Ensuring Farmers’ Market Integrity

Within California’s farmers’ market industry there is often discussions of how “protect the integrity” of the state’s certified farmers’ markets. This phrasing refers to the implicit promise that certified farmers’ markets make to their customers — that all of the fruits and vegetables within the farmers’ market will be California grown and sold to them by the farmers who grew, nurtured and harvested the crops.

Prominent violations of this promise, including some that were widely reported by news media outlets were part of the driving force behind the design of AB 1871 in 2014. Included within the legislation were several items that were specifically designed to ensure ongoing compliance with this fundamental farmers’ market rule. It is important that all farmers’ market operators – those who are just launching their first farmers’ market as well as those who have been operating farmers’ markets for some time – understand the new enforcement mechanisms within state law and help their farmers to comply with them.

AB 1871 requires farms selling in certified farmers’ markets to publicly post information about their farm and makes it illegal to misrepresent farmers’ market products, including where they were grown, who grew them, and the way in which they were grown.

The posting requirements are very specific concerning the information that must be made available in a farmers’ market: the name of the farm, the county where the products offered for sale that day are grown, and an unambiguous statement that the products offered for sale are products that they grew themselves.

(c) All vendors of agricultural products selling within a certified farmers’ market shall do all of the following:

(1) Post a conspicuous sign or banner at the point of sale that states the name of the farm or ranch, the county where the farm or ranch maintains the production grounds that produced the products being offered for sale is located, and a statement that “We Grew What We Are Selling” or “We Raised What We Are Selling” or “We Grow What We Sell” or similar phrases that clearly represent that the farm or ranch is only selling agricultural products that they themselves have grown or raised on California land that they possess or control. Product sales by different farms at the same vendor stand shall separate the products from each farm or ranch and correspondingly post the required sign or banner in direct relationship with the sales display of the products produced by each farm.

California Food and Agriculture Code 47004(c) [2015]

The law is clear that these statements posted at the point of sale must be true, and that other statements, including those told to customers verbally, must also be true.

CHAPTER 9. False, Deceptive, or Misleading Marketing

890 (a) It is unlawful for any person or entity, or employee or agent of that person or entity, to make any statement, representation, or assertion orally, by public statement, advertisement, signage, or by any means that relates to the sale or availability of agricultural products that is false, deceptive, or misleading regarding any of the following:

(1) The area of production of the agricultural product.

(2) The identity of the producer of the agricultural product.

(3) The manner and method of production of the agricultural product.

California Food and Agriculture Code 890(a) [2015]

Violations of this law are misdemeanor crimes which can bring significant penalties, including jail time: “A violation of the provisions of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or by both imprisonment and fine.” (California Food and Agriculture Code 890(b) [2015]) These penalties are identical to those contained in the California Business and Professions Code which addresses false and misleading advertising. This amendment to the California Food and Agriculture Code holds the written or verbal statements by California farmers and their employees about their products to the same standard that other California businesses are held when describing their goods and services.

The law allows the state or a county to take civil action against a violator, instead of taking criminal action: “In lieu of prosecution, the secretary, or a county agricultural commissioner under the authority of the secretary, may levy a civil penalty against a person or entity that violates this chapter in an amount not less than five hundred dollars ($500) and not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) for each violation.” (California Food and Agriculture Code 891 [2015])

As this law goes into effect in 2015 it is important for farmers’ market operators to help farmers understand the law and their responsibilities under it and to comply with the law. It is important too for farmers’ market operators to ensure that their own communications about their farmers’ markets and what customers can expect to find there meet the same high standard to which farms are now held.

A Guide to Opening Small Farmers' Markets in San Jose, California