Magazine article E Magazine

Meet the Fakers: With the Popularity in Farmers' Markets Have Come Unscrupulous Sellers Big and Small

Magazine article E Magazine

Meet the Fakers: With the Popularity in Farmers' Markets Have Come Unscrupulous Sellers Big and Small

Article excerpt

Emily Achenbaum Harris arrived at the local farmers market in Charlotte, North Carolina, just as vendors re opening their stands. As she walked from stall to stall, she noticed Dole boxes tucked under tables and watched as a farmer dumped blueberries out of plastic supermarket containers into the blue felted containers ubiquitous at local farm stands.

"I felt duped," says Achenbaum Harris. "As soon as I saw what was happening, I knew it was a scam; [the vendor] was taking advantage of the fact that farmers' markets are popular and knew he could profit from reselling produce."

This deception is happening at farmers' markets across the nation. A growing number of vendors are taking advantage of the popularity of farmers' markets, setting up stalls to hawk imported fruits and vegetables or resell supermarket produce.

In California, one vendor, Rancho Las Gordonises, was repeatedly charged with deceptive practices. Torrance Farmers Market expelled the vendor for reselling tomatoes imported from Mexico as "local"; the operator was also fined by both San Diego County and San Bernardino County in 2009 for reselling produce.

Resellers are motivated by profit. In 1994, there were just 1,755 farmers' markets in the U.S. In 2011, that number jumped to 7,175, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The growth should be good news: More markets means increased access to flesh, local and often organic foods. But the increase in fake farmers' markets and deceptive market practices means that consumers could end up inadvertently paying more for produce that's shipped from afar.

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"When people go to the farmers' market, they think they're buying from farmers but that isn't always the case," says Sharon Yeago, president of the Farmers Market Coalition (farmersmarketcoalition.org), a non-profit advocacy group supporting farmers' markets and market managers nationwide. According to Yeago, many markets allow resellers [vendors who purchase produce from other sources, including importers, and sell it for a profit] and may not require those vendors to disclose the source of their products. "Some markets have no regulations at all," she says. "At those markets, it's OK to sell anything--even if it was grown in another country."

Corporations are also trying to capitalize on the popularity of farm fresh produce to boost profits. In June 2010, the supermarket chain Safeway advertised "Farmers' Markets" at multiple stores in the Seattle area. Their market consisted of tents set up in store parking lots where staffers, not farmers, sold store produce. The Washington State Farmers Market Association (WSFMA, wafarmersmarkets. …

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