Getting Ready for Market – Part 1

Food safety considerations in preparing to sell at a farmers market.

May is here and that means it is farmers market season. This is the time of year many of the outdoor markets start for the season. According to the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), the number of farmers markets in Michigan has increased from around 90 in 2001 to over 300 today, so you don’t have to go far to find a market. Farmers markets have been a great way for small farms to find an outlet to sell their produce or for backyard gardeners to sell extra items or test the waters for increasing what they grow.

Each market has their own policies, requirements and application process to be able to sell at their market so be sure to check with the market manager before just showing up to sell. Many markets do not require any kind of formal food safety training, certification or education for their vendors and some may not even require you to have liability insurance. That doesn’t mean that you still wouldn’t be responsible if something happened as a result of someone eating your produce. Here are some basic food safety considerations if you are considering selling your produce at a farmers market:

  • Testing your water source. There are different protocols depending on whether you are using municipal water, ground water or surface water for irrigation.
  • Knowing what is in your soil amendments (compost) and recommended application protocols. Fully treated compost may be applied without restriction on the time interval between application and crop harvest but untreated should be incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to harvest if the edible portion comes into contact with the soil or not less than 90 days prior to harvest if edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil. For many in northern climates this means a fall application. Check out this fact sheet for more information as you might be surprised how much of what you are considering “compost” actually should be treated like raw manure.
  • Separating animals from crops. This includes your home pets in addition to any livestock you may have. Since even the best of fences don’t keep everything out, it is good practice to make sure you are inspecting your produce for signs of animal contamination and destroy any items that may have been potentially contaminated.
  • Maintaining clean equipment, including properly cleaning, sanitizing and storing harvest containers. Ensure you’re only using equipment and containers for their intended purpose. You don’t want to use a container that had trash or kids toys one week as your harvest container the next week.
  • Keeping a healthy workforce. For many of the vendors selling at farmers markets, you are your only employee or you may have a family member or neighbor help out. You want to make sure you are properly washing your hands before harvesting and wearing clean clothes as to not bring contaminates into the garden. This also means not harvesting when you are sick. You should not handle food meant to be consumed by others for at least 48 hours after symptoms such as diarrhea and/or vomiting stop.

Selling at a farmers market is a great way to connect directly with consumers. One of the great things about the local farmers market is the trust people develop by knowing the people who grow their food. Are you doing everything you can to make sure you are providing a safe product to consumers?

For more information you can contact the Michigan State University Extension Agrifood Safety Work Group or Community Food Systems Work Group.

Additional articles in this series:
Getting Ready for Market Part 2

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