I  t's human nature, I guess. Give someone something, almost anything, for free, and they think it's the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel.

They'll take all they can get as long as they don't have to pay for it.

And it doesn't matter if it's a 50-cent cup of coffee, news on the Internet or a tablet with a politician's name imprinted on it, if it's free, it's good as gold.

Farmers are no exception, of course. They work hard, put in long hours, deal with the best and worst Mother Nature has to throw at them and make the best of the ups and downs of the marketplace. And they've got bills to pay just like everyone else.

So if they can manage a spot at the local farmers' market every Saturday free of charge, what's not to like about that?

That's what has been happening in Shrewsbury Township, with the township serving as sponsor of a farmers' market at the Shrewsbury Commons Shopping Center, for the last two years.

Nice gesture, I'd say. Great deal if you can get it.

It didn't cost the farmers anything. It was convenient for southern York County consumers. And it served as an opportunity to support the efforts of the local farming community.

Win, win and win.

Except for one thing -- it's wrong.

This is just my political philosophy, but as a matter of public policy I think it's always a bad idea for any government body to compete against local business. Why? Well, because they have an unfair advantage when it comes to purchasing insurance and providing services for which a normal business would have to pay.

And since businesses are required to pay taxes to various municipalities, why should they pay taxes to compete against themselves? It's unfair.

Worse, why should one segment of the marketplace -- farmers in this case -- have an advantage over any other segment of the marketplace -- retailers, for example, or car dealers or landscapers?

If we (taxpayers) are going to provide free space and opportunity for farmers to sell their produce each week, shouldn't we do the same thing for all other businesses?

I think so.

But what would be the response, do you think, if car dealers in southern York County wanted to hold a vehicle sale shindig on the taxpayers' dime every weekend?

I suspect it would be "No can do."

For two years, Shrewsbury Township supervisors thought they were doing a nice thing for the community by budgeting $500 a year and providing $1,500 worth of insurance for 19 vendor-farmers who set up shop every weekend at the shopping center to sell some fruit, some vegetables, some baked goods and some sandwiches.

Free of charge.

It was a nice thing to do.

It just wasn't a good idea.

Finally, after two years of being the good guys, the supervisors came to understand it wasn't a good idea and voted 3-2 to nip it in the bud.

Two reasons, they said. One, there was a liability issue; two, the township shouldn't be sponsoring a business that competes against other legitimate businesses.

Right on both fronts.

Volunteer market organizer and township supervisor Susan Fox has said several times there is no concern about insurance or liability, but I'll beg to differ. I wish she was right about that, but she isn't.

This is 2013, not 1960. Back then people weren't so quick to sue you if someone was involved in an accident or someone got hurt or sick. Today, it's a different story.

As long as no one gets hurt or sick or involved in a fight or a shooting or a stabbing or nothing falls on them or a car doesn't hit them in the parking lot, that's all great and wonderful.

But the first time a child is backed over by a car in the parking lot, look out. Someone's gonna get sued. First in line? The township because it is the sponsor, and it probably has the deepest pockets.

That's unfortunate. But it's a fact of modern life. And if you choose to ignore that, it's at your own peril.

Does that mean the farmers' market has to be shut down?

I don't see why. There are farm stands sitting along the road all over southern York County. Clearly they are a consumer favorite.

So why can't the farmers join forces, rent the land on which they wish to set up shop for a nominal fee, pay for their own insurance and conduct business as usual?

Yes, it might cost them a few bucks, but that's the way the free market works.

No one gets a free ride in this life.

Or shouldn't.

Especially not at taxpayers' expense.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.