling.

“You can understand and imagine that it’s really important that both the farmer is able to allow people to sample their products, but… a lot of folks may not have a lot of experience with the products the farm is selling,” Feyler told PlanPhilly. For Philadelphia, all signs point to incorporating education — much like Whole Foods has done in Detroit, albeit on a larger scale — into what should be an influx of farmers’ markets.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.

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Tags: philadelphiaurban planningequity factorfood desertsfood trucksfarmers markets

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