Are You Shopping At A Fake Farmers’ Market?

Posted by: Beth Buczynski

Over the past few months, there have been several reports of markets selling faked “local” foods, demonstrating that some people will stop at nothing to make a quick buck.

The Center for Media Democracy recently reported that the market manager of a California non-profit that operates 18 farmers markets in southern California caught a vendor repackaging Mexican produce to sell at a farmers market.

Shannon Reid, who works for a company called Raw Inspiration, caught Kirby Wylie, an employee of a farm called Rancho Las Gordonises, repackaging cherry tomatoes for sale at a local farmers market in Glendale, California, and documented it with photographs.

After Reid confronted Wylie, he removed the offending items. But it isn’t the first time either Wylie or Rancho Las Gordonises has been caught deceiving consumers. In 2007, Tulare County, California sanctioned Wylie for falsifying documents and suspended him from participating at farmers markets in the state for 17 months. He was also caught re-selling tomatoes at a market in Torrance, California. San Bernardino County also suspended Rancho Las Gordonises for 18 months and fined the business $2,000 for reselling pears and cherries.

And this disturbing trend doesn’t stop with small time veggie-crooks.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “in June, several Safeway Inc. stores in the Seattle area posted signs with the term ‘Farmers Market’ above produce displays in front of their stores. When local farmers’ market groups complained—the offerings included mangos, which aren’t suited to Washington’s climate—Safeway changed the signs to say ‘Outdoor Market.'”

Thanks to the quick response from local food advocates, a Safeway spokeswoman said the chain has no plans to call its outdoor events ‘farmers’ markets’ in the future.

Safeway’s move was later emulated by 200 Albertsons stores in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, which, despite complaints from the same advocacy group, claimed they would continue their marketing scheme if it proved effective.

A strong movement supporting local food and farmers is growing up all over America, but corporations and dishonest vendors could threaten consumer confidence in what they’re buying and hurt the success of small family farmers searching for a connection with their community.

To most people, the term “farmers’ market” means something significant about the quality of the food they’re buying, and the local families and farms they’re supporting in the process. Now, along with all the other labels we have to doubt and question, assuming that “farmer’s market” and “local” are synonymous could be a big mistake.

But, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in the interests of looking on the bright side, this only means that the farmers’ market movement is getting stronger, and definitely here to stay.