El Dorado County has announced a six-month public education campaign to cut down on roadside vendors, many of whom county officials say operate illegally and unsafely.
The campaign, whose participants include farmers' groups as well as county agencies and the city of Placerville, is in response to what many said is an increase in vendors on major roads.
"These people have an unfair business advantage," said Charlene Carveth, the county's agriculture commissioner. "They often don't have a business license. Depending on the circumstance, they don't have a health permit."
Farmers say the vendors are more than just unfair competition. Amanda Carling, manager of Patrick's Mountain Grown, a berry farm, said unlicensed vendors operating just off the road give legitimate farmers who sell at farmers markets and on their own property a bad name.
"It's the stuff that's left out after the farmers market," she said. "That's secondhand fruit."
Carveth said the recent influx of vendors largely come from elsewhere in the Central Valley, adding there's no way to make sure the prepared food some vendors sell was safely prepared.
The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office said that because illegal roadside vendors can be charged under several codes, the extent of the problem is hard to track.
"They may or may not give him a ticket," said Lt. Tim Becker, the department's spokesman. "It's common sense. You prioritize."
Officials said the risks of roadside vendors are also difficult to estimate. There haven't been any outbreaks of illness, said Mike Applegarth, an analyst for El Dorado County, and the economic impact of such unregulated activity is hard to calculate.
"It's more out of caution, and to protect the members of our ag community who are playing by the rules," Applegarth said.
Applegarth said the campaign doesn't require special funding and is scheduled to address one angle of the risk of roadside vendors every month, with information available on the websites of the effort's sponsors.
Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.