CORRECTED: Los Angeles County tackles market fraud

01/24/2014 09:17:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Mike Hornick, Staff WriterMike Hornick, Staff Writer(CORRECTED Jan. 28) They’re not exactly masterminds of deception, are they, these vendors cited for selling fruits and vegetables they didn’t produce at farmers markets.

Some of the violations recorded in Los Angeles County in 2013 are quite a comedown from the art forgery and inspired hoaxing depicted in the old Orson Welles movie, “F for Fake.”

Here are examples of vendors penalized by inspectors with the county agricultural commissioner’s office:

 

  •  All Green Farm — One clue that led to a $600 fine came from an offering of cripps pink or Pink Lady apples. Some apples were waxed, some were not.

  •  Atkins Nursery — A $1,800 fine and six-month suspension were prompted in part by the sale of frozen blood oranges — from a farm that had no freeze damage.

  •  Gomez Farms — A $401 fine followed the display, on a single day, of 30 pounds of Asian pears. The farm had a yearly production of 50 pounds.

 

Some vendors sold berries that were out of season at the growing location or in excess of production capacity.

Those were among 20 penalties adjudicated last year, said Ed Williams, deputy director of pest exclusion and produce quality for the Los Angeles County agricultural commissioner.

“We suspected many other lots may not have been produced by the certified producer, but we were not able to find conclusive evidence,” Williams said.

“One thing that really drives me crazy is that some of these guys compete directly with the real farmers who are putting out the blood, sweat and tears to grow the product,” he said.

“The public thinks they’re getting the product directly from the farm, so they’re paying a premium. I’ve seen tree fruit as high as $2.50-3 a pound at farmers markets. The same quality — maybe better, because it doesn’t have blemishes like fruit from the back door of a packinghouse — is sold at grocers for $1.50.”

Suspensions are the most serious outcome.

“We generally wait until the second or third violation and propose a suspension of three to six months,” Williams said.

“If this is their only business, they lose that. We don’t want to damage people, but if they’re in the habit of cheating, then we’ve got to make a point to them.”

The county has 153 markets and is served by more than 700 certified producers, most from elsewhere in California.

Fraud isn’t rampant there, but likely would be without enforcement.

Then the only reason to shop at a farmers market — to buy from a producer, not a con artist — would be lost.

mhornick@thepacker.com

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.

NOTE ON CORRECTION: The original column misstated the number of certified producers.



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