“In 2010, an investigative team from an NBC affiliate in Los Angeles followed one farmer’s truck to the LA wholesale market, where he picked up a load of produce, including Mexican cantaloupes. That produce, according to the report, was later sold at farmers markets.”
“In response, Los Angeles County dispatched a few inspectors to look for evidence of mislabeled produce. According to the Los Angeles Times, 19 vendors were fined in 2013 for misrepresenting their products.”
Here are some San Diego locals caught cheating at their market stands:
Atkins Nursery (Victor Gonzalez), Fallbrook. After a hearing and an appeal, the farm was fined $1,800 by Los Angeles County and suspended from certified sections of farmers markets for six months, for selling Asian pears not grown by the farm at the Pomona Valley farmers market Sept. 8 (tipoff: many Asian pears on the table, but the farm had only one tree); for selling Fuji apples not grown by the farm at the Wilshire Center farmers market March 22 (tipoff: quantity and commercial appearance); and for selling blood oranges not grown by the farm at the Watts farmers market April 20 (tipoff: the oranges were frozen, but the farm had not experienced freeze damage). Atkins appealed to the state secretary of Agriculture; after a review of the case, staff counsel affirmed the original decision on Dec. 20; if Atkins does not appeal to Superior Court, the farm will be suspended starting Jan. 20, 2014.
Behneman Family Farms (Julie Behneman), Valley Center. Fined $1,000 by San Diego County for making false claims about the extent of the farm’s avocado and Oroblanco grapefruit production during an inspection for the renewal of the farm’s certified producer’s certificate; fined $401 by San Diego County for selling Oroblancos not grown by the farm at 11 different San Diego County farmers markets in 2012.
Bernardino Loera, Fallbrook. Fined $700 by San Diego County for selling chayote not grown by the farm at the San Diego City Heights farmers market Feb. 2
Hillside Family Farms (Michael Cook), Fallbrook. Fined $802 by Los Angeles County for selling grapes and blueberries not grown by the farm at the Claremont farmers market Aug. 18. Tipoffs: commercial appearance and large quantity of the grapes; blueberries out of season at growing location.
Morning Star Ranch (Jeremiah Carlin), Valley Center. Fined $401 by San Diego County for selling a “green drink” that contained primarily grapefruit juice made from fruit not grown by the farm, at the Leucadia farmers market Feb. 10.
Valdivia Farms (Francisco Valdivia), Carlsbad. Fined $401 by San Diego County for selling tomatoes not grown by the farm at the San Diego North Park farmers market March 28.
Jose Zamora, Oceanside. Fined $500 by San Diego County for selling cauliflower, broccoli, nopales, cabbage and serrano chiles not grown by the farm at the San Marcos farmers market April 14; fined $401 by San Diego County for selling zucchini at the Santee farmers market April 24. Tipoff: The produce in question appeared of suspiciously high quality for the time of year and growing area.
In response to all this cheating, Governor Brown signed a new California law that aims to rid farmers markets of cheaters.
Article in the LA Times DAVID KARP
…Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1871, which for the first time provides what supporters say is adequate funding to ensure that growers at certified farmers markets produce what they sell.
Across the state, consumers should see more inspectors at farmers markets. As cheaters are caught and fined or suspended from participation, shoppers will have greater confidence that the farms they buy from really grew the produce. In the short term, they may also see a reduction in the quantity and variety of produce at certain markets, as cheating becomes more difficult.
Growers will be required to post conspicuous signs with the name and location of their farm, which will be helpful for shoppers. The sign must also state “We grow what we sell,” a declaration that may appear superfluous (vendors in agricultural sections already are supposed to grow what they sell), but is intended to make cheating a more clear-cut violation. The bill creates a new misdemeanor, making false statements about the grower, growing area or growing practices of agricultural products punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and imprisonment of up to six months.
A survey of a dozen farmers and shoppers at markets last weekend found almost unanimous support for enhanced enforcement.
As he loaded his cart at the Hollywood farmers market, Daniel Mattern, chef of Cooks County restaurant, said that AB 1871 will “help protect me, because as someone who buys a lot of produce at farmers markets, I like to know that it’s actually coming from the farm I buy it from.”
My Personal Experiences With Market Cheaters
During the nineties, I worked for a family’s market stand in Orange county where they sold all types of organic fruit. After a few weeks, I found out that they had purchased an old fruit farm in Sacramento which was certified organic but wasn’t really producing anything. They didn’t farm the land at all. Instead, they went to a local packing house and purchased seconds for dirt cheap. Seconds are the smaller and less than perfect fruit usually reserved for canning factories. They then removed the labels, and re-sold the fruit under the organic certification obtained from the bogus farm at the inflated price of $2.50 a lb.!
Several years ago, at the Huntington Beach market, a new fruit vendor set up shop right next door to the J R Organics stand. It was run by two friendly young men who told stories of their beautiful farm near Sacramento. They spoke lovingly of the farmer whose family had Christian values and they spun a lovely tale of pastoral bliss. Then a few weeks later, as I was delivering produce from J R Organics to a local produce market, I was shocked to see our friendly neighbors from Huntington Beach inside the walk-in refrigerator, loading boxes of fruit onto their truck! Not able to contain myself, I asked if this walk-in was their beautiful farm. They left the market the very next week!
A new organic fruit stand opened at the Irvine market. It was run by several young, ambitious girls. Initially, the fruit was very good and I could tell it came from a small farm. They soon became very popular and successful but then things changed. The fruit was not as tasty and at the same time, their volume increased dramatically. Shortly after that, I moved to Santa Cruz where I happened to run into the owner of that particular farm. It turns out the girls were secretly going to packing houses, buying cheap seconds, and selling them under the original farms certification, while pocketing the money from the extra sales. My heart went out to this farm owner as she was dedicated to running an honest business.
Clearly, this new law is long overdue. Now let’s get rid of all the CSA cheaters!