Farmers markets are required to sell local produce

Mexican produce was allegedly sold recently in a California farmer’s market under false pretenses. The complaint came by way of Shannon Reid, a market manager for Raw Inspiration, who claims she witnessed Kirby Wyllie, an employee of Rancho Las Gordonises repackaging Mexican fruits and vegetables to appear as if they were California grown. This is not the first episode of this vendor alleging their imports are locally sourced.

The situation gets sticky, with board members scrambling, suspensions, and parties with vested interest in both of the farms in the allegation, a whole lot of ugly finger pointing and name-calling mishigas that seems more suited for gangsters, or politicians than vegetable growers.

In other cities across the country, this practice of reselling is not necessarily frowned upon, considering the shorter growing seasons. But California’s certified farmers markets (there are more than 700 of them statewide) are all part of a program established back in 1977 to support farmers by allowing them to sell directly to consumers. The farmers must produce documentation that shows which items they grow locally have been certified to sell at the markets. They can also sell additional items, such as from neighboring farmers who don’t want to make the trek down to the market each week, or foraged items such as mushrooms. But only two additional certificates are allowed per farmer.

Most of the farmers you see weekly at your local market are the real deal. In fact, one of the greatest things about the markets is just how much more social they are than the grocery store. These folks will talk to you about almost anything, and definitely about their crops; they are not stockers or cashiers, they are the people growing or finding your food. So while it may take some getting used to, it’s ok to ask questions. Try some of these:

Where is your farm?

How big is it?

Do you allow tours?

Do you have a Web site?

How long have you been selling here?

Do you actually grow all of this stuff?

What’s best to buy right now?

Ok, so maybe all of these questions at once might come off like an interrogation. Use your judgment. The point is to strike up a conversation and a relationship with these people. They know there is a lot of competition out there, so they’re usually pretty ripe for discussion if it means your repeat business. And while the deceptive practices can be a bit off-putting, don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.

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Photo: Jill Ettinger