FORT WORTH -- On a recent Saturday morning, shoppers lingered among stalls of fruits and vegetables, flowers and herbs, artisanal cheeses, tamales, handmade soaps, organic baked goods and more at the Cowtown Farmers Market.
One thing was noticeably absent: meat.
Fort Worth prohibits the sale of raw meat at farmers markets, which some vendors and shoppers say keeps the city from having a bustling, one-stop market. That could change, however, as city officials say they plan to revisit the ban, which was enacted in the mid-1990s as a food safety measure.
"We are very familiar with the farmers market trend, and we think being able to purchase fresh, healthful foods is important," said Scott Hanlan, the city's assistant code compliance director. "But whatever we do has to first take into account public health and safety."
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City officials are studying how other cities regulate meat sales at markets and will likely begin reviewing the city's ordinance later this year.
Fort Worth has stricter standards than most area cities. At the Downtown Arlington Farmers Market, vendors can sell beef, sausage and other meats as long as they are kept below 41 degrees. At the Keller Farmers Market, vendors must store meat in mechanical refrigerators, which can cost thousands of dollars.
Those rules will be loosened in September, when a new state law will allow local health authorities to set temperature requirements but bar them from mandating how a farmer or vendor maintains that temperature.
'Too much red tape'
Bridget Rodewald, executive director of the Keller market, said locally raised meats are an integral part of the market.
"Our consumers want to support local foods," Rodewald said. "It makes it more convenient for our shoppers to get everything they need at the market."
Ranchers near Fort Worth have approached the Cowtown market about selling their products but were turned away, said Ben Walker, past president of the Cowtown market and co-owner of B&G's Garden in Poolville. In the past, some have set up tables and taken orders at the market, but they decided it was not cost-effective.
"They got bogged down by too much red tape," Walker said. "It can be frustrating."
If meat sales are allowed, Fort Worth officials say, they would have to determine how and where the items could be sold.
For example, some cities allow meat sales in mobile food vendor trucks, much like the trendy trucks popping up around Fort Worth selling everything from burgers to gourmet tacos. Others require that the meat be sold in an indoor facility like the Dallas Farmers Market.
The Farmers Market of Grapevine also sells grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.
Before drafting a new ordinance, Hanlan said, city officials will seek input from farmers market representatives, ranchers and shoppers.
A welcome addition
Shoppers and farmers at the Cowtown market said they would welcome locally raised meat, including grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Cowtown is a producer-only market, which means everything is grown or made within 150 miles of Fort Worth.
"I would love to buy organic, free-range Texas beef, cattle raised the way it should be raised," said Michael Montgomery of Fort Worth, who added that he does not approve of methods used in factory farming.
Rick Hill, an avid cook who said he has shopped at the Cowtown market for about 20 years, said meat sales would make for a more thriving market.
"A larger volume of people would shop at the market," Hill said. "Everybody benefits. The vendors would sell their wares more quickly, and the consumers would have more choices."
Clarissa Austin, who was selling tomatoes for J&L Family Farms in Montague County, said, "A lot of people love buying local meats. You can talk with the farmers and know exactly what you're eating."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056