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New farmers market regs will take months

    Farmers markets, like the goods they sell, are becoming a hot commodity in Illinois, but by this time next year they will be operating under a new set of regulations.
    A new law sponsored by state Sen. Dave Koehler will soon make it easier for farmers and other vendors to sell their products at markets throughout the state.
    Under Illinois’ current system, local health departments set the rules for buying and selling food at farmers markets, which has resulted in a “hodge-podge” of conflicting regulations, Koehler said. The new law allows the Illinois Department of Public Health to establish a single set of regulations for the entire state.
    “Farmers markets are such an important link between the people who truly grow our food and the consumers,” said the Peoria Democrat, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Creating a single, statewide standard will make it easier for more farmers to participate in more markets.”
    For example, state law requires that all raw meat be kept under 41 degrees. However, right now some local health departments require that all meats be sold frozen. Some say that farmers must use mechanical refrigeration units. Others allow coolers and ice packs.
    Sara McGibany, executive director of Alton Main Street, the organization that sponsors the Alton Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, understands the need for the changes.
    “Streamlining the regulations makes sense because currently Health Department rules vary significantly from county to county, and many vendors attend markets in multiple counties, so one can see how that could lead to confusion,” McGibany said. “The governing body should determine what makes a practice safe for consumers and that should be the rule across the board.”
    Labeling where the products originated will be a plus for markets that don’t allow wholesaling or reselling, such as in Alton, she said.
    “Part of what makes shopping at a farmer’s market such a great experience is being able to create a relationship with the people who have grown your food. Many shoppers assume that all markets operate the same way, but many allow food to be trucked in from far away and it’s passed off as ‘local,’ which kind of defeats the purpose of what most consumers are after,” McGibany said.
    According to Ian Watts, a communications staffer with the Office of the Illinois Senate President, the law took effect June 23, the day it was signed.
    “However, what the law primarily does is direct the Illinois Department of Public Health (in conjunction with the Farmers’ Market Task Force) to establish a set of guidelines via administrative rules. The department’s deadline for drafting these rules is Dec. 15, 2014,” Watt said in an email to the Illinois Business Journal.
    The rules must then be reviewed by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a process that generally takes between 90 and 180 days, though it can take longer in some circumstances.
    “So, realistically, the new farmers market rules probably won’t be in place until next year,” Watts said. “That would also give farmers and other vendors more time to learn the new rules and, if necessary, come into compliance.”
    Illinois has more than 375 farmers markets with more than 1,000 farmers and other vendors. They connect farmers and other producers directly to customers, providing locally grown and produced fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, cheeses, meats, nuts, baked goods and more.  
    Many now accept credit cards and debit cards, and the state has pushed to make the markets more accessible to food stamp users. Farmers markets often offer fresh produce at rates that are competitive with – or even cheaper than – grocery stores.
    “This change would be very helpful for local growers like me,” said Doug Day, owner of Spring Bay Farm in Woodford County. “It would lower our costs, both in time and money.”
    The law also creates rules for offering samples and requires labels that make it easier for customers to identify where the food they buy was grown or produced.
New high school opens in Trenton
    TRENTON —  The new $28 million Wesclin High School was completed in time for the start of the school year.
    The project, which is being financed by state grant money and local taxes, was authorized by District 3 voters in November 2010. Swansea-based Holland Construction Services oversaw construction. FGM Architects designed the structure.
    “Everyone has been a pleasure to work with,” Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw said. She joined District 3 in July 2013 and has been present for nearly all the construction.
    The new school is on Wesclin Road, a short distance behind the former junior/senior high school, which faces Illinois Route 160.
    With the shift to the new high school, the former junior high became Wesclin Middle School and houses children from fourth through eighth grades. The youngest children were relocated from facilities rented elsewhere in the community.
    An additional $150,000 was spent on renovations to the middle school facility.
    The original high school plan was conceived with a $23.3 million price tag that grew as furniture and other site work and land costs were added in, she said.
    The new, 110,000-square-foot school will accommodate ninth through 12th graders from Trenton and New Baden and allow for future growth. The school now has about 400 students.
    The center of the new school features a three-level “cafetorium” for theater productions and school presentations.

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