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Market crash! City scrutiny scuttles Greenpoint food vendor gathering

The Brooklyn Paper

The organizer of the Greenpoint Food Market has decided to fold her 10-month-old indie eats bazaar in the face of a threat from city health officials to slap summonses on her vendors because they lack commercial food handling permits.

Food market organizer Joann Kim announced last night that she had canceled the next event scheduled for June 26 rather than risk a city crackdown.

If there are to be future markets, Kim said, all vendors will need to obtain food-handling certificates and temporary food establishment permits — and, most onerously, produce their vittles in a commercial kitchen, an apparent requirement under city Health Department codes.

The message comes less than a week after Kim contacted health officials and Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg) to determine the best course of action to take with her fledgling indoor market to avoid fines and bring the market up to code as quickly as possible.

As we reported last week, Health Department officials advised Kim to apply for permits for her market and force her vendors to take food-handling courses and use commercial kitchens in order to participate in future markets without incurring citations or fines.

“Food vendors need to be properly sanctioned and [have] the proper permits,” said agency spokeswoman Celina De Leon.

Fans of the market, such as Elaine Matthias, are furious about the city’s meddling. She hopes the market finds a way to stay open for good.

“The grassroots activity is a reaction to the presence of big food corporations in health policy so it doesn’t surprise me that the government is putting up a lot of red tape to prevent people from creating foods in their kitchens and bringing it to a public market,” said Matthias.

A May 22 market featured more than 50 vendors ranging from Jerky’s chewy and salty dried Korean barbecue-flavored treats, assorted flavored kombucha tea from Mombucha, pickled pears from Anarchy in a Jar, and customized chocolate bars from Chocri. Ornately decorated frosted cookies by Sugarbuilt were sold at previous markets.

Health inspectors have not officially visited the market and organizers were not aware of any complaints made about food-borne illness. But Kim believed that inspectors would visit the June market after the gathering received increased attention from the neighborhood media, including the New York Times, a Manhattan publication.

Kim remained committed to keeping the market running, saying that postponing the June event would allow her vendors to apply for their permits and get certified to sell in the future.

“The market will continue functioning but all vendors will have to work in a commercial kitchen if they want to produce food [for sale at the market],” said Kim.

The market’s closure is the latest casualty in the city’s battle against bake sales and food markets. In October, the city banned home-baked goods at public school fundraisers. That policy change came two years after a protracted fight against vendors at the Red Hook ball fields, whose huaraches earned the ire of inspectors even though there had also not been any reports of food-borne illnesses.

Many vendors dropped out, citing the high costs resulting from increased regulations.

Greenpoint Food Market vendors are similarly spooked that the city’s scrutiny could result in higher operating costs. Noah Berland, a fledgling chocolatier, has not made his truffles for four months because of the city’s demands and high costs to use a commercial kitchen, which can rent from $250 to $300 for as little as five hours. He sees the market as a way for small food businesses to gauge interest in new products, which fosters experimentation.

“You don’t have to invest in too much before applying for all permits,” said Berland. “It would be nice if there were some means for people who are not professionals to get an understanding.”

Instead of the market, Kim announced that she would hold a summit on the neighborhood’s grassroots food industry featuring panelists such as Levin, Brooklyn Kitchen’s Harry Rosenblum, and city officials in hopes of designing legislation to make the marketplace more accessible to vendors.

Greenpoint Food Panel at the Church of the Messiah (Russell Street between Nassau and Driggs avenues), June 26, noon.

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Reader Feedback

Melissa from Park Slope says:
Growing up I had the harrowing experience of being forced to get most of my food from an uninspected uncertified kitchen. The cooks, "mom" and "dad", had never even taken the special food handling course. I never got sick, but it was very scary. I shudder to think of the millions of children forced to live in this situation every day.

Thankfully when I went to college I got to eat food that was made in factories that the FDA and USDA says they inspect. They have whole books of very complicated rules, which is very comforting. I got salmonella once and almost died, but it must have been a fluke. The government certified all those factories that made the peanut butter, neon orange nacho "cheese" sauce, and canned meat product...so they must have been really safe. Thankfully the evil practice of "home cooking" is dying out and more and more children are getting the privilege of eating frozen government-inspected fried soy sticks instead of food from small farms that probably don't have their own inspection agents or home kitchens that are run by untrained cooks.
June 15, 2010, 11:21 am
Dawn says:
Melissa, thanks for giving me a good laugh. You are so right. The whole system is ridiculous.
June 15, 2010, 12:12 pm
Patricia from Astoria says:
I have owned a landscaping business for years. I understand rules to protect people, but the government has become crazy about regulations. I feel some of it is nothing more than legal extortion-I mean the city gets money for every license. The city gets money for fines, parking tickets and so on...

However, one point should be made. If we want less
government in our back yard, then we have to reconsider taking responsibility for ourselves if something goes wrong. We live in an extremely litigious society where persons sue for every little pain in life. We want government out of our lives when it suits us, but government in our lives for unemployment, social security, medicaid, workers comp. All these "benefits" are costly to all businesses which effect everyone.
June 16, 2010, 8:19 am
Sarah from Williamsburg says:
This is not a new or unusual regulation. Most states have similar rules. Food handling permits require persons to take and a pass a course on basic food safety. It's a very good idea! Do you really want to be the one person who purchases jam that has been processed incorrectly or meat that has been handled incorrectly? This has nothing to do with processed food and orange cheese sauce and everything to do with food safety.

Commercial kitchens do not allow any activities except for cooking. They are inspected for cleanliness and food safety compliance. These are old and well established rules designed to protect the public and have done a very good job of doing so. How many of you readers, without looking it up, can state the safe zone for food temperatures? If you had a food handlers certificate, you would know that information. Not all rules are bad. But, if you want to sell food to the public, you must follow the same rules as everyone else.
June 16, 2010, 11:28 am
Mark from Kensington says:
Amelia's cats are never in the kitchen when shes cooking!
June 19, 2010, 1:18 pm
Melissa from Park Slope says:
"These are old and well established rules designed to protect the public and have done a very good job of doing so."

No, most food poisoning outbreaks have been tied to commercial kitchens. Read the inspection reports. Just because a kitchen meets some arbitrary rules (there have been no studies showing many of these rules make food safe), doesn't mean it's safer than a home kitchen. Rats, mice, roaches, mold...commercial kitchen inspection reports are a nightmare to read.

Contrast that with buying from a home baker. I can talk to them and get to know them. If I get sick it's traceable. They are accountable to me, and not to some government inspection agency that does a terrible job.
June 19, 2010, 6:36 pm
DF from Greenpoint says:
So what about bake sales? Why doesn't the city stop every bake sale that happens daily? Obviously those parents baking all that dangerous food should be locked up immediately to protect our safety. Image, people eating baked goods right this very second not made in a commercial kitchen! THE HORROR!
July 1, 2010, 9:36 am
dlw from oklahoha says:
in most places you can give away food if you produce the food in a non-approved kitchen or without a license. However, if you try to sell the food, that is to make money, then it now becomes a health issue!
It is not about food safety. It is all about keeping the little person from competing with the big corporations.
July 3, 2010, 9:31 am

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