How can you be sure those cherries or plums from the farmers market are really local or organic? Last year, a TV station in Los Angeles found vendors making false claims — including stalls selling produce bought from wholesalers. We discuss new proposals to increase enforcement, and find out how consumers can ensure they’re getting the genuine artichoke.

Ben Feldman, program manager for farmers markets with the Ecology Center
Claudia Reid, policy director for California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)
David Karp, author of the "Market Watch" column for the Los Angeles Times' food section
Noelle Cremers, director of natural resources and commodities for the California Farm Bureau Federation

  • I think it’s up to the farmers’ market organizer to verify that vendors in their markets meet the criterion that they are in fact producers and not re-sellers. 

  • Leah

    My Leah Smith I’m on the CDFA committee and work for AIM Agricultural Institue of Marin. We have our own Farm Audit program and it is a GREAT solution to this problem. We’d love to share it with you. We check our 250 farmers from market to farm. Where do we call in? Leah 🙂

  • Julia

    I was at the large San Rafael Farmer’s Market at the Marin Civic Center last week and got into a disagreement with a friend. I was about to purchase a couple of containers of delicious looking raspberries from a vendor who did not have a Certified Organic sign. She warned me not to purchase them because they were probably sprayed, despite the fact that the grower assured me they used no pesticides. I argued that the organizers of the market verified these things and would not let produce into the market that was sprayed with pesticides. Was I wrong? Are there any enforcements in place to ensure that the produce is – if not certified organic – at least not sprayed with chemicals? 

    • Ramona B

      I don’t think there is currently…but farmers are allowed to state no sprays or fertilizers.  Julia bare in mind the incredible cost of Organic certification.  Ask the farmer questions about the item.  What pests they normally get?  They should be able to easily tell you what pests target certain fruit and veg and the alternatives they use. If they are clueless move on. If they can offer you more details great. Also look at the fruit and veg.  Is there a bug bite on some? I’ll take a bug and a bug bite on my veg…means that they arent’ out spraying more than likely and that the product was grown by the farmer.

      I don’t think raspberries have pests per say during fruiting.  Also…as far as I understand it not legal for any fruit to be sprayed directly. Only when the plants are growing and fruiting.

    • Viola Toniolo

      I used to work on a vegetable farm in N Virginia that used no pesticides, but was not certified organic. We sold at many farmers markets in the DC area and simply stated “no pesticides” on all of our produce signs. Our customers trusted us, many had visited the farm, and the owners were well-known market organizers. But there were also problem sellers at many markets: they claimed to be local growers, but bought everything wholesale; they claimed to be organic but weren’t. They also stood out in some ways – their produce was too perfect and came in standard boxes, the “owners” were never there, there were no pictures of the farm and the sellers had little to say about their produce’s origin. To me the most implant thing is to establish trust with a grower – get to know them, ask to do a farm tour, or ask the market management about the stand if you are unsure.

    • Claudia

      Julia, the Certified Farmers Market certification only certifies that the farmer grew the product.  there is no connection between CFM and Certified Organic.  That’s a common misconception, and it’s my personal mission to help people understand this issue so that we can all be better informed eaters!

  • Stevv

    If there is some sort of outbreak of a disease, such as E-coli, and there are cheaters, how will we trace the product to find its origin? We really need to think about this. 

  • Rosa

    It seems that part of the solution lies in prioritizing farms and farmers that are closest to a particular farmers market.  In San Francisco, local farms (i.e. located within 50 miles of the city) can have trouble finding spots in existing markets because they are full of vendors traveling from hundreds of miles away.  

  • Ramona B

    Please mention….if it looks perfect and all the products are uniform like you would find in the grocery store….it probably came from a wholesaler.  A quick look at the boxes that are being used can give you clues also.  I grew and sold at many markets for many years and did see a lot of this type of thing. Sad. 

    Rosa most farm markets do have a radius and prioritize but some areas simply can not grow peaches with in 50 miles of the coast and things like that.  Also there are some farms that are grand fathered into the markets and pass on those rights.

  • Jstew52

    This was such a depressing show.  It’s taken some of the joy out of my weekend ritual.  Ugh.

  • Angela

    I have been trying to protest the presence of the egg vendor at the Fillmore Farmers Market to no avail.  This vendor sells eggs claiming to be  “cage free – organic” in a carton which depicts a pastoral scene of chickens pecking happily in lush green grass.  In actual fact these eggs come from a factory farm that houses 700,000 caged chickens in horrific conditions.  The factory farm was sued by the Humane Society of the United States on behalf of residents who live near the factory and have been living with the stench and eye-burning fumes coming from the factory.  The Humane Society won the case and recently the residents were awarded $500,000.   I contacted the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association last November expressing my concerns and was told by the director that nothing could be done about the policy of having this vendor there because “their practices fit the criteria to be certified organic”.  Because of my experience with this situation I have lost much of my interest in buying at Farmers Market and I certainly don’t feel inclined to support the Fillmore Farmers Market.   

  • tambob

    Is it really necessary to converse with the vendor?  A lot of the stalls at the civic center farmers markets are repetitions in the vegetable type.  It seems very inefficient for the farmers to take a day off to sell their produce instead of making a coop effort such as the dairy farmers do in which assures a level of quality and price leveling. 

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor