Mobile Farmer’s Markets in Baltimore City

Food Deserts in Baltimore City

In October 2013, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot temporarily suspended Baltimarket, the Virtual Supermarket Program administered by the city health department. Since its launch in March 2010, Baltimarket has partnered with Santoni’s Supermarket to deliver groceries to neighborhood drop-off points.

The Virtual Supermarket Program was designed to meet the needs of low-income Baltimore residents living in the city’s “food deserts,” neighborhoods with limited access to stores that sell fresh, affordable, and healthy foods. Gather Baltimore, a well-known nonprofit created by OSI Fellow Arthur Gray Morgan, was organized to meet similar needs by bringing leftover produce from farmer’s markets to designated drop-off sites in neighborhoods with limited food and transportation access.

Mobile farmer’s markets, such as Real Food Farm, are also starting to react to this need by selling fresh produce in neighborhoods with historically low access to healthy and affordable food, as well as limited access to transportation to get to grocery stores and local markets.

Mobile Farmer’s Markets and the Law

While mobile food delivery programs provide an innovative solution for Baltimore residents with limited access to healthy and affordable food, regulation and licensing policies for such organizations are relatively unclear.

Baltimore City Code §17-11 requires all mobile food vendors to obtain a license from the Board of Licenses for Street Vendors. Code Section §17-18 provides an exception for street vendors who sell “fruits, vegetables, or other perishable articles that have been produced or grown by that vendor” and allows for a special permit, the country growers license.  The Baltimore City Health Department’s website, however, does not provide any application for a country growers license.

In the 2010 Legislative Session, the General Assembly of Maryland created the Producer Mobile Farmer’s Market License, which allows farmers to transport on-farm home processing plant products and farm products that have been inspected, licensed, and certified by the MDA. However, it is unclear whether this license restricts the sale of these goods to a “farmer’s market,” as it is traditionally considered. A mobile market, which stops periodically at locations convenient to the communities it serves for less than an hour at a time, may not be considered a farmer’s market under the parameters of this statute. However, the definitions section of the Maryland General Health Article does provide that a “farmer’s market” is a “public market in the State where producers of raw agriculture products sell the products directly to the public.”

Beyond the Producer Mobile Farmer’s Market License, Maryland statute also provides that “a local jurisdiction may not require a license for the sale of raw agricultural products at a farmer’s market.” For mobile markets, it seems that this determination is going to come down to whether the State of Maryland considers a mobile unit that stops periodically to sell goods directly to the public is within the definition of a farmer’s market.

If neighborhood stops are not considered farmer’s markets, then the Food Control Section of the Baltimore City Health Department may require further licenses: (1) a food license from the Food Control Section of the Baltimore City Health Department, (2) a license from the Board of Licenses for Street Vendors, and (3) a business/mobile vending license from the State of Maryland License Department. Presumably, these licenses are only required for the sale of prepared foods; however, without the country growers license, it is unclear what mobile farmer’s markets are expected to do.

For programs like the Virtual Supermarket Program and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), the 2010 Senate Bill 198 added code section 21-308(c)(3), which provides that no license or permit shall be required to deliver prepackaged foods to fill the order of a customer.

Affordability of Healthy Foods – Electronic Benefits Transfer

Real Food Farm’s Mobile Market, as well as the Virtual Supermarket Program, also address Baltimore residents’ concerns that healthy food is not always affordable. In addition to accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits via Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), both programs offer bonus dollars to incentivize the purchase of healthy foods. Real Food Farm’s Bonus Bucks Deal doubles the value of up to the first $10.00 spent on produce, and the Virtual Supermarket Program offers a $10.00 incentive to purchase healthy foods on customers’ first orders and on every fourth subsequent order.

Federal policy restrictions place an additional limit on mobile food delivery, which has posed a particular challenge for the Virtual Supermarket Program, because EBT cannot be used online, creating risk for any supermarket that agrees to deliver groceries but cannot guarantee payment until the food has been delivered. The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, an inter-governmental advocacy group, is working on reforming federal policy to allow the online use of SNAP benefits.

If an organization decides to accept SNAP benefits, called Food Supplement Program (FSP) benefits in Maryland, each mobile farmer’s market can obtain a license on behalf of all market vendors through the USDA SNAP Webpage. In order to also accept Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks and WIC Fruit and Vegetable Checks (FVC), each individual vendor within a market must register online with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (as of 2013, vendors may submit a combined application to register to accept both FVC and FMNP checks).

For more information about accepting Federal Nutrition Assistance Benefits as a Farmer’s Market in Maryland, including how to budget for accepting EBT, see the Maryland Hunger Solutions’ online guide.

Posted on by Kristine Dunkerton

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