New Law Cracks Down on Farmers Market Phonies

A new California law that goes into effect in January will crack down on farmers market vendors who sell produce bought wholesale.

Starting next year, farmers will have to pay a higher fee to participate in farmers markets. That money will be spent to investigate suspicious farmers who didn’t grow the food themselves.

Farmers market shoppers will soon see signs that say “We grow what we sell.” Any vendor caught lying about the produce they sell could be hit with a $2,500 fine and spend up to six months behind bars.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new law Friday. Farmers are hoping it will benefit family farms.

“I think it’s important for the consumer to know they aren’t being bamboozled at a farmers market,” said Ken Brown, a third generation farmer at Andy’s Orchard, where the last plums of the season are still on sale.

Back in 2010, an undercover investigation by NBC LA caught a farmers market vendor loading up his truck with produce from big commercial farms, some as far away as Mexico. Brown says it happens more often than many shoppers realize. “Dried Turkish apricots, saying they grow them in the valley,” Brown said. “That’s not possible.”

Mitch Mariani II specializes in cherries. He says growers should be able to answer detailed questions about how and where the food was harvested.

“If it doesn’t look like it grows in the area, and it doesn't look like something you know is in season, best bet is to walk away,” Mariani said.

Vendor fees to participate in farmers markets will increase to $2 a day, up from 60 cents. The state plans to spend $1 million on the farmers market investigators.

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