Letter to the Health Department

P.O. Box 7088
Kansas City, MO 64133
July 5, 2017

Rex Archer, Director of Health Kansas City Health Department
2400 Troost Ave.
Kansas City, Mo. 64108

Dr. Archer,

The Brookside Farmers’ Market has grown local food businesses and provided healthy food to our community. It stands to reason that the Kansas City Missouri Health Department would support and value these actions. Yet the Department’s recent expulsion of a key vendor from our market undermines healthy food and threatens our market’s viability. This circumstance arises from the Health Department’s continued poor communication, inconsistent presentation/enforcement of regulations and failure to understand or accommodate the realities of farmers’ markets. The Board of Directors of the Brookside Farmers’ Market seeks to initiate discussion toward creating policies that foster, rather than hinder, the access of healthy food.

On June 10th, the KCMO Health Department forced Heirloom Bakery to abruptly discontinue sales at the Brookside Farmers’ Market, stating that the bakery lacked the necessary permits to operate at market. Heirloom Bakery is a successful and highly celebrated small business in Kansas City. They are a permitted Food Establishment in good standing with the KCMO Health Department. Heirloom Bakery has sold at the Brookside Farmers’ Market since 2013, and has always sold goods under the umbrella of the food establishment permit for their larger bakery, where all their products are baked for market. A sampling permit was obtained when the bakery offered samples at market.

In April of 2017, a food safety inspector informed Heirloom Bakery that they could not serve iced beverages (a long-standing menu item) without a permit. Heirloom immediately complied and ceased serving ice in any beverage. At that time, the inspector affirmed that Heirloom Bakery’s farmers’ market stand complied with code, and needed no further permits to operate and serve their baked goods or beverages without ice. In a phone call with the Health Department, Scott Meinke of Heirloom confirmed that they could continue to sell all other menu items as they had in the past.

Just two months later, KCMO Health Department shut down Heirloom Bakery’s market stand without warning, in front of dozens of customers, without citing any food safety concerns, just the failure to obtain the correct permit. In subsequent days, Mr. Meinke attempted to clarify what was needed to continue at the market, only to find disagreement within the Health Department about which permit is needed.

Other vendors at our market have struggled to obtain clear, consistent information from the department regarding relevant permitting for their business. When a definitive, written response is received, it often fails to accommodate the realities of farmers’ market sales and what our local food customers want. Seasonal permits with an abstract limit of 6 months fail to recognize markets that operate over longer seasons, while pre-packaging requirements may compromise fresh product’s quality and safety. Furthermore, site-specific permits pile on the fees for vendors who want to sell at more than one market location. Farmers market businesses must struggle with regulations that don’t apply well to their products, are not easily accessible and are not consistently communicated or enforced.

Valued local businesses owners that work that work hard, pay taxes, provide jobs and contribute to the health of their community should be supported by the City government at every turn. Why then are they being embarrassed, defamed, and obstructed from conducting the normal commerce of their healthy products? Not one threat to public health was found on those June 10th bakery inspections. Rather, owners were told that they had not jumped through the proper bureaucratic hoops, nor paid the proper fees, despite having done their due diligence toward compliance.

In 2012, City Council resolved to pursue policies that improve access to healthy food (Resolution 120046). The City of Kansas City is thereby invested in ensuring that the Brookside Farmers’ Market remains a vital market for consumers of healthy food. If Kansas City wishes to turn its words into actions, it must adopt new policies that are both reasonable and reliable for producers of fresh foods.

  1. Toward that end, the Board of the Brookside Farmers’ Market recommends both immediate and long-term change to Kansas City’s current Health policy:
    KCMO Health Department urgently resolves the permitting problems of Heirloom Bakery and other market vendors without forcing these businesses to incur unexpected expenses that they do not deserve.
  2. Within one month, KCMO Health Department clarifies its current food safety and permitting requirements for all farmers’ markets in a consistent policy that is not subject to interpretation.
  3. The City of Kansas City collaborates with farmers’ market stakeholders (vendors, managers, and community members) to create updated Health Department regulations that promote a safe and vibrant local food economy.
  4. The Health Department meet with representatives of the Brookside Market, Heirloom Bakery and supporting organizations by July 25th to hear specific concerns and input regarding Health Department policies and enforcement relevant to local food production and sales and to set a timeline for further action.

Laura Christensen, Chair, Brookside Farmers’ Market, (816) 805-0362, bluedoorfarm@gmail.com
Daniel Heryer, Vice Chair, Brookside Farmers’ Market
CC: Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner Councilman Kevin McManus Councilman Scott Taylor Councilwoman Jolie Justus Brenda Kumm, Vice Chair, KCMO Health Commission Seft Hunter, Health Commission Adriana Page, Health Commission Crystal Williams, Health Commission Beth Low, KC Food Policy Coalition Brandi Schoen, KC Food Circle Elisa Bedworth, Raytown Farmers Market Katherine Kelly, Cultivate KC Scott Meinke, Heirloom Hearth and Bakery

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