Understanding the laws concerning how farms are to describe themselves is an essential first step towards protecting the integrity of farmers’ markets. A great next step – and one that doesn’t require reading legal codes – is getting to know the farms which are selling within your farmers’ market, what they grow, and how they grow it. Talk to the farmers and their sales staff at the farmers’ market to learn how their growing season is going. Engage with them about what they are currently harvesting, which crops are under cultivation and when they expect those crops to be ready for harvest.
The certified producers certificate (CPC) that each farm is required to possess and post at the point of sale can be a very useful tool. Review the document regularly to get to know what products each farmer is growing and the period of time when those items are likely to be harvested and available in your farmers’ market. You can also periodically make a copy of the CPC and use it as a checklist, asking the farmers within your farmers’ market to point out where each item on their table appears on their CPC. This is also a great way to learn many different types of fruits and vegetables that you may not be familiar with yourself.
If possible, you should also visit your farmers in other farmers’ markets to see if their product mix is the same or different and plan a trip out to their farm to see what their farming operation looks like. Seeing the size of a farms’ operations can help you to judge if the amount of product that a farmer brings to market regularly is reasonable or if you should have reason to suspect that the farmer may be supplementing his or her own harvest with products purchased another farm or from commercial distributors.
The county department of agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture are charged under state law with enforcing farmers’ market regulations, including the requirement that farms only sell products of their own production. AB 1871 requires county agriculture departments to make regular inspections of the farmers’ markets they certify: “The county agricultural commissioner shall inspect every certified farmers’ market within his or her jurisdiction at least once for every six months of operation.” (California Food and Agriculture Code 47020(b) ) While their inspections can be stressful, you should consider these regulators as your partners in helping to sustain integrity within the farmers’ market system and support their efforts. Working with them you can also learn how best to monitor the products for sale within your farmers’ market, making your own inspections of your farmers more effective.