Farmers markets offer an opportunity to buy local produce, know your farmers, and to buy fruits and vegetables that have not hibernated in a warehouse for months. Name a city or town in North America, and chances are that the community has a farmers’ market. California scores with stone fruit; the Midwest has some of the best apples; Maryland has some of the best strawberries and summer melons; Florida boasts collards and grapefruit that are massive and tasty.
The Los Angeles area is now crammed with farmers markets, perhaps as many as 300 regular markets that occur each week. The most famous markets, where star local chefs score the best produce, are in Santa Monica and Hollywood. Neighborhoods from Eagle Rock to Larchmont also have their own farmers markets, which may be not as stellar as the showcases on the Third Street Promenade or on Hollywood and Ivar, but they save a trip across town. Locals everywhere have access to local produce that is often organic and pesticide free. Well, most of the time they do—a local television station followed some vendors for several months, and documented some disturbing results. Now suddenly, the Nepali jewelry and used clothing that is sold at the Silver Lake’s farmers market seems to be the least reason to raise one’s eyebrows.
NBC Los Angeles visited various farmers markets across the city, and trailed some vendors who claimed their farms grew everything from broccoli to avocados. But the truth was eventually revealed: visits to farms showed rows of rows of dirt, and one vendor was even caught purchasing vegetables, many of them from Mexico, at Los Angeles’s mammoth wholesale market outside of downtown. Farmers markets are closely regulated in California: farmers may only grow what they sell, cannot make false claims about their produce, and need a permit that discloses the address of their farm. Any such farce, if caught, carries a steep price: farmers could face a fine, and also face the possibility of suspension from selling at farmers markets. Watch the shenanigans here:
View more news videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/video.
Another slip is the claims of some farmers that their produce is pesticide free. One undercover shopper asked an Oxnard strawberry vendor whether her produce was free of chemicals, to which she replied with an absolute yes. But laboratory tests found three of the five batches of strawberries to contain high levels of pesticides—too high to have simply drifted from a nearby farm, despite the farm owner’s protest that she had no idea how those chemicals could have landed on her berries.
The truth is that the overwhelming majority of vendors at farmers markets are honest about their products. Ask for the location of their farm, how they control pests on their crop, and when the produce was picked. If the vendor does not have organic produce, ask why not—there’s a good chance that the farmer is converting the land to organically grown fruits and vegetables, but has to wait a period of time until that land is deemed suitable for organic farming. Finally, there really should be someone from the farm working at the stand—some vendors hire local help to sell their produce, but if no one from the farm is working at the market, that could be a red flag.
Finally, when you find a great vendor, visit again and again—your loyalty could be rewarded with some of the best stuff set aside for you.
As for the Silver Lake farmers market, the place to be on Saturday mornings, I still wonder about the fellow who sells bananas and papayas, but I will leave the dirty work to NBC LA.