Farmers Markets: Buyer Beware

A local Los Angeles NBC news report “False Claims, Lies Caught on Tape at Farmers Markets” detailed something I’ve known about for a long time: some of the food sold at farmers markets comes not from local farms, but from wholesale sources. In short, some dishonest farmers market sellers are reselling the same inferior produce you get at the supermarket for a lot more money. And it gets worse. NBC also uncovered evidence of lying about pesticide use, also not surprising.

A farmer who runs an orchard visited us before this report came out and backed up what NBC later reported. She warned me never to buy from stands at farmers markets where the fruit is all the same size and looks too perfect. It’s a sign they just took the truck to a downtown wholesale warehouse and loaded it up.She also said that many farmers will mix their own produce with wholesale produce.

This report came out just after two supermarket chains, Safeway and Albertsons, created fake farmer’s markets inside and outside of their stores.

Yet more reasons to grow your own fruits and vegetables if you have space. Lying about the source of produce and pesticide use is so easy to pull off and the price incentive so rewarding that I’m sure this is happening everywhere. I’m interested in hearing other reports, so have at it in the comments.

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20 Comments

  1. Our local New Seasons Market (the local organic store) will sometimes advertise they are having Farmer’s Market Days.I happened to be at the store for one of these events and was a little ticked off,all it was, was the stuff they normally carry and no farmer to talk to.

  2. I’ve always wondered about the consistently good looking produce of some of the vendors as I sure don’t always have picture perfect harvests. Our local high school has a booth at our farmers market carrying produce from the AG program. Last Sat one of the kids told me patty pan squash was a winter squash. Loved it, they have to learn somewhere and its great to support our local school, Ha. They have the ugliest pumpkins I’ve ever seen. I bought two. Robin

  3. The difference is that New Seasons does really source their stuff in the Northwest, though. But yeah, they shouldn’t call it a Farmers Market if they don’t have farmers present- but then, why would they? Selling direct from the Farmer would be competition, now wouldn’t it? It’s just a deceptive practice, so shame on them.

    I’ve suspected for awhile that the practice you wrote about has been happening. Back when I was going to the Beaverton Farmers Market, there were some vendors there whose variety and uniformity lead me to believe they were doing just that- buying it off a truck and not really farming it themselves. The one farm represented that I know exists is Gathering Together Farm, outside of Corvallis, Oregon.

    It’s unfortunate, but I think with everything else, it’s caveat emptor. But I agree that it’s a great argument for ‘growin’ your own’. Next year, I’m adding potatoes in grow bags, as they (the potatoes) seem to be the only thing I’m buying from the produce department these days. This will be the first winter I try growing year ’round, as well.

  4. If you buy from a well run and managed market whose rules prohibit reselling, meaning it is a growers only market, your chances are very good of getting what you think you are getting. Also, it is important, if you think a market stand has misrepresented what you bought, to report that to the manager. From the other side, in Missouri we have several larger well run markets. They have a strong board and if a farmer is suspected of reselling, they make an on farm visit within 24 hrs. That farmer had better be able to prove he is currently producing sufficient quantity of the food in question to have sold it at market. If not, that vendor is out immediately and permanently. Also, there is no substitute for getting to know the reputable vendors and buying at the same market from the same vendors week after week. Ask about making an on farm visit once a year yourself. Everyone can’t grow everything, but it is important that what you can’t grow you buy locally. Dishonest vendors need to be put out of business, but, they ARE NOT the norm in a producer only market. Remember, the big food people are desparate to discredit farmer’s markets and they are often behind the “exposures”. Who are we supporting if we starts a campaign to NOT buy at farmer’s markets. Cathy Geary MO

  5. Haaaa!!!! I just had this chat with my wife on Sunday. We were at our local farmers market in Claremont, CA. So we were thinking… whats it to these vendors to go to downtown LA and buy produce for pennies and then sell them for top dollar? Apparently, not much. With my wife growing up in Russia… she is aware of the trickery. I remember one time in Moscow we bought a kilo of grapes on the street… but my wife commented to the vendor that it sure didnt feel like a kilo. Sure enough, when we got back to the apartment… it was about 3/4 kilo. I think Americans are usually too courteous to complain or demand more info, so we easily fall prey.

    Back to the farmers market we were just at. So we started looking closely at the produce. Some of it did look too perfect. As a home gardener… nothing I grow is perfect! If you just go by perfection alone, you can spot the fake tomatoes vs. the real ones as with other veggies.

    As we were leaving, we bought some figs. We were just in europe a couple weeks ago and ate REAL figs straight off the trees. They are delicious and melt in your mouth when they are fresh picked. The fig seller kept telling us that his figs were freshed picked the day before. We bought some and immediately took a bite. NOT FRESH PICKED. I believe we were lied to. My wife complained and said they didnt taste fresh. She then uncovered mold halfway down the small box and asked loudly so all around could hear “fresh picked? are you sure? fresh picked figs dont get moldy overnight!” and we walked away.

    Thanks for speaking up about this!

    - 1916home.net

  6. This is sad. I live in Havre Mt, and there aren’t any big places to go pick up produce (that I know of) Most the the fruits and vegetables at our summer farmers markets are provided by the Huderites (sp) and I am not sure about pesticides, but I am fairly sure they don’t use them.
    I think the best thing to do is get the word out, and be even pickier-

  7. My favorite are the ones that use the boxes that the fruit/vegetables came in as display cases. I think to myself, how do people not notice, but there’s always plenty of people buying. Perhaps they do notice but just want to believe they are “being local”.

  8. California Certified Farmers’s Markets are supposed to only allow farmers to sell what they personally grew. If it was a CCFM then I would definitely take the issue up with them and let them know of any vendors that you find suspicious so they can investigate it.

  9. Say it isn’t so! You mean organic food might not even be organic? You mean these “green” farmers might be motiviated by greed? What if I consumed one of those “poison” apples? Will I die? If I eat two organic apples will that cure me? :>)

  10. Its pretty amazing how many of these folks try to put out fruits and veggies with those little stickers on them and say they’re straight out of the fields. But lots of folks don’t pay attention. I’ve got my favorite guy and its definately ugly stuff, but Oh So Good! Unfortunately (for him) he and I grow about the same stuff, he might be a little ahead of me or behind, but at season, I’m eating here. That, of course, is NOT encouragement for him to keep coming to market!! Warmer than average winter predicted here, will keep growing!

  11. Farmers markets have grown so popular that it was only a matter of time before big agri-business found a way to make the public wary of them. It begins with a mainstream news story like this and pretty soon everyone can go back to shopping for produce at grocery stores and not feel so guilty about it.

  12. I’ll take it as a good sign that farmer’s markets here in Seattle are popular enough to warrant the envy of mainstream grocery stores, and also that Safeway’s hilarious attempt at green washing their own produce didn’t make it very far before being called out. I can just imagine a pile of waxy-looking red delicious gleaming guiltily in that suburban parking lot! As for the REAL farmer’s markets, I just look for the lumpy potatoes, multi-colored carrots and onions with their scapes still on them, making sure they’re all still a little dirty!

  13. It is a problem at many markets across the country. At our market in Baltimore, we do annual inspections to make sure that a farmer is growing sufficient quantities to provide the number of markets that they attend. Even with that, there are still farmers that I suspect of “supplementing” their harvest. Get to know your farmers and buy from the ones that you can trust.

  14. Yup. The bottom line is “grow what you can” and what you cannot grow, buy from someone you know. And ‘know’ your producer as much as you are comfortable with! Yes, there are some bad apples in the farmers’ market, but with a supermarket chain, you have no way of getting close to the production end of the food you eat. Even a poorly regulated farmers’ market is a better bet than a grocery store.

  15. Oh my god! I ate a Safeway apple. Will I die? There are so many dead bodies out in the Safeway parking lot. How can I redeem myself? Could I pray to the organic gods? Please tell me. I am 67 years old in good health, not overweight and I have been eating at Safeway all my life. I had no idea it was so dangerous. I am so scared. My carrots are all carrot colored and my potatoes are not lumpy. What to do, what to do…

  16. It happens everywhere but please don’t let a few dishonest folk ruin a wonderful thing. There are plenty of people working hard to produce what they sell at market.

    I know because I am one :)

  17. This was happening in the 1960s in Memphis. Roadside stands in farmer’s yards were filled with shipments from who-know-where. The Farmer’s Market was a distribution place. Locals decided they would just become “farmers” and took home produce to resell. Daddy went to the FM all the time and then knew some of the guys were not raising their own produce. Of course, there was not the question of organic or not, just lying. I have suspected that some of the produce at one stand is bought from out of state. He had the boxes that were pretty–pictures of tomatoes on the side. Other guys haul it in bushel baskets, tubs, and some have produce loose in their pickups. However, all the guys have farms. It just looks like a couple supplement their crops.

  18. There ARE plenty of people who are dishonest in this business. Sadly.

    We are complimented at nearly every market about how perfect our produce looks. We grow every last bit of it on our 60 acres. And as perfect as it looks, there’s 50% imperfect left in the fields… because consumers don’t want ugly produce.

    As for displaying in storage/shipping boxes, we don’t. But we DO store produce in them. They are a stock printed box, or they may be ‘gently used’ and we’re buying them to use with our own produce. Unfortunately, customers can be skeptical and think we’re trying to pull one over on them. I’m always a little insulted. But such is life!

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