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Point of view: Freedom for the farmers' market

Chris and Jennifer Webster
Chris and Jennifer Webster

Farmers’ markets are places where local entrepreneurs can sell their homegrown or homemade products directly to their neighbors, offering whole foods and delicious treats. But in many places, these markets operate only seasonally, and often only a day or two per week at times when many people are working. That is why we opened an indoor farmers’ market in Edmond, Conscious Community Co-Op, where farmers and cottage food producers can sell their products every day.

Business was booming until state officials shut us down. The reason? Oklahoma law will not let farmers leave their products with us to sell and instead requires them to personally sell their wares. It soon became apparent to us that something as simple as selling produce and home-baked goods can become mired in overregulation and red tape.

We were forced to get a retail license. But even with a completed application and money in hand for a license, the Department of Health still closed our business. With our doors forced shut, we were facing financial ruin.

Thankfully, our community was behind us. We posted a video that went viral, attracting legislative support that expedited our license application. Yet even though we could finally reopen our business, we still had to sell our Jeep to stay afloat.

Then there was another problem. Home-bakers can only sell in farmers’ markets, not retail stores. Our vendors who were home-bakers were forced out of our store, and we lost one-third of our business. We were caught between a rock and a hard place: Stay closed and go bankrupt or reopen and barely have enough revenue to survive.

Again, the community united. We raised more than $16,000 in donations and put together enough money to build a commercial kitchen where our bakers could legally make their goods to sell. One woman even donated $7,000 out of pocket.

Now we are working to ensure this doesn’t happen to other small businesses or home-bakers. We have teamed up with attorneys at the Institute for Justice and activists at Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma, as well as local businesses and legislators to change the law. We are asking for common-sense legal change — let home-producers sell their products at retail stores and other locations, allowing innovative markets such as ours to sell home-baked goods, support local entrepreneurs and give customers the products they love.

We were fortunate to have survived this regulatory onslaught, but many entrepreneurs are not as lucky. Overregulation does not help anyone. It stifles entrepreneurship, kills jobs and leaves consumers paying higher prices for fewer choices. We are working for reform in Oklahoma, and hope you will join us in supporting greater food freedom for our state.

The Websters live in Edmond.