By Connor Beach
For years the Huntington Farmers Market has been a Sunday morning tradition that’s offered locals and visitors the chance to buy and sample fresh produce and other products prepared by small scale, often local, vendors.
But vendors at this year’s farmers market were confronted with an issue they had not faced in the past.
“They said no sampling is to be allowed at all,” said Ethel Terry, of Long Island Growers Market LLC, which operates the weekly market in Huntington under the terms of a license agreement with the town.
On June 3, the opening day of this year’s market, Town of Huntington public safety officials instructed the market’s vendors that they were not allowed to provide samples of their products, according to Terry. And each Sunday since then, she said, public safety officials have been at the market to enforce the “no sampling” policy.
Terry, who also sells produce at the market, said this was the first time in her nearly 30 years of organizing farmers markets on Long Island that vendors were prohibited from giving out samples at any of the nine LI Growers markets.
Jessica Affatato, another vendor, who sells products from her Northport-based Harbor Cheese and Provisions, said the inability of vendors to offer samples “put a damper on the market” as new customers can often be enticed to buy a product after sampling it first.
“It’s affecting sales significantly,” Affatato said. “My sales have dropped 25 percent.”
Terry added, “It’s hurting Huntington because a vendor can go to the Kings Park or Northport market where they are allowed to sample.”
However, Terry didn’t fault town officials for “doing their due diligence” to ensure sampling was being conducted in a safe manner. “They’re doing what they feel is right, and they need to be covered.”
Both Terry and Affatato said the growing frustration from the market vendors stemmed from confusion as to which level of government holds regulatory authority.
After learning of the situation, Long Islander News launched an investigation.
Suffolk Department of Health officials referred questions to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The state department issues licenses regarding the manufacturing, processing and handling of food supplies from producers to consumers.
A spokeswoman for the department said in a statement received Tuesday, “The individual vendors at farmers markets are allowed to sample their products provided they have the appropriate 20-C license or are registered as a home processor with the Department of Agriculture and Markets.”
Terry confirmed Tuesday that all vendors of the Huntington market either have a 20-C license or are registered with the state as a home processor.
Asked about the situation, and informed of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets’ statement, Huntington Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said there is “nothing” in the town’s code regarding sampling at such markets.
“The town does not enforce county or state law,” he said. “The Growers Market should seek guidance from the state and county as to whether they can lawfully offer samples at the market site.”
Ciappetta did not directly confirm whether public safety officials would back down.
Long Islander News called the town’s public safety office Wednesday afternoon, but the department’s director, Peter Sammis, could not be reached.
Vendors are again slated to set up shop this Sunday, 7 a.m.-12 noon in the municipal parking lot next to 228 Main St. in the village. They were optimistic that, this time around, they would be permitted to provide samples.