Farmers' Market Integrity 101
MAKING THE HARD CALLS
As Farmers' Market managers, it's our job to monitor what's happening at our markets so you - as shoppers - can feel confident that you know what you're buying.
For us this week, that means we'll probably be taking a farm stand out of our Thursday North Park event that has been there since before we took over this particular market. The man who runs that stand is hard-working, reliable, and personable. This will probably affect his income, and he likely has a family to support. That's why decisions like these are not made lightly.
Unfortunately, validating suspicions that we had started to develop, the County Agriculture Department's most recent inspection of that vendor (I'm hesitant to say farmer right now) turned up several issues that can't be ignored.
The letter of the Direct Marketing law requires that farmers, their immediate families or bonafide employees sell only what is produced on their farm, so that the origin and growing conditions can be verified. Since Certified Farmers Markets in San Diego are often combined with a weekly event that includes non-farmers, non-certified produce sales can be included in a different area of the event, but we believe that generally violates the spirit of the law. If you buy fruits and vegetables at our markets, we want you to be buying them from the farmer. Click "Read more" below for the rest of the story...
Farms are allowed to cross-certify with other farms so that farmers that know one another can cover more ground in getting their crops to the public. Display and signage must make it easy for shoppers to determine which produce comes from which farm. The stand we're scrutinizing now held five farm certificates at a recent market. The staffer is not a family member, and it's unlikely he's employed by all those farms. We're checking.
So, what's the problem with one farm stand selling for five farmers? One, that's creating a distributorship, not a direct farm-to-shopper transaction. Two, it's not playing by the rules, so if they're breaking that rule we don't know if they're breaking others - maybe buying non-local produce and reselling. In this particular case, the display and signage did not clearly reflect the origin of the fruit, depriving shoppers of the opportunity to make informed decisions about their food sources. And the quantity of a particular crop at this time of year was suspect; if it wasn't imported from out of CA then it was likely stored.
The folks at the Ag Department are in a better position to scout that last issue, since they see how many markets a farm vendor participates in, and can gauge whether it's possible to produce X amount of fruit from X amount of trees in a single season. Again, the letter of the law doesn't prohibit farmers from selling stored fruit, but we think you come to a farmers' market to find what's fresher than what's heaped in bins at less diligent grocery stores.
We'll make a difficult decision this week. If it goes the way I think, I suspect some shoppers who have come to like the staffer at this farm stand will be unhappy. A local farmer we know very well will be able to provide most of the same crops, but people get to know a certain vendor and many of us will miss this man. We wish we had a different choice, but food source transparency is Market Integrity 101.
You trust us at SD Weekly Markets. We plan to keep it that way.