Memphis Decoded 

Harvard study suggests Memphis eliminate food code.

Van Cheeseman of Flora Bluebird Farm

Justin Fox Burks

Van Cheeseman of Flora Bluebird Farm

Chances are you won't read their 175-page study, but the Health Law and Policy Clinic of Harvard Law School hopes it will have some effect on Memphis' food code. According to the study, "Creating a More Efficient and Effective Food Safety System in Memphis and Shelby County," Memphis' Food Ordinance Code stifles local economic activity and reduces access to fresh foods.

"While the Memphis Food Code was originally created to protect its citizens, it is now doing them a disservice by creating unnecessary barriers to healthy foods," the report reads. "The code is full of outdated sections that are covered by more detailed state law and unnecessary sections that create barriers to small businesses." The Memphis Food Ordinance Code was created in 1967 and hasn't been updated since 1985. The code affects all areas of food service, from grocery stores and restaurants to food trucks and farmers markets.

The study recommends that the city council eliminate the city's current code to cut down on duplication and eliminate the confusing (and sometimes conflicting) state and local codes. "We have a big section of the food ordinances that we don't need," says Josephine Alexander, of GrowMemphis, which helped spearhead the research.

One of the most restrictive ordinances is one that requires anyone engaging in the "manufacture, sale, or distribution of any food" to have a permit from the health department. In general, permits add an extra hurdle to getting to market. But the Memphis code also includes narrowly defined permit categories, which often leave out low-risk operations like produce stands and keep food vendors from setting up shop.

With the support of this extensive study by Harvard law students and the support of the Shelby County Health Department, Alexander says they will work with Councilman Jim Strickland to see that the changes are passed according to the study's recommendations.

"The change will make things cleaner and easier for everybody to understand," Alexander says. "It could potentially open the door to more innovative community food projects and ways to get healthy food into neighborhoods through mechanisms we may not have even thought of yet."

GrowMemphis, www.growmemphis.org (725-4990)

The Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market (CYCFM) has announced that it will operate year-round. "We had farmers and artisans express that they are ready to go year-round, so we want to provide for our farmers as well," says CYCFM board member Lauren Boyer.

Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market runs every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Van Cheeseman of Flora Bluebird Farm and an organizer of the winter market in Tsunami's parking lot, says they plan on going full tilt as they enter their third year. The Tsunami winter market begins when the downtown Memphis Farmers Market season ends. Tsunami vendors will be out every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. until the Memphis Farmers Market starts up again next spring.

Cheeseman isn't concerned about losing vendors to the Cooper-Young market, and Boyer hopes the two markets take Cooper-Young from a restaurant district to a full-on food district.

Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market
(725-2221), cycfarmersmarket.org

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