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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sosnowski bill could transform farmers’ markets into culinary havens of Rhode Island

Cathie Cool Rumsey is co-sponsor

STATE HOUSE – The increasing popularity of farmers’ markets have led states to pass laws that would expand their markets’ reach beyond just vegetables and jams. Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) has introduced a bill that would allow Rhode Island to join those states and creatively market its “buy local” initiative.

If enacted, the legislation (2014-S 2112) would amend current law so that a farmer-winery and a farmer-brewery may, under certain conditions, be licensed to sell wine and beer for off-premises consumption at farmers’ markets, similar to what is permitted in Massachusetts.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ban these breweries and wineries from what has really become a prosperous partnership of local business owners,” Senator Sosnowski said. “We encourage Rhode Islanders to ‘buy local’ all the time, and farmers’ markets are some of our best opportunities to encourage that. When a family roams the farm stands on a nice spring or summer day, I want them to be able to peruse a diverse group of products while they sip on their iced coffee or Del’s Lemonade. It’s all about adding to the allure.”

In New York City, the highly successful Smorgasburg Brooklyn Flea Food Market has cropped up as a symbol of the transformation of farmers’ markets around the country. Recent years have redefined the concept of farmers’ markets as one-stop shops for rare culinary experiences and fresh farm produce. Markets that have sprouted across Rhode Island now tout the presence of food trucks, coffee vendors, fresh produce and stands carrying a wide assortment of baked delights.

“Farmers’ markets have become more of an experience than simply another place to sell food,” Senator Sosnowski said. “I’d like to see Rhode Island keep up with that vision. Our neighbors in Massachusetts are offering beer and wine at their markets. With Providence being a central destination for gastronomy and our state being a hub for agricultural activity, we should be pushing to enhance the outlets that best market those assets. The addition of beer and wine – especially with the popularity of craft beers in New England – will do so much to round out the experience of our farmers’ markets.”

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs. Cosponsors include Senators Nicholas D. Kettle (R-Dist. 21, Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich), William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) and Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). Rep. Jared R. Nunes (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) is slated to submit similar legislation in the House.