TK: So this retail store may have been corrupt for years, but the USDA only was able to prosecute it ten years after it was authorized. And fraud from one retailer totaling $3.1 million in five years: mind-boggling!
As much as we assign a "halo" for local foods in general and farmers' markets in particular, the agency should carefully consider the fraud prevention plan in place for each market.
After all, it is not as if being a merchant at a farmers' market absolves one from the temptation to defraud. Don't we recall that some merchants at an LA farmers' market have been known to peddle fruits and vegetables from other states as "home grown" or "local." One Kansas farmers' market was hit with allegations of price-fixing in the way the rules of the market are set for vendors.
With the kind of low-tech feel of farmers' markets, I found it hard to believe that all vendors will be scrupulous. I wonder what kind of "record-keeping" provisions are part of the token exchange system; not much more than a scribble in a spiral notebook, I'd wager.
It will only take the "weakest link" - a vendor that exchanges cash, not cucumbers for tokens - for the system to go awry. All of a sudden, the line of customers at that crooked vendor will include more than suburban moms with kids in tow.
In its rush to promote local foods, the USDA must pause to consider how to prevent the opportunity for fraud and abuse of taxpayer money. We won't tolerate being disillusioned with yet another great American institution.