The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has made it easier for farmers to sell the produce they grow at farmers markets.
Aldermen on Friday voted by a wide margin to exempt those farmers from the city’s graduated business license tax. Currently, even a small farm has to pay $200.
Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, said she was prompted to make the change after the Tower Grove Farmers' Market opened a location in Richmond Heights this summer.
“Their vendors noticed that the process is a lot smoother just across the arbitrary city-county line,” Spencer said. “What we don’t want to have happen is vendors leaving the marketplace here in the city and working exclusively in St. Louis County because the cost is lower and the process is easier.”
The exemption only applies to farmers who grow the crops themselves, not those who purchase the produce or flowers elsewhere and resell them. It also does not apply to individuals who sell products like candles or food.
Spencer said she wants to look at exempting all of the very small businesses from the city’s business license.
“I think we overtax and over-license here in the city, especially as compared to surrounding areas,” she said. “It’s a real burden on those small business owners.”
Spencer’s bill had the support of the St. Louis Food Policy Coalition. Its director, Melissa Vatterott, said the change could help more St. Louis residents get food that is healthy and part of their culture.
“There are city residents that may be growing fruits and vegetables that are related to their native background,” she said. “If we can facilitate allowing them to sell, not only is that helping them increase their income for their families, but they may be able to provide that access to others with the same cultural background.”
Vatterott said the coalition did not know of any growers who had looked into selling at Tower Grove or other farmers markets and decided not to because of the cost, but wondered if people didn’t even consider it because of the license requirement.
“We know that urban agriculture is growing in the city of St. Louis, but we don’t see a lot of city growers at farmers markets, and I suspect that it’s possible that the business license is one of those barriers,” she said.
The bill now goes to Mayor Lyda Krewson, who is expected to sign it.
Board hires new clerk
Also on Friday, the board hired one of its longest-serving members to be its new clerk.
Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, will be the first African-American clerk in the board’s history. The clerk is the board’s official record-keeper, and oversees its other employees.
Kennedy, who was first elected to the board in 1989, will have to resign his seat to take the position. He would have been up for re-election in March.
On Twitter, Krewson praised Kennedy’s thoughtfulness and commitment to civil rights.
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