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Distilling the Truth

No one likes it when their words get twisted. A recent news story about Farm Shed Winery has raised questions about how we have treated the owners. We’d like to share the pieces left out of the media story.

Just like we help others take steps to follow public health standards, we have worked with Farm Shed over the past two years to ask them to do the same. In 2017, our staff issued more than 8,300 food, water, and septic permits. That’s roughly 160 residents and business a week that took the proper steps.

We don’t want to shut down operations at Farm Shed Winery or any business in Pierce County. Headlines that say we do are click bait. Rather, our goal is the opposite. We are here to help businesses thrive while they also provide safe experiences for you, their customers.

More than two years of trying to help the owners

Since 2015, the health department and our colleagues at the county have worked with the owners to find a solution to water and other permitting needs. When the owners shared their business plans with the health department, we worked with them to determine steps they needed to get an appropriate water source, septic system, and food permits based on county and state rules. To date, the business has not obtained the permits it needs to operate.

The health department has contacted and met with the owners several times to find a solution. After a complaint from a member of the public earlier this year, we learned the owners were operating without water, septic system, and food permits—and serving customers. We continue to work with the owners to resolve this issue. We’ve asked them to stop operating until they get their permits, or they will face fines. The health department would step in to immediately shut down the business if an imminent threat to public health existed, like illness reports. Otherwise, we work very hard to help businesses figure out how to make a go of it—but do it within existing regulations.

Following the rules helps keep you healthy and safe

The state regulations that dictate local laws for water, septic systems, and food establishments help businesses keep their customers safe and healthy. These public health standards are like the rules for driving: seatbelts, traffic signals, and lanes. Without them, driving would be chaotic at best and put everyone’s safety at risk.

Why water matters

The issue of the winery’s water source has gotten a lot of attention. State rules are very clear. Businesses that serve the public, like the winery, must use an approved public water source. The winery has the option to tap into Tacoma Public Utilities water, which would meet the requirement. As far as we know, the owners have not opted to do this. Farm Shed has a private, individual well, which doesn’t meet public health standards for businesses like this. The winery’s private well is only intended for family use, not large numbers of people patronizing a commercial business. For a business use, state rules for a public water source apply—to meet health and safety requirements.

Innovative businesses are great. We want our local businesses to thrive. Our job is to apply a consistent standard—state and local regulations—that are in place to protect the public’s health. We would like Farm Shed Winery to join the thousands of permitted businesses in Pierce County that follow the rules before putting out their shingle. We are here to work with the owners of the winery or any business on a path to get proper permitting.

We thank our permitted businesses for doing their part to help keep our Pierce County communities healthy and safe!

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