The Salt Lake City Weekly recently ran an excellent piece by Colby Frazier explaining why the problem of ‘fake farmers’ is such an insidious threat to farmers market and the real farmers who rely on them for their livelihoods. As Frazier explained:
“As the popularity of farmers markets has grown, so, too, have efforts by growers to supplement their crops with produce bought on the wholesale market—the same place where chain grocery stores buy it.
“This eye on quick profits, some smaller farmers say, is cheapening their hard work, and also threatens to undo some of the more philosophical efforts being undertaken at farmers markets, which have been championed as the first line of defense against an industrial food chain that produces massive amounts of rock-bottom-priced food by relying on genetically modified plants, chemical pesticides and cheap immigrant labor.”
Self-policing among farmers is the main line of defense against cheaters, but it hasn’t stopped some from trying to con consumers and market managers anyway, Frazier reported. Maryann Alston, founder of the Wasatch Front Farmers Market, which operates markets at Wheeler Farm, Thanksgiving Point and GardnerVillage, told him she personally inspects the farmers of every vendor who sells at her markets.
“ ‘We partner with farms that we absolutely know are growing their own produce,’ she says. Even so, she has encountered problems. A couple of years ago, Alston says, she had to kick a farmer out because everything he had for sale had been purchased on the wholesale market. ‘You just knew,’ she says. ‘Everything looked like it was from Smith’s.’
“A farmer herself, Alston can relate to the slight her peers feel when other farmers aren’t growing all of their produce. ‘You work so hard to grow food,’ she says. ‘You work around the clock and then you see somebody bringing in food that they didn’t pick—that they didn’t grow—and you know that they brought it in from another state. It just makes you sick.’ ”
Kevin Nash, of Earth First Eco-Farms, told Frazier that savvy consumers can help crack down on the problem, as indeed they should.
“Many customers are wising up to what might be behind those cheap tomatoes and out-of-season melons. [As Nash explained,] ‘There are people out there who realize that in order to have really cheap product, you’ve got to be cutting corners somewhere.’ ”