After allegations that farmers market vendors were selling food that violated state food safety laws, the biggest farmers market in Kodiak is moving. And a new market is springing up where the old one used to be, bringing the number of markets in town to three.
It’s 40 degrees and pouring rain in Kodiak, but inside Judy Hamilton’s greenhouse, it’s downright balmy and rows of vegetables are growing.
“We have Chinese cabbage and bok choy, lettuce , arugula, kale, Brussels sprouts,” Hamilton said.
For years, Hamilton has sold her produce at the Kodiak Farmers Market at the local fairgrounds. But this year the market is moving after a controversy erupted about who should run it.
Deplazes has organized the market since it came together organically about eight years ago.
“Well it kind of all began when a friend of mine and I were talking about our gardens and how we were gettin’ a little tired of having to chase people down the road with bags of Swiss chard and kale and my friend said, ‘We should have a farmers market’. And I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be nice’,” Desplazes said.
The market flourished at the fairgrounds and expanded to include 20 to 30 vendors selling vegetables, fruit, arts, crafts and more.
But recently, Deplazes says, members of the Kodiak Rodeo and State Fair Board, which runs the fairgrounds, began approaching her about taking over the market.
“I think it may have begun last summer,” Desplazes said. “I believe that one of the members of fair board approached me at one of the later markets in the summer and said something to the effect of, ‘We’d like to take over management of the market’. At which point I said, ‘Oh you guys have plenty on your plates, you don’t need that too’ and left it at that.”
And Desplazes says it didn’t stop there.
“And then at one point, I talked to the president of the fair board and she flat said, ‘We’re taking over management of the farmer’s market.’ And I was kind of speechless,” Desplazes said.
“There was items being sold that were against state law,” Sadie McCusker, president of the fair board said.
McCusker alleges the main reason they stepped in was food safety and liability concerns.
“There was items being fried on scene in open flame. There was meat products being sold, there was dairy products being sold that were not, not legal,” McCusker said. “We tried to address this concern multiple times in different ways and they were not being recognised.”
State law allows vendors to sell “cottage foods,” like jams breads and pastries, without a permit. Food not allowed includes meat and fish products, baked goods that require refrigeration and cheeses – basically anything that requires temperature control to insure food safety. Packaged foods must be labeled.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation handles food safety and sanitation for farmers markets around the state. Because of state budget cuts the DEC closed their office in Kodiak 2016. DEC representatives visited Kodiak four times in 2017 for inspections, but they did not inspect farmers markets. They have not yet visited in 2018.
“We are the managers of the fairgrounds,” McCusker said. “We lease the property from the borough, so if state law is not being followed we are liable and so is the borough.”
As a result of the allegations, Deplazes recently moved the venue for the farmers market from the fairgrounds, across town to the Kodiak Baptist Mission. Then, McCusker announced that the fair board will host a new farmers market at the fairgrounds.
Farmers market vendor, Judy Hamilton says she has never seen problems with Deplazes’ management.
“She’s always addressed concerns about things and i really think — her management style is loose, but she also makes sure that everyone that comes in, alright you’re going to sign this, here’s the cottage rules, if you have a question you need to talk to DEC,” Hamilton said.
And Hamilton adds that there is such a demand for fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables in Kodiak, that perhaps another farmer’s market isn’t such a bad idea.
“There is a tremendous market for all those things, so we can just hope that Kodiak growers can expand to fill it,” Hamilton said, adding that she plans to be at the new Kodiak Farmers Market location at the Baptist Mission on Saturdays.