Caught a great piece on Prime Time News L.A. tonight regarding local farmers markets in Southern California (see video below).  Get this: A number of vendors at the farmers markets are selling non-local, mass produced fruits and vegetables that they pick up at large wholesale produce warehouses in downtown L.A.  And some have been found to be pushing pesticide-laden produce despite advertising their products as pesticide-free.  Ah ha ha ha ha…that’s a gas.  Is anybody surprised?

To sell at farmers markets vendors are supposed to provide locally grown produce.  To be licensed, the farms must be registered with the farmers markets, and their location registered on the permit.  Guess what?  Many are lying and registering their dirt lots as farms.  NBC Prime Time News L.A. did an investigative report, visiting several falsely registered farms and finding something interesting.

Jesse Frutos, owner and operator of Frutos Farms, which sells produce at seven different farmers markets in LA and Orange counties, including Century City farmers market, the Larchmont market and the Buena Park market was busted at his dirt lot in Cypress.  When questioned at one of the markets, he claimed that all his produce was grown at his farm in Cypress, the one registered with the State of California.  NBC paid him a visit and he was forced to admit that none of the produce he sells is actually grown on the dirt lot.  Way to go, Jesse.  The news crew followed his truck on market days and caught him buying the produce at a big downtown warehouse, where they sold produce coming from as far away as Mexico.  Local, you know?

“You are selling some things at farmers markets that you didn’t grow, that you got at wholesale produce markets?”

Jesse admitted, “Yes.”
Another vendor, Juan Uriostegui, who sells produce at the West Hollywood farmers market on Mondays, claims to grow his produce at his farm in Redlands, in San Bernardino County.  NBC paid him a visit with officer Allan Lampman of the San Bernardino Department of Agriculture in tow.  Guess what? Lampman asked Uriostegui to show him where he was growing broccoli, but all the farmer could show him was a patch of dry dirt. “I’m looking at the fields, saying, ‘I don’t think you grew that broccoli,'” Lampman said.

Uriostegui has been busted and fined before for selling produce he hasn’t grown.  But hey, farmers markets are great places to flip produce and turn a profit.  Call Frutos and Uriostegui brokers.  Unfortunately, they are misleading their customers.

NBC also purchased strawberries from five different vendors claiming to carry pesticide-free goods.  When tested, three of the five actually contained pesticides.  One vendor called “The Berry Best,” owned by Mary Ellen Martinez, which sells at the Torrance farmers market was questioned and told that her pesticide-free strawberries were found to have four different pesticides on them, said she didn’t know how that might have happened.  She thought perhaps that pesticides used at a neighboring farm drifted over to her produce, but according to the testing lab that would be impossible due to the concentrations found on her best berries.

This is no surprise to me since I know that the more popular a trend becomes, the more likely it will be infiltrated by shysters–a lesson for everybody to do their homework.  I can say if this is happening in Los Angeles, it is most definitely happening in farmers markets across the country.  So it’s a good idea to practice diligence and do one’s own research.  It would probably be a good idea for the farmers markets themselves to conduct periodic investigations.

One farm that came out glowing—and my wife confirms its legitimacy too, as she takes our children there to pick fresh berries—was Underwood Farms in Moorpark.  They sell produce at 14 local Los Angeles markets, all grown on their family farm.

So get smart—ask questions and take no vendor’s mere presence at a local farmers market for granted.  They might be selling you something you can get a your local supermarket for much less, and pulling the wool over your eyes with regard to their pesticide-free status.  Thank you Prime Time News L.A. for some top-notch investigative reporting.

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