Vendor pleased with level playing field

By Blythe Alspaugh -

SIDNEY — Tom Brown hadn’t expected his Facebook post criticizing regulations at the Great Sidney Farmer’s Market to go far. But that one post was the turning point to level the playing field.

“It’s great news that produce growers and vendors at the farmer’s market are being treated the same as the grocery store,” Brown said.

Brown’s post, which highlighted that vendors at Sidney’s farmer’s market weren’t allowed to let customers touch produce before purchase and that grocery stores were allowed to operate as normal, was the driving force of an article published Wednesday in the Sidney Daily News. Since then, the Sidney-Shelby County Health Department has asked customers to only touch products when necessary — prior to this, customers were asked not to touch products at all.

“It is a good thing that happened, because now vendors and produce growers are not going to be discriminated upon. We have a level playing field and we can sell produce the same way your local grocery store does. That’s what I said right from the start, that’s where that needed to be,” Brown said. “It’s good news. It’s great news.”

With the frustration of independent farmers being held to different rules than big box retailers, Brown is most looking forward to seeing his customers at the farmer’s market, and for people to have a little normalcy back in their lives.

“I think that’s gonna be the big thing, that most people want to get out and have a normal life,” Brown said. “We’re looking forward to seeing [our customers] this summer.”

The sentiment is echoed by Sidney Alive Executive Director Amy Breinich.

“We’re very excited that we were able to get clarification on the issue of touching products, especially given the CDC has announced that the risk of surface transfer of the disease is low, especially if you are washing and sanitizing your hands per the guidelines,” Breinich said in a statement emailed to the Sidney Daily News. “The Shelby County Health Department and our vendors have been great partners with us in reaching out to the various departments at the State level to get clarification to ensure that we are operating in the most safe and reasonable way. Working together, in the same direction is the only way we will get through this. Things are looking up and we’re excited to see people supportive of the market and our locally owned businesses. We are thankful for the businesses and community members who choose to be the light in this dark time.”

According to Registered Sanitarian Rusty Schwepe, the rule that customers should not touch items at farmer’s markets came from a guidance document sent out from the Ohio Farmer’s Market Network. The content from the document was collected from farmer’s markets across Ohio and the country who were adapting operations to comply with public health guidance. The Sidney-Shelby County Health Department amended the guideline after receiving push-back from vendors and realizing that the rule put vendors at a disadvantage.

“We want to make sure that everybody is on the same playing field, and it wasn’t the intention to put the farmer’s market on a different playing field than any grocery stores,” Schwepe said. “We don’t want people to over-handle food products, but we’re not going to stop people from picking out the best produce.”

By Blythe Alspaugh

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.