There is a lot of romanticism associated with local food, and farmers markets are often promoted as a may to promote trust in the food system. I cautioned against some of these sentiments in chapter 9 of the Food Police:
As far as the environment goes, it is important to also recognize that “buy local” is a cause not a certifiable production practice. Some local producers use organic and low-tillage production methods, but many do not. At least with organic, there is a certifying body that requires adherence to certain standards to attain the label. There is no standardization with local. Some locavores think that’s a good thing. But, one consequence is that you can never really be sure (even if you ask) whether a local tomato was grown with more or less pesticides or in a way that causes more or less soil erosion than the one traveling cross-country.Now comes this story from a Southern California NBC affiliate.
There are now more than 300 farmers markets in the LA area, with more opening every month. But an NBCLA undercover investigation has revealed that some farmers at these markets are making false claims and flat-out lies about the produce they're selling.
We found farms full of weeds, or dry dirt, instead of rows of the vegetables that were being sold at the markets. In fact, farmers markets are closely regulated by state law. Farmers who sell at these markets are supposed to sell produce they've grown themselves, and they can't make false claims about their produce.
We did find plenty of vendors doing just that, like Underwood Farms, which sells produce at 14 markets, all grown on a family farm in Moorpark.
But our investigation also uncovered vendors who are selling stuff they didn't grow, like Frutos Farms, which sells at seven different farmers markets in LA and Orange counties.
And as for trustworthiness:
And during our investigation, NBCLA examined another big claim made at farmers markets -- that their produce is "pesticide-free."
NBCLA bought one container of strawberries, from five different vendors, at five farmers markets, including a vendor called "The Berry Best," at the Torrance farmers market.
NBCLA's undercover shopper questioned the Berry Best's owner about the strawberries:
"These are pesticide-free?"
Owner Mary Ellen Martinez responded, "Yes, they are."
To see if that's true, we took our five samples to a state-certified lab, and had them tested for pesticides.
Results showed three out of five samples we tested sold berries that did contain pesticides, including the sample from the Berry Best
Just because someone is selling something at the farmer's market doesn't mean they're telling you the truth.