Farmers market enforcement fees could increase


Issue Date: March 16, 2011
By Kate Campbell
A proposed increase in daily stall fees for farmers who sell at certified farmers markets would pay for additional enforcement activities intended to protect market integrity.

Farmers who sell directly to consumers at the state's 700-plus farmers markets may be asked to pay higher daily fees and undergo more inspections, as state officials try to assure that those who sell products at the markets are indeed the farmers who produced them.

Under a newly proposed program discussed last week by the California Department of Food and Agriculture Certified Farmers' Market Advisory Committee, the portion of daily stall fees that pays for investigation and enforcement of farmers market certified growers, currently 60 cents, could rise to $4.

The newly proposed program was developed after a series of listening sessions held throughout the state. John Silveira, Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association director, in presenting a subcommittee proposal to the full advisory committee, said the general consensus from the listening sessions, which included farmers, market managers and consumers, was that CDFA should enhance enforcement of certification standards to protect market integrity.

Silveira, who directs more than 60 certified markets in the San Francisco Bay Area, said many participants at the listening sessions called for improved enforcement efforts. This interest was heightened last fall when Southern California media reported finding a few farmers selling "locally grown" and "organic" fruits and vegetables that appeared to have been grown conventionally, purchased wholesale or perhaps even imported.

"We are faced with an overwhelming demand by communities throughout California for farmers markets," said Dan Best, California Federation of Certified Farmers' Markets general counsel. "In some areas, it seems demand has outstripped the ability to adequately supply. As an unfortunate consequence, there appears to be a growing trend of misrepresentations in all forms of outlets of agricultural product marketing."

Such misrepresentations are also being made, he said, by grocery stores, distributors and flea markets.

Lake County egg and poultry producer Jackie Byers, a member of the farmers market advisory committee, said the proposal reflects a lot of work by the committee's own technical advisory committee.

"I'm in total agreement with the recommendations about what needs to be done to improve the program—training the market managers, inspections at the market, investigations at the farms, improved database information and a consumer complaint system—but it's the cost on the farmer that's worrisome," she said.

Byers said she sells at three markets: two seasonal markets in the city of Napa and the year-round market at the Marin County Civic Center.

"Consumers often don't realize all the expenses involved in getting to a farmers market, things like gas, insurance, $35 to $40 a day in stall rental fees—some farmers need two or three stalls to display their fruits and vegetables at the height of harvest. That really adds up. And, that doesn't even take into account the cost of the time in being away from the farm and what it costs to produce poultry and crops."

The program changes and enhancements proposed to the advisory committee last week in Sacramento will ultimately be referred to the CDFA secretary. Legislation would be required to extend the certified farmers market program—the only one of its kind in the nation—beyond the sunset of 2012 and to increase the daily enforcement fee charged to sellers.

State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, has introduced Senate Bill 513 to extend the sunset to 2017, but the bill does not include a fee increase.

Currently, at the 60 cent fee level, the program generates about $230,000 a year. An increase to $4 would yield about $1.5 million a year and cover the costs of three special market investigators, with estimated salaries and benefits of more than $100,000 a year. Administrative staff and travel expenses would consume much of the remaining revenue.

Under the proposal, market operators and managers would take on greater responsibilities, including increased on-site record keeping, and would undergo certification training. Operators or managers could also face fines if their markets allow non-certified or non-qualified vendors.

Under California law, farmers may only sell directly to consumers on the farm or at market locations certified by county agricultural commissioners.

"We saw the news reports from last fall and it appeared to be indefensible fraud," said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau, which operates certified farmers markets in the county. "We don't have a problem with increased enforcement because the integrity of the farmers markets is at risk. If there are gaps in enforcement, they need to be filled."

The increase in fees, however, is a big jump for farmers to pay, Larson said. And, he wondered if, with more than 700 markets statewide, three investigators could do the needed job.

"California farmers take great pride in the food they grow and are committed to ensuring that consumers are getting what they expect when they buy at a farmers market," said Noelle Cremers, California Farm Bureau Federation natural resources and commodities director. "We care about consumers and want to be sure they are getting what they pay for and we care about our farmers and whether they're selling into a fair market system. We also are concerned about a nearly 600 percent increase in the daily fees farmers pay to create a significantly expanded enforcement program."

She said there has been some interest on the part of farmers to expand CDFA's enforcement role beyond farmers markets to include direct food marketing activities in general.

"There may have to be increased fees to pay for new enforcement, but let's build an appropriately sized program," Cremers said. "Farmers have a stake in the proposed changes to the certified farmers market program and in maintaining fair and equitable markets."

Information on the Certified Farmers Market Program is online at www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/i_&_c/cfm.html.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.