Farming

California Criminalizes Produce, Fights Farm-Market Fraud at the Expense of Farmers

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Hillcrest Farmers Market/Facebook

The goal of farmers markets is simple: provide people with a place to buy relatively local produce and food products. Those interested in precisely where and how their sweet potatoes are grown can ask questions of farmers directly; those who don't care can still pick up fresh produce pretty cheaply and easily. And if some of that produce wasn't directly grown by the farmer selling it, does it make a difference? The state of California thinks it does. 

The issue has been churning for a while now. In 2010, an NBC Los Angeles investigation discovered "farmers market fraud" afoot at L.A.-area markets, with some vendors "making false claims and flat-out lies about the produce they're selling." The station followed one farmer to a wholesale produce warehouse in downtown L.A. and watched him purchase items there to pass off as the fruits of his own labor. It tested berries marketed as organic and found pesticide residue. It bought broccoli allegedly from a farm where reporters later found no broccoli growing.

At the time of NBCLA's investigation, county departments of agriculture were already empowered to issue fines to those caught selling food fraudulently or suspend their market vending privileges. One of the fraudulent farmers NBCLA "uncovered" had already been issued a fine earlier in the year. But a slew of subsequent media reports on farm-market fraud kept the issue in the public consciousness.

Soon politicians needed to look like they were doing! something!, so they drew up and passed another bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed October 3. The new law, which goes into effect in January 2015, is aimed specifically at cracking down on faux-homegrown goods at farm markets. It requires farmers to conspicuously advertise the name and location of their farm, along with a sign saying "We grow what we sell." And it makes "false, deceptive, or misleading" advertising or assertions about produce a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 6 months in county jail or a $2,500 fine.

Fining fraudulent farmers or revoking their vending privileges, as the county agriculture departments did, seems like a sufficient enough solution—but not for the criminalize all the things camp. Nothing is sufficient until we have the option of throwing folks in jail. 

To add insult to injury, enforcement of the new law will come at the expense of non-fraudulent farmers. Starting next year, vendors participating and selling goods at California farmers markets must pay $2 each time they participate—up from 60 cents per market day previously. The new fees apply to all food and craft sellers at the market as well, whereas previously only agricultural vendors had to pay.

"That can be over $250 a year of additional cost, so it's just going to drive up the cost of farmers market produce for customers, and it's an additional regulatory burden on the farmers," Mark Larson, co-founder of San Diego's Hillcrest Farmers Market, told NBC San Diego. He insists that the county already does a good job of rooting out fraudulent farmers, and "the farmers also police themselves. If they know of anybody that's selling what they don't grow, they report it."

The market literally regulating itself? Blasphemy! (This is California after all.) Bring in the produce police…

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  1. Look, the important thing is that upper middle class white people feel someone in Government is doing something, and that they remain morally superior without actually having to ever expend any effort.

  2. PUT DOWN THE YAM, MA’AM!
    It’s just a sweet potato!
    BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

    1. You don’t usually start drinking this early. Celebrating your anal prolapse surgery today? It went well, I hope?

      1. Projection is all you have.

        1. Hey, I was trying to be polite! Damn you’re touchy. Probably because of your incredibly sore anus. Did they give you a cream for that or anything?

          1. They did. That’s what you had for dinner last night, doofus.

            1. So that’s what your mom had smeared on her ass!

    2. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

      Total bullshit scenario. No way the pigs only fire five shots!

      1. Complain to the Japanese if you have a problem with haiku.

        1. Didn’t notice that. Nice.

    3. Once she eats.that yam, you ‘re fucked because there is no way you’ll hit her with her superhuman strength, reflexes and intelligence.

      1. Yams are the super star power-up of the vegetable world.

  3. It tested berries marketed as organic and found pesticide residue.

    Organic food can be produced using pesticides as long as they “natural” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_farming).

    1. I was impressed by the list of things you can spray on apple trees and still claim they are organic.

      1. Well, organophospahte pretty much has organic right in it.

        1. oil and Bordeaux blend

    2. Organic food can be produced using non-organic pesticides and remain organic if organic pesticides cost more than twice as much as non-organic…

  4. Ugh. The organic food movement is almost as big a scam as global warming. Total crock of shit tailor made for scamming, so of course govt is going to get in on it.

    1. I worked in a health food store in high school, and right away after I started the owners clued me in to how much of a load of shit the new nascent organic movement was. They pointed out some of things pointed out here (like you can use pesticides, they just have to arbitrarily be classified as “natural”), and they also specifically singled out California as a load of shit, because at the time California’s rules (yes, they had government rules about what could be called organic already) for what could be labeled organic were actually way more lax than other places, which is why so many places producing organic products were based in California.

      Another amusing thing I remember them deriding was people/hippies who ate granola thinking it was healthy. I think it was the wife (a husband and wife were the owners) who said to me “cheap oats fried in garbage oil is what they’re eating and thinking is healthy”. That was pretty funny.

      1. Even when it is not fried, granola is just mostly a bunch of sugar.

    2. I could care less about organic when it comes to produce, but I do try to buy beef labeled organic, as it is supposed to meet standards which are more humane than otherwise might be the case. I put more stock in non-governmental certification though.

      1. And the organic label is largely arbitrary and plays on ignorance. Meat definitely is different depending on how it’s produced, what feed is used, etc. There is certainly a market for meat raised without lots of hormones or antibiotics or more humanely. But I’d care a lot more about “grass fed” or “no growth hormones” than the vague and somewhat misleading “organic” label.

        1. I’m not disagreeing, but certified organic meat is grass fed (among other humane requirements, like proper bedding for the animals). At least that’s what it’s supposed to require.

          I could care less about the no-hormones, anti-biotics part.

          1. Bo Cara,

            You can feed grains, but they must be organic. And if you use hormones, antibiotics, you cannot label them organic.

            Organic Certification
            The mother must be fed organic grains, hay, and kept using the organic method for the last two to three months of her gestation. The resulting calf should be fed only organic products and kept on certified organic pasture.

            The cattle can never receive antibiotics. This means that any illnesses will need to be handled naturally or the calf must be removed from the organic program. Illness is often a result of poor living conditions, so keeping the environment clean is important.

            The beef cannot receive growth hormones of any type.

            The beef must be fed only organic grains, grasses, and pasture.

            The animals must have unrestricted access to organic pasture.

            The beef must be processed by a certified organic processor. If the processor also processes conventional beef, it must be processed in a separate area used only for organics. There are restrictions about the kind of cleaners and other substances that are used around organic beef.

            1. Yes, you’re correct, it’s not exactly 100% grass fed. It’s the part about unrestricted access to pasture that is material to me.

    3. I find I get by far the best vegetables and meat from local organic producers. But that probably has a lot more to do with their being small scale and run by people that care about producing quality stuff. Buying grocery store organic stuff is just idiotic.

      1. But that probably has a lot more to do with their being small scale and run by people that care about producing quality stuff.

        This.

  5. Well, it is fraud if you claim to have grown it and you didn’t (though the harm done is not worth the enforcement expense, I’m sure).

    Why don’t the people who want to sell stuff from various sources start their own market? It is somehow impossible to have a farmer’s market not run by the government in CA?

    1. I think punishments for the fraud is fine, but the affirmative label requirements and such crosses the line.

      1. I can’t get excited about a requirement of a sign with your name, address, and a (true) slogan, that you can make in about a minute, an increase in stall fees that’s between $1.40 & $2/day, and an increase in penalties for fraud. Ms. Brown, did this really deserve this space?

        1. The issue is not the requirement, the issue is that the requirement came from the state. If the consumers at the farmer’s market want these things done, then they should demand them. If they are defrauded, they have remedy through the courts.

    2. Oh, it’s certainly fraud, and I can see why people have an interest in eradicating it. But it seems like something that can addressed by relying on farmer’s to report each other and local agriculture departments to investigate, not making it a criminal matter.

      1. (And revoking people’s licenses to sell at farmers markets a more appropriate solution than jail time)

        1. Just curious, why? Is it that those punishments seem too harsh?

      2. Here in The Valley, ONEGeneration sponsors a farmer’s market in Encino as a means of revenue for their childcare and senior care operations. There are separate sections for organic and conventional farmed goods with signs indicating where one section starts and the other ends. I think it works rather well ? the parking lot is rather busy.

        It seems to me that an organization sponsoring a farmer’s market would be the best place to police their vendors in addition to other vendors. They have a reputation to protect ? if their vendors are deceptive, it hurts their reputation and income stream.

    3. I have been to many, many, many farmer’s markets, and the signage almost never claims that all the produce was grown personally by the farmer present at the market.

      People may assume that, and the farmer may be trading on that assumption – but it’s virtually never an explicit claim.

      Generally a Vermont farmer’s market is a bunch of stalls with a single sign saying “Asshole Farms” or whatever, and a white board with prices.

      The organic thing? That I can see. There may in fact be people claiming to use organic methods who don’t. And I see explicit representations of organic production at farmer’s markets. What I don’t see – just about ever – is an explicit statement concerning the produce provenance. It just doesn’t come up.

  6. Do we really want to live in a country where people can profit merely by the sweat of their brow? By selling the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor, as if they are self sufficient independent actors? I think not.

    I think not.

    1. Nah, we want to live in a country where people can profit by their connections and what they can persuade the government to do for them.

  7. And now we have libertarians defending outright fraud.

    1. Are you proud of the fact you can’t read?

      Fining fraudulent farmers or revoking their vending privileges, as the county agriculture departments did, seems like a sufficient enough solution?but not for the criminalize all the things camp. Nothing is sufficient until we have the option of throwing folks in jail.

      1. I was referring to the “The organic food movement is almost as big a scam as global warming.” style comments above. Organic may be a crock, but if it’s a crock you’re taking advantage of for martketing purposes, it better be a real crock.

        1. I’m not sure saying that movement is a scam doesn’t mean you don’t support fraud in relation to it.

        2. So you are referring to this?

          Suthenboy|10.21.14 @ 2:49PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

          Ugh. The organic food movement is almost as big a scam as global warming. Total crock of shit tailor made for scamming, so of course govt is going to get in on it.

          You still fail in reading comprehension. Try over.

        3. Interesting, because pointing out that organic is a scam has nothing to do with defending fraud. You know, I think we could start up a fund here at H&R to get you reading lessons. Would you like that?

          1. Oh, I think I get what StormyDragon’s trying to say ? the article talks about vendors policing their selling of organic food (implicitly supporting organic food) and Suthenboy says organic food is a scam. Therefore, the article is defending a scam.

            Too bad mental gymnastics don’t pull muscles?

            1. That’s not quite fair. I think Stormy is responding to the fact that a report about fraud is met with derision for those being defrauded rather than the fraudsters.

              1. to be fair to my fellow commentators, your talking about hippies. Who doesn’t enjoy deriding hippies?

              2. met with derision for those being defrauded

                The definitions aren’t clear, and the fraud hasn’t been proved. People have a right to demand whatever goods they want, but just because you failed to be scrupulous doesn’t mean the seller defrauded you.

                Also, “derision” is also known as “speech” and provided it is not accompanied by oppression is a perfectly legitimate response to charlatans and the fools who patronize them.

    2. Any particular instance of libertarians defending outright fraud you would like to point out?

  8. Bring in the Driscoll’s? produce police?

    FTFY

  9. The idiocy here is that the government is pandering to people’s self-invented misconception that “produce driven to a cutesy market in a small truck by farmers” is somehow actually somehow in any way significantly different than “produce driven to a Supermarket in large truck by produce wholesalers”

    Naturally the people @ the farmer’s market will be happy to oblige the Yuppie misconceptions for an extra 30% premium.

    however, now the Government is stepping in and saying, “YOUR LIES MUST FOLLOW OUR RULES NOW”. You can play the “ripping off yuppies selling them the same shit for more money” game…sure… but now you needs to cut government in on the action

    1. I think you’re making a mistake similar to Stormy Dragon’s above. Fighting fraud in something doesn’t necessarily mean you are supporting the practice of the something in question.

      Someone in the business of providing ‘audits’ claiming to be authorized by the Church of Scientology, but who in fact is not, is committing a fraud which the state is justified to act against. That act doesn’t mean the state would be pandering to people’s silly ideas about past lives and thetans.

      1. Your analogy doesn’t hold up at all.

        These farmer’s markets aren’t retailing food promising to be anything other than “Fresh and local”. The regulations proposed have nothing to do with organic food certification.

        the fact is, the same shit at the supermarket is in fact, ‘fresh and local’. The farmers market is nothing more than an alternative retail format that carries with it the ‘appearance’ of something that people find compelling.

        Who/what is the authorizing body analogous to your ‘Church of Scientology’ in this case?

        1. Gilmore, read the part of the article in which they found that produce being offered as local was not, etc.

          Even ENB concedes there is apparent fraud.

          1. Can you tell the difference between a “local” piece of produce and one from a few counties up the road?

  10. Don’t forget, “reason” was outraged by the death, in police custody, of a woman convicted of filing fraudulent tax returns, which totally means they/we approve wholeheartedly of fraud.

  11. The station followed one farmer to a wholesale produce warehouse in downtown L.A. and watched him purchase items there to pass off as the fruits of his own labor. It tested berries marketed as organic and found pesticide residue. It bought broccoli allegedly from a farm where reporters later found no broccoli growing.

    So progressives want some sort of system to identify fruits and vegetables so they can… know what everyone is really getting.

    1. Anyone who puts a premium on some quality of the product they buy would like to know if that quality is being misrepresented.

      1. The regulations have nothing to do with the actual quality of the *food*. You are misrepresenting what is going on here.

        1. I’m talking about this part “it makes “false, deceptive, or misleading” advertising or assertions about produce a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 6 months in county jail or a $2,500 fine.” what are you talking about?

          1. What is the “difference” between something grown in county A versus county B?

            1. The whole law was probably drafted by California produce farmers who want to keep Mexican/Central American produce out of farmers markets.

              1. After reading the linked article… yes, it appears to be mostly about keeping South American produce out of the stalls.

                In which case i actually think its a fair point. The post doesn’t make that entirely clear.

                The thing that *is* more retarded is that the law isn’t specific to “ensuring the produce’s objective quality”, as much as saying ‘the person selling the goods has to have grown the food themselves’

      2. Also = i have a rock that prevents Tiger attacks. For you – Half Price.

        1. It’s Siegfried and Roy on the phone, they’ve got an offer.

          1. to soon.

      3. “Anyone who puts a premium on some quality of the product they buy”

        You can’t even identify what this quality *is*

        1. It doesn’t kill children. Geez.

    2. Produce voter ID laws are an unnecessary burden on the farmers.

  12. OT–Ooops!

    CONFUSION: U.S. air dropped weapons to ISIS by accident

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/a…..hands.html

  13. And if some of that produce wasn’t directly grown by the farmer selling it, does it make a difference? The state of California thinks it does.

    No, don’t inquire about the origins of what you buy. That would be stupid.

    I asked the owner of the farm stand that I frequent and he happily told me what he grew there and what he shipped in.

  14. It bought broccoli allegedly from a farm where reporters later found no broccoli growing.

    Are these people really this unbelievably stupid?

    IT’S A FUCKING PRODUCE STAND. Unless the owner is representing that he grows everything there, you might as well be going after the local supermarket.

  15. This is effectively akin to the people in central park who offer “Chinese Massage”

    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11…..ience.html

    “Depending on whom you ask, the Chinese chair masseurs are either charlatans or chiropractic wonders. But they have undisputably moved beyond a minor sideshow role at festivals and street fairs, popping up in the city’s parks and squares and on sidewalks wide enough to accommodate their padded chairs.

    The vast majority practice a brand of Chinese massage called Tui Na (pronounced twee-nah), a subset of the larger art of physical healing known as qigong (pronounced chee-goong), which attempts to harness the body’s energy, an intangible force called qi in Chi”

    They have cool looking chairs.

    A few friends of mine who work in sports therapy and have decades of experience with all kinds of massage techniques have repeatedly pointed out to me that none of these people seem to have any idea what they are doing. They aren’t even doing “Tui Na”. They just rub people’s backs and take $10.

    So they are ripoffs. So what? The licensed “Tui Na” people don’t want to work in the park.

    So its a bullshit scam. So is selling produce in a ‘farmers market’. The food itself is objectively no different than what you buy in a supermarket, and never has been.

    1. So its a bullshit scam. So is selling produce in a ‘farmers market’. The food itself is objectively no different than what you buy in a supermarket, and never has been.

      The only advantage to locally grown produce is relative freshness and I go to my farm stand for the variety of produce. I can’t find heirloom tomatoes anywhere else.

      1. They sell them at Trader Joe’s, Safeway, QFC, Albertson’s, and Whole Foods. You must live in a hard to reach area.

        1. The TJs and WF parking lots are an inner circle of Hell, so I rarely go there. Safeway, I hate shopping there, and the rest aren’t around here.

          Besides, I get to ogle the cute girls running the register when I go to the farm stand.

  16. they found that produce being offered as local was not, etc.

    Oh, no.

    “Localvores” can all fuck off and die of scurvy. Chilean fruit is delicious; Colombian coffee, too. So, for that matter, are avocados grown in faraway places like California.

  17. This is also similar to the “Buddhist Monks” in Times Square

    The fact that they are neither ‘Tibetan Buddhist’, or even necessarily Chinese, seems to bother some people. Notably, the ‘actually buddhists’

    “But merely begging in the streets is not against the law. The police have largely left these men alone, to the consternation of Buddhist leaders in New York’s Chinese neighborhoods, who portray them as nothing more than beggars who undermine Buddhists’ credibility.

    “They are damaging the reputation of real monks and damaging the reputation of Buddhists in America,” said Shi Ruifa, a monk in Brooklyn who is president of a confederation of nearly 50 temples.”

    But see… the actual Buddhists? Aren’t actually competing in the ‘begging’ game.

    The whole deal is the same = people want to believe they are giving their money to some fictional thing. Vendors provide them the ability. People get upset when informed that their ‘fictional thing’ isn’t real.

  18. Holy shit! Does this mean that Girl Scout who showed up at my door didn’t bake them cookies herself? It’s an outrage!

    She’ll be hearing from my attorney.

  19. Girl Scout cookies CONTAIN NO GIRL SCOUT!

  20. Maybe this falls below the line of what government should bother with or be entrusted with, but I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable. Enforcement of contracts really is a valid government function even under pretty libertarian world views. If a farmer says that his produce is grown locally or organic and that promise is essential to making the sale, arguably, it should be enforceable.

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