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Actually organic at Farmers Markets ???

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  • rmutt Mar 7, 2014 12:52 PM
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Whenever I go to the farmers markets I see stands that say Organic and have a certificate, but when you look at the produce it does not look at all organic.

Strawberries huge and shiny red in February? Cauliflower without evidence of any little bugs on it!?

Anyone know how often these vendors' produce is checked for authenticity?

The only vendors I trust typically are run by younger people who look like hippies. They are not afraid to show you pictures of their fields and their produce has real evidence of coming from a farm: irregular shapes, small holes, often a few little bugs.

I recently went to South Pasadena Farmers Market...

----Vendors with Organic signs I am suspicious of----
-Jaime Farms - exact center of S Pasadena Farmers Market
http://www.jaimefarms.com
Their selection so vast and nothing had one bug or bite mark on it!

-The stand right next to Jaime with the huge selection and cheap prices

-Yasutomi Farms - beautiful Japanese produce, no posted organic sign but grown hydroponically. *Be warned- while most all of their greens are hydroponic they still spray with real deal pesticides. I had a lengthy conversation with them about it.

----Vendors I trust----
-South Cental CoOp- wonderful kale and herbs that have traces of being a real plant
https://www.southcentralfarmers.com/

-Healthy Family Farms- Grass Beef and Quality Poultry / eggs
http://www.healthy-family-farms.com/

I understand there are advances in farming (organic pesticides, neem oil, hot houses and hydroponics) to help produce look beautiful but many of these farms have too wide of a selection to not have one vegetable with 'a' bug on it!!

Anyone have any insight on this?

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  1. Thank you for noting this. I too have the same concern. And even if the product is organic, that does not mean that the stand is the farm that grew the produce. I come from the NW where this would be a scandal.

    3 Replies
    1. re: amybobamy

      Exactly. One concern I have is these flippant vendors may grow organic oranges, but then throw down "extra" produce that came from who knows where!

      When you inquire further with them they tend to always act suspiciously or give you attitude.
      "Yeah yeah yeah ALL organic" while not looking at you in the eyes OR angrily point to their vinyl banner with the word Organic on it.

      I wish people in LA were as concerned as those in the NorCal / NW!! We actually might have produce from small producers not just from commercial agra using the word organic to up the profits.

      1. re: rmutt

        We're too busy worrying about where our next meal is coming from to, ya know, worry about where our next meal is coming from......

        1. re: rmutt

          NoCal as in 'NoHo'

      2. At the Studio City Farmer's Market on Sunday morning, I see inspectors there on a fairly regular basis, meaning at least every 3rd week, sometimes less.

        2 Replies
        1. re: carter

          I wonder what the inspection entails? There is so much opportunity for a vendor to add to and swap in non-organic items.

          Has there been any reporting on this. I can't seem to find any good articles from anyone in LA.

          1. re: rmutt

            I recall that LA Weekly published a big expose on this topic sometime in the recent past. 6-7 yrs, maybe?

        2. Jaime Farms is one of the biggest vendors at area farmers' markets. They take credit cards. They're opening themselves up to huge liability if they misrepresent their status. Your "rationale" for questioning their legitimacy is meaningless. Moreover, have you been in SoCal this winter? Considering that ALL of the vendors have strawberries now, what is the least bit surprising that Jaime farms does, too?

          Why wouldn't you trust a bigger operation's Organic claim? It's actually quite expensive to be certified. I would not expect a vendor who looks like a young hippie to have gone through the process necessary to actually get to use an Organic label. Indeed, many vendors will tell you straight up that they follow all of the "rules" but can't call themselves organic because it's such a PITA to get certified.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Jack Flash

            I created this topic to start a friendly conversation. Why does anyone in a chat like forum have to be so rude and hostile.

            You have to understand there are a lot of people in the world that are willing to turn a blind eye to help their business make some extra dough... from artisan to corporation. More importantly I was hoping to see if anyone in the Chow community was a journalist or had any expert knowledge to the process of monitoring and certifying the produce that I am buying in California or LA county.

            ----Regarding the cost of certification----
            It actually is not expensive. The California Department of Food and Agriculture states, "54 percent of all CDFA SOP organic registrants paid fees between $0 and $100.00" Even very large growers pay less than a grand per year. Some bigger farmers market stands easily make that in a day.

            sources:
            http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/i_&_c/o...

            http://harvestpublicmedia.org/article...

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07...

            I am sorry but when my health is on the line I will not blindly pay twice the price for something that is twice covered with pesticides. The Huffington Post article is dated, but will surely provide some insight into my "rationale".

            1. re: rmutt

              I was going to say it's not expensive to get certified. I don't live in the area anymore but I always had some suspicions. I now shop at farms directly and granted different climate and soil, the vegetables that are organic are phenomenal.

              Once, I was shopping at the SouthPas market for strawberries and asked the vendor on if they were organic. They are latino dudes that are always on the north side of El Centro and have corn in the summer. The guy laughed and said no one except for that guy over there is organic for strawberries. He was pointing to McGrath farms. I somehow felt his words were the truth. And BTW, I'm still angry with McGrath farms. The last time I was there, I bought a bag of mixed greens that weren't cheap. I opened it after I left and the mix in the middle was all rotten and slimy. I moved out of state the week after that so there was no going back to get my money back. Curses!! (shaking fist in the air)

              1. re: trolley

                Haha! That is the same vendor that had the strawberries I was talking about. So shady!

                1. re: rmutt

                  well, those guys just say no spray but they admit they're not organic. The funny thing is that when I ate their corn raw, my throat would get scratchy as if I was having an allergic reaction. When I started buying sweet corn directly from organic farms, the raw corn never gave me the scratchy itchy throat.

                  1. re: rmutt

                    A grower admitting they're not organic is shady?

                    1. re: rmutt

                      McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo is certified organic.
                      http://www.mcgrathfamilyfarm.com/

                      (and there's no excuse for selling slimy greens)

                    2. re: trolley

                      I had exactly this with Malibu's Vita Zuma Farms.
                      He was very rude when I addressed this matter, then
                      attempted to charge me double the previous weeks charge
                      for other seasonal produce.
                      I NEVER buy from him now.

                    3. re: rmutt

                      Note that certified organic farms may also use pesticides on their crops. But they are restricted to using pesticides that conform to their organic certification.

                      1. re: rmutt

                        I hear your compliant. I usually take strident comments as dubious and I fear my own comment fell into that domain. To clarify my experience: as a recent transplant, I have be shocked at the lack of local and organic food purveyors in LA. As the breadbasket of the US, I was expecting easy access to fresh, farm grown, organic vegetables as well as many butchers and fishmongers. I have been searching for co-ops, going to farmer's markets, looking on this site, and yelp to find sources and it seems LA is slow to respond to the consumer market. I have lived in the NW, NY, and Europe and traveled extensively so I expected more resources based on my experiences with large cities. This is not to say you can not get amazing food at world class restaurants but to procure them yourself seems to be an issue.

                        1. re: amybobamy

                          This is shocking. Very interesting. Which farmers' markets and CSAs have you looked into?

                        2. re: rmutt

                          Your concerns are valid. The link you provided for the CDFA (Calif. Dept. of Food & Agriculture) is a bit tricky to navigate, but it lists the names of farmers who sell at Farmer's Markets who have been Fined, Suspended, or had their Producers Certificate revoked from the second quarter of 2012 to the second quarter of 2013. If you click on "Inspection Home" and then under "Certified Farmer's Market Program" scroll down to the bottom of the page to Enforcement Actions you will see the list of farmers and the rules they violated.
                          Healthy Family Farms, one of the vendors you trust, has broken every rule in the book. A Google search will reveal many articles describing the various shenanigans that Healthy Family Farms has been involved in over the years.

                          1. re: mary c

                            I don't see this link. when I click on "inspection home" i have to click on either "chem lab", "feed, fertilizer,l/s drug", or "inspection and compliance". do I click on the last option?

                            1. re: trolley

                              Yes, you are on the right track. The CDFA website is a pain, but it contains an extensive list of Farmer's Market cheaters. OK go to http://www.cdfa.ca.gov
                              Click on INSPECTION HOME
                              Then click on INSPECTION & COMPLIANCE
                              Scroll down and click on DIRECT MARKETING PROGRAM and at the bottom of that page is NONCOMPLIANCE.....this list is unbelievable and a real eye opener. Good Luck!

                            2. re: mary c

                              You have left out the necessary link between Inspection Home and Certified Farmer's Market Program, but one
                              can just put 'Certified Farmer's Market Program' into their search and it will take you there.

                        3. In California, strawberries can be grown in the field year-round readily, especially with the Baja-like winter that we've had this season. The larger size, uniform shape berries are from first-year plantings. A number of farmers replant every year because they want that uniformity that customers will pay more for. Second year plants produce smaller berries with a variety of shapes and sizes.

                          Produce with bug holes, etc. have been culled out before it reaches market. How much is culled out depends on the volume the farm has available for sale. At the end of the season for a particular crop that is in high demand but short supply, things will look more scraggly. Customers who are buying certified organic product want perfection for the premium price they pay. I wish it weren't so, as there'd be less food waste. But that's how the market is today.

                          You might find the links and discussion in this thread useful,
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/899284

                          1. Found another article:

                            "L.A. County last year tested only five of 700 farmers to catch those who might be lying about using pesticides or purchasing pesticide-laden produce under the table from secondary sources."

                            http://www.laweekly.com/2011-11-10/ne...

                            1. after 30 years of working with farmers, i'm really wondering how you tell organic by appearance. that is some trick. there certainly are issues with verification, but to start throwing around names of farmers you're "suspicious of" because of, well, i'm trying to think of a nicer word than "ignorance" but i'm not having much luck.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: FED

                                I'm with you, FED. It's one thing to comment in generalities about the perfection of supposedly organic produce, and something else entirely to question the honesty and ethics of specific farmers based on nothing more than their produce looking too good.

                                I buy every week from my local farmers' market (some organic, some not), and I'm one of those extra picky people who searches for the most perfect-looking items. But I've still found worms in my tomatoes and bugs in my berries. and then there was the bright green something that hopped out of my salad bowl after the greens had been in the fridge for 4 or 5 days.

                              2. You asked downthread if the media has been covering farmers' market shenanigans, and the answer is very much yes:

                                http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/...
                                http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish...
                                http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish...
                                http://www.kcet.org/living/food/food-...

                                I'm the food section editor at KCET, so this topic is near and dear to me heart. And my brain. You should look into the economics of farming before you jump to any conclusions. For instance, Jaime Farms has a wide selection because they buy produce from other farms and sell it at their stall. This is no secret -- next time ask where everything was grown, if you like.

                                You say that you don't believe that Yasutomi Farms is organic ... but also that they don't have an organic sign. So, then -- they're just not organic, right?

                                I'm surprised you list Healthy Family Farms are a vendor you trust. Is that just a gut feeling, the flipside of the farmers you just don't trust?

                                Many wonderful local farmers, like Jimenez, choose not to be certified organic. If this is important to you, it's absolutely worth talking to the vendors. Those who use organic practice, but are not certified, aren't shy about saying so.

                                Also, just because something is organic does not mean it is pesticide-fee. Many pesticides are allowed under the organic banner. But nature-made chemicals can kill you, too!

                                (Also, as a side note, it's good that you realize that properly-grown produce shouldn't necessarily be bug- and blemish-free. But the vast majority of customers, even at farmers' markets, are looking for stuff that's as shiny as the supermarket version. So, many farmers don't even try to sell imperfect fruits and veggies. It's a huge loss for them and it's sad.)

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Papuli

                                  I'm confused regarding your statement that Jaime Farms has a "wide selection because they buy produce from other farms and sell it at their stall." Buying and reselling of produce is against the Direct Marketing Regulations that govern the California State Farmer's Market Program.
                                  Farmers who sell at Farmer's Markets are supposed to grow what they sell. There are many very fine and reputable farmers who sell at So. Cal. Farmer's Markets, but there are also MANY cheaters. State and County Ag Depts. have regulations in place, but for many reasons enforcing these rules is difficult.

                                  1. re: mary c

                                    Note that regulations permit one vendor to sell goods grown by another under certain conditions, so there can be instances where farmer A's goods are being sold by farmer B and it's perfectly legit.

                                    1. re: Jack Flash

                                      Yes -- there are all kinds of loopholes.

                                      1. re: Papuli

                                        Characterizing this provision as a "loophole" is unfounded. Small farms cannot afford to cover many Saturday and Sunday FMs, the most popular customer days, on their own. By pairing up with a neighboring farm, they can have more sales outlets to everyone's benefit.

                                        " You may only sell your own products unless the individual CFM rules allow you to sell for others. In that case the market may allow you to sell for up to two other certified producers. If so, each certified producer's products must be separate and identifiable, the CFM must have written verification that you are authorized to sell for them, and you must also be selling your own products as well."

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          OK. I didn't mean "loophole" in any negative sense. Quite the opposite.

                                          1. re: Papuli

                                            Thanks for clarifying your intent. Guess I've never seen loophole applied in a non-pejorative way.

                                2. I am baffled by your post. Pretty produce must be not organic? Healthy Family Farms is the magical vendor that earns your trust?

                                  I suggest that start researching the issue BEFORE you slander hardworking farmers and vendors. There are many, many dedicated people who feed our families and deserve our trust. Some do not. The markets would be better regulated if they had the funding to do so.

                                  KCET, KCRW, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly articles and blogs, and individual consumer blogs have a wealth of information about individual farmers and markets. Start there FIRST if you want a starting point.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: JudiAU

                                    Yes, many good organic venders actually wash their produce well before bringing it to market, thus NO dirt or bugs!