Farmers' Market produce should be in season and not have stickers

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is holding a “Farmers Market Listening Session” this evening, 5.30-7.30pm in Berkeley, after an exposé by NBC LA found vendors at Southern California farmers’ markets re-selling produce that they had not grown themselves.

This is one of several listening sessions being held across the state and is not the result of any similar findings at the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets, said Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center which operates three farmers’ markets in Berkeley.

“People are understandably upset by the reports, but re-selling is the exception not the rule,” said Ben Feldman, Market Program Manager at the Ecology Center. A certified farmers market does not certify that the produce is organic, but rather that the farmer has grown what he or she is selling.

“When venders buy wholesale produce and then re-sell it at farmers’ markets, they are violating California’s direct marketing laws enforced by the CDFA,” Feldman said. “Our customers can rest assured that at the Ecology Center we select trustworthy vendors, and do our due diligence to prevent re-selling.”

“People are worried that what they saw on TV in Los Angeles is happening at their local farmers’ market,” said Tim Mueller of Riverdog farms. “Those few vendors that have taken advantage of the customer’s trust damage the reputation of all the rest of the real farmers that sell at farmers’ markets. It’s terrible.”

The Ecology Center says there are steps customers can take to monitor whether produce is being re-sold. Here are some clues:

  • Foods Out of Season. Know what is in season in your region. You might find peaches at a grocery store in January, but if you see them at your local farmers’ market, something is wrong.
  • Stickers on Fruits: Any plu stickers on produce usually means the produce was packed for wholesale marketing and usually would not end up in a farmers’ market.
  • Items not on Producer’s Certificate: All of the produce that a vendor is selling should be on their CDFA issued Producer’s Certificate that is required to be posted at market.

What can you do if you think re-selling is taking place?

  • Talk to Market Managers. They are often a wealth of information and can offer information and can follow up on customer concerns.
  • File a Market Complaint. Most farmers’ markets have a complaint process in place.
  • File a CDFA Complaint: Contact the CDFA Inspection and Compliance Branch at (916) 445-2180.

The listening session will be held at the Berkeley Unified School District Building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley, tonight, Monday November 8, 5.30-7.30pm.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...