Bernalillo County commission debating making changes to farmers markets

Posted at: 07/29/2013 10:49 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Homemade jellies, bread and candy could soon be allowed at farmers markets and crafts fairs in Bernalillo County.

Right now, they’re not allowed because of health concerns.

But the county is considering a change to its ordinance pertaining to home-based food processing.

The county held the first of two meetings on Monday on the issue.

Right now, the only option for farmers and producers in Bernalillo County is if they go to the South Valley Economic Development Center, which helps small businesses grow and makes sure food is safely made.

At the meeting, one person said the center is expensive, at around $17 an hour, and there’s not always room available.

The county is considering allowing people to make some goods at home, while regulating the safety of the food.

Farmers markets in Bernalillo County have plenty of fresh produce but you won’t find some items on the tables.

Farmers aren’t allowed to sell jellies, jams, baked goods or candies that they made at home.

Here’s why, according to the county’s environmental health manager, George Schroeder.

“We operate under the Food and Drug Administration food code, which we adopted five or six years ago,” said Schroeder. “The food code doesn't recognize a domestic kitchen as a place where food can be processed for sale to the public."

But this could change.

County leaders started a conversation with farmers about possibly relaxing the home-based food processing code for the county.

"I feel that it's a lost opportunity for small farmers and producers to be able to be able to have opportunities to can their fresh veggies and make jams and jellies. And it adds a profit to farming which is a very difficult business and not high paying," said farmer Dory Wegrzyn, who owns Red Tractor Farm.

If brought to the county commission and approved, unincorporated areas of Bernalillo County would adopt the same regulations the state imposed a few years back.

The county would consider regulations including monitoring how the food is made, where and under what conditions.

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said Bernalillo County is on board.

“Are we more restrictive than other counties? And my understanding is we are more restrictive,” said O’Malley. “We're not talking about allowing all kinds of foods to be processed at home, we're really focusing on a couple of foods which are jams, jellies these are high sugar foods and baked goods."

That means homemade foods like tamales for sale or foods that can easily spoil are pretty much out of the question for Bernalillo County.

But the conversation is not over.

A second meeting on this issue will be held on August 19 at 6:30 pm at the South Valley Economic Development Center.

Commissioner O’Malley says she wants to hear from residents in the South Valley before deciding whether to bring a proposal forward to the county commission.