A patchwork of county regulations prevents small farm growth

Varying county public health regulations and permits impact farmers market vendors; Standardized regulations across counties could help farmers

East Central Illinois farmers Ed and Lindsey Dubrick face a patchwork of regulations that prevent them from reaching new farmers market customers. Is your farm or business also experiencing these county regulatory roadblocks? We want to hear from you.

For a beginning farmer trying to reach new customers, DuChick Ranch is in the perfect location. Situated in rural Iroquois county, it’s just an hour’s drive from Kankakee, Bloomington, Danville, and Champaign. 

Farmers Ed and Lindsey Dubrick couldn’t ask for a better spot to reach customers who love their free-range chicken. But county regulations in Illinois make reaching those customers a challenge. 

Two years ago, Ed and Lindsey followed their dream to work with nature and be their own bosses on a small farm. At DuChick Ranch, they raise chickens, vegetables, and fruit using sustainable practices. They sell their frozen chicken, fresh eggs, and produce at farmers markets and a few other local venues.

Existing county permits are an imperfect fit

When Ed first registered for a permit with his county health department, he was surprised to find his only option was to apply for a Food Establishment Permit. 

The permit required him to meet the same requirements as a grocery store or restaurant. The county does not have any licenses set up specifically for farmers market vendors or farm businesses.

Right away, it was an imperfect fit. 

Ed does not prepare food on site– like restaurants do– and he’s not reselling massive quantities of food from other vendors– like grocery stores do. Understanding the food safety requirements that pertained to his farm took hours of reading and research. 

County permits are expensive

The permit also runs $450 and came with two annual inspections of his on-farm storage facility and his farmers market stand. Nevertheless, he was happy to undergo the county’s process to ensure his product met the highest food safety standards. 

Ed passed the county health inspection with flying colors. 

Demand for his product was so great in the first year that he and Lindsey began exploring the idea of branching out into farmers markets in Champaign and Danville. But they soon discovered that the $450 Iroquois County Food Establishment Permit wasn’t accepted in Champaign or Vermillion County. 

Each county requires an inspection

Ed and Lindsey would need two additional county permits from each county, which also require inspections by both counties and paying another set of fees to both counties. To make matters worse, not every county follows the exact same rules and procedures. While all Illinois counties follow the FDA food code, some counties have additional restrictions, and the name of the license and price of the fee varies from county to county. 

“If I’m inspected and approved in one county, shouldn’t that count for something in another county? Shouldn’t there be some level of reciprocity between counties?” asked Ed Dubrick. “But then again, that would probably make too much sense.” 

Ultimately, the couple decided it was too much time and money to try to navigate three county permits. Instead, they only expanded to Vermillion.

The problem:

Illinois county health department often regulate farmers market vendors of frozen or refrigerated foods (meat, eggs, dairy, etc) differently. Counties don’t always have scale-appropriate licenses and fees set up for these vendors, and there is no reciprocity of farmers market licenses between counties. The result is a patchwork of regulations and duplicative fees that prevent sales across county lines and make it difficult for farmers to reach new customers– and prevent customers from accessing more local food.

The solution: 

Standardized county public health regulations and county permit fees for farmers market vendors, such as a statewide permit for farmers market vendors or local permits that are recognized and accepted across county lines.

Are you a farmer experiencing difficulties with county licensing and regulations to sell at farmers markets?

Let us know! 

Complete this short form and we’ll be in touch! We’ll reach out to learn more about your experience and keep you updated on opportunities to weigh in on possible regulatory solutions.