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Farmers' Market Frauds

Is it just me or do any of you get annoyed walking around our “Farmers’ Markets” and seeing sellers who obviously are sourcing their produce from wholesalers? For example, stands selling produce as diverse as lettuce and tomatoes. These two vegetable need ENTIRELY different climates: lettuce is a cool weather vegetable but tomatoes need it HOT! Citrus and strawberries from the same farm? I doubt it.

I’m not really looking to pay more just for the experience of buying produce outside while watching people in sunhats using burlap sacks get their “organic” on – another aspect of farmers’ markets that I’m skeptical over. When I go, I do try to buy from the vendors that I really think are farmers. I may just be a curmudgeon, but I just want to keep it real.

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  1. that is why I patronize the same vendors, ask them where their fields are, when the produce was picked, how the weather is affecting their crop..etc...

    1 Reply
    1. re: torty

      Exactly! I remember once trying to engage a woman in that conversation and her reply was "I'm not a grower, I'm a seller." Guess that solved that!

    2. I've noticed many times the boxes containing their produce are the same ones you'll find in back of any grocery store. I think a lot of the vendors at farmers markets go to the central market downtown and buy their produce from the same suppliers as the chain supermarkets

      2 Replies
      1. re: SteveInSoCal

        It might be that they bought their produce, or it might be that they re-used boxes.

        1. re: Louise

          In some cases, especially in California, the vendors may in fact be the people selling the product to the grocery stores in the first place.

      2. actually, lettuce is grown in hot climates, like the imperial valley and in Arizona. According to wikipedia, "in the United States, 95% of all head lettuce is grown in California and Arizona." Those are 2 warm-hot climates.

        4 Replies
        1. re: jlq3d3

          My, we're cynical today! According to the website for California Certified Farmer's Markets, "certified farmers' markets (CFM's) are where genuine farmers sell their crops directly to the public. More specifically, a CFM is a location approved by the county agricultural commissioner where certified farmers offer for sale only those agricultural products they grow themselves."
          So either they're breaking the law, or they're not selling at certified markets, although looking at the website, it looks like they pretty much are all certified.

          1. re: Chowpatty

            You're lucky because you can do that in California but most of the country doesn't have that luxury. If I only ate local produce, I'd be hurting in the winter.

            1. re: chowser

              This is why people "put up" fruits and vegetables during the summer, so they can have them in the winter.

              1. re: Non Cognomina

                For those who have the luxury of space.

        2. Re: jlq3d3. I guess you don't have a vegetable garden. California and Arizon are made up of microclimates. For example, it can be a cool 65 degrees in Oxnard, good for strawberries, and 85 degrees in San Bernadino, good for tomatoes. Additionally, at different times of year, the weather is different. I can grow lettuce in the winter, but not in the summer. I can grow tomatoes in the summer, but not the winter. The point being you'd need a mighty big farm to have microclimates capable of both lettuce and tomatoes in the same season.

          RE: Chowpatty. I understand what the rules and regulations of CFMs are. Unfortunately, no one enforces them. The markets are full of vendors selling produce they do not grow. A mild example are the wild mushroom vendors. Those mushrooms come from mushroom hunters up north. There is no microclimate in Southern Ca that produces wild mushrooms.

          4 Replies
          1. re: markethej

            Not true. The Santa Monica farmers markets inspect the farms of the farmers who sell at their markets. That is one of the reasons these markets are so respected.

            Second, there are wild mushrooms in the mountains around LA, especially where there have been wildfires. That's one source of wild mushrooms, though not as fruitful as the areas in Northern California that you reference.

            1. re: glutton

              That isn't what the mushroom guy at the SM fm told me. He told me he sources from norcal.

              And, I'd be curious to know who does the inspections. I've never seen that the SM fm inspects the actual farms.

              1. re: markethej

                The market manager, Laura Avery, is famous for driving to the farms to do the inspections. She's an especially dedicated and savvy market manager, so I am not so naive as to think that other market managers are doing this. However, it's typically quite obvious which vendors are selling produce that they bought downtown, so I'm not terribly troubled by their presence -- I just don't buy from them.

                As for the mushrooms, I can only tell you where I went foraging with a mushroom hunter a few years ago. Perhaps the mushrooms are better up north or maybe they're more plentiful up north, but mushrooms do exist in southern California.

            2. re: markethej

              Well, I have grown lettuce and tomatoes in the same small gardens in both Central VA and now San Francisco. There may certainly be reasons to question the sourcing of some vendors at some farmer's markets....but the presence of those two items together wouldn't be one of them in my mind. There is also, of course, the option of not purchasing from vendors you question.

              The certified farmer's market vendors in CA are strictly controlled and closely inspected/monitored. If you go to their website, you can get a list of locations they certify.

            3. I do better at roadside farm stands with the growing fields behind the shacks.

              I went to one "farm market" and saw grapes and bananas (this in NJ) and asked why do you sell these. His response was he buys them from a wholesaler so that he can provide a one-stop shopping for produce. Oh.

              3 Replies
              1. re: tom porc

                Here in Ontario, we have the same problem. Generally, if there is still dirt on the produce, it's real. Also, the "grocers" generally rent vans while the farmers have trucks with their farms' names emblazoned. On the matter of roadside stands, I trust only a few. The produce at many stands in Essex county is stuff that coudn't ship to market or was retuned.

                Amish or Mennonite vendors are a treat, either in markets or at the roadside.

                1. re: DockPotato

                  I don`t know where your from, but you can find lettuce and strawberries growing
                  on each side of the road in the salinas valley in california same way with tomato`s
                  around Fresno.

                  1. re: DockPotato

                    Indeed. Although shisterism is an old trade, none can so popular as this type of activity especially with the advent/trend of the "green revolution".

                    And if you are trying to abide by the 100 mile rule, that makes it tough.

                    Good thing I've given grandma a bunch of my tomatoe seedlings. That should keep me in stock-lol.

                2. My friend's father sold at a big farmers market in Boston (this was a long time ago). He'd just go to the terminal markets in the morning, same place as grocery stores might, and pick up the produce. He made sure to have his farmers market clothes on and not the nice designer clothes he normally wears. It was a great living he provided his family. But, when you come down to it, most of the produce you're buying in Boston and that climate in the winter is probably being trucked in.

                  1. That doesn't happen in New York because the Greenmarket system requires that all the items sold in their markets (and there are many!) be grown or produced or caught by the vendors. And the DO police it very closely.

                    As for Boston... if that reference was to Haymarket, that has never in my memory been even passed off as a "Farmers Market." It's just a place to get produce all close together. The quality has always (since the mid-70's that I know of) been questionable.

                    1. You may be getting unnecessarily annoyed because the term Farmers Market has become a broad catch all for too many types of markets selling food. Each one has different rules. If you are unhappy, find out the rules, find the one with rules that suit you and go there.
                      But don't rule out perfectly good farmers' markets with different sets of rules to accommodate other agricultural or sales practices.
                      Some have to be certified organic, totally grown only by the seller, within 200 miles of the market site, etc. Others will allow, for instance, 20% of the goods to be grown by the sellers' neighboring farmers or bought from wholesalers to allow them to add eggs or lemons. Some allow prepared food, others don't. Sometimes farmers will simply use cartons they have recycled from grocery stores to pack their produce - doesn't mean they bought it from wholesalers, just that they're thrifty. Farmers can grow completely out of season crops hydoponically or in greenhouses.

                      This week our community on Capital Hill in Washington DC lost our Historic Eastern Market to a devastating fire. It was the oldest continuously operating food market in the city, dating to 1873. Inside there were individual stalls selling organic and non-organic goods - none sold by producers. They generally bought from wholesale vendors and meat packers but the goods were fresher than at any supermarket. Real butchers, cheese and dairy, quality produce, fresh pasta, prepared foods, baked goods and fishmonger. On Saturdays and Sunday, vendors came selling organic and non-organic produce much of which they raised themselves, some from neighboring farms. Vendors sell soaps, hot sauces, and baked goods. In recent years, a huge Flea Market has spilled out into adjacent areas. And everyone calls the whole thing Eastern Market but that's really only the building that burned.
                      This National Historic Landmark was not only the centerpiece of our community but of our food lives. There is a place for stuff from wholesale goods in a mix with the organic and local produce that we bought every week in a market that most of us walked to.
                      It's hard to see how that's a fraud.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: MakingSense

                        I am sorry for your loss. I hope your community finds a way to replace what was lost.

                        1. re: naughtywaitress

                          It's already on its way back! The devastating fire was Monday. By Friday, they decided the buiding was structurally sound enough that they could move the security fences back and install awnings for the weekend vendors. The new fire chief (on the job 2 weeks) opened the main doors so everyone could get a look at the interior damage, handed out fire hats to kids and fire safety literature to everyone. The regular inside vendors who were able to, set up temporary stalls under tents outside.
                          While the city bureaucrats discussed a bunch of options for a temporary market, the vendors - businesspeople that they are - drew up a workable plan that they had to the city within days of the fire and announced plans for a meeting to present their plan to the community to get their support. Their plan has already started circulating and is receiving a lot of support. The city may end up following rather than leading.
                          A successful 134-year-old market that is the center of a community isn't going to be allowed to die.

                      2. As various responders have pointed out, standards determining what is or is not a "Farmer's Market" vary wildly from one locale to the other. The old Farmer's Market in Nashville had an unregulated mix of actual farmers selling their own actual produce and dealers selling what they'd bought from wholesalers, and though the physical market was completely redesigned and rebuilt some years ago I'm not sure that the sellers have become much more regulated. At least the flea market part got separated from the food and produce, which oddly enough is not the case in some of our strictly-regulated LA County farmer's markets. Both the Monrovia and Eagle Rock markets have entirely too many dealers in everything from CDs and used boom boxes to tube socks to rabbits-in-aprons dolls, though at least Eagle Rock puts these in a sort of corral.

                        1. Here is an interesting article from the Times of London about Farmers' Market fraud problems in Britain. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news... I like the "recommendation" at the end: "- Never overestimate city folk. If you say the figs, avocados and pomegranates you are selling have been grown at your farm in Aberdeen they’ll almost certainly believe you."

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: inuksuk

                            I would hope that at least if they were selling someone else's products, they would have the decency to own up to it if asked directly. It's one thing to bring produce under a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy but completely another to lie when ask point-blank.

                          2. Here in the NYC area you have several types of farmers markets. One type is run by a company which inspects them, regulates them, and makes sure that you don't have too many vendors selling the same things at any one site.These are great and have only items grown or made on the farm.

                            Then you have so called farmers or 'international' markets which have anyone selling who wants too. these ones often have vendors selling products that are fresh, but obviously bought from a wholesaler.

                            1. I don’t know about other places, but at the Saint Paul Farmers Market everything must be grown within 100 miles of the Twin Cities, and vendors can’t sell anything they didn’t grow themselves.

                              And it’s a hell of a nice market.

                              Uncle Ira

                              1. There are "farmers' markets" and then there are "growers' markets." Here in southeastern PA, during the growing season we have our share of both, and they are described accordingly in those terms.

                                1. Tomatoes and lettuce can grow at the same time. I had a CSA share last year and we had lettuce and tomatoes together, and as I had to pick them myself, I'm pretty sure they were from the farm and not the grocery store.