New Law Brings New Farmers to Market this June

Have you met Maggie Leigh Ray of Winding Creek Farm?

Maggie and husband Todd hold a basket of fresh eggs from their hens at Winding Creek Farm. Look for them at the Monticello Farmers Market and Richland Community Farmers Market this year.

Thanks to the new Local Food Business Opportunities Act going into effect on June 1st of this year, you’ll be seeing her at local farmers markets this year.

Maggie and her husband Todd own a 4 acre plot of land in Macon county, just outside of Argenta. For the last three years they’ve been raising free range chickens, lambs, and goats for themselves and family members. When a foot injury a little over a year ago prevented Maggie from furthering her career as an ER technician, she decided to take their part-time passion– a budding hobby farm– and turn it into her full-time venture. This past winter, they began making plans to take their products to local farmers markets for the first time.

The Local Food Business Opportunities Act, championed by Illinois Stewardship Alliance in 2017, is helping make that dream a reality.

The Local Food Business Opportunities act streamlines statewide regulations for refrigeration and hand-washing stations at farmers markets. In a nutshell, the law prevents local health departments from requiring expensive mechanical refrigeration, which is cost-prohibitive for small farms and which are not supported by scientific evidence to be any more safe than non-mechanical refrigeration. The new law states that as long as meat and egg products are held at 41 degrees, health departments cannot mandate the type of refrigeration used and cannot charge a fee for using refrigeration.

This was a lifesaver for Maggie and Todd.

They had explored licensing with the health department over the winter and knew that their local health department was one of the counties that requires a commercial grade freezer to vend at farmers markets. That type of freezer, in the size that Maggie needed to hold her inventory, would run well over $1000. In addition, in order to haul the freezer to market, Maggie would also need to buy a trailer, which would run over $1500. As beginning farmers, these were hefty up-front costs and risky investments. They would be new vendors at the farmers market this year, they would need to build a customer base and learn what products sell and what do not. Income was not guaranteed. They weren’t sure they could afford these additional costs and still turn a profit.

That’s why when Maggie learned about the Local Food Business Opportunities Act at an event hosted by Illinois Stewardship Alliance, she gave a little shout of joy. The law would save them thousands of dollars, which they would use to invest in their farm instead– purchasing more livestock and equipment to increase their inventory for the Spring.

A flock of meat birds cluck and graze their way across open pasture at Winding Creek Farm.

“The Illinois Stewardship Alliance is one of the only reasons we are able to sell at farmers market this coming season. There are so many people who don’t know that they can buy food locally– that they can actually get their chickens from a real farm and not a grocery store. The Stewardship Alliance is helping break down those walls and connecting people back to their food.”
Look for Maggie selling free-range chicken, eggs, and lamb at the Monticello Farmers Market and Richland Community College Farmers Market this Spring or reach out to Winding Creek Farm to buy direct.