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Massachusetts Grown Pineapples & Farmers Markets

It apparently made news that many things sold at a farmers market in Los Angeles aren’t, in fact, coming from small farms.

NBCLA’s investigation began this summer, when we bought produce at farmers markets across the LA area, and then made surprise visits to farms where we were told the produce was being grown.

We found farms full of weeds, or dry dirt, instead of rows of the vegetables that were being sold at the markets. …

Frutos Farm’s state permit to sell produce at farmers markets says their farm is in Cypress.
NBCLA asked owner Jesse Frutos, “Everything you sell at farmers markets is grown in your Cypress field?”

Jesse responded, “Correct…everything.”

But when NBCLA made a surprise visit to the Cypress field listed on its permit, Frutos couldn’t show us most of the produce he was selling, such as celery, garlic, and avocados.

So NBCLA asked, “Do you grow avocados here?”

“Avocados? No, not here on the lot. … That I’ll be honest. That stuff came from somewhere else,” Frutos said.

Somewhere else? NBCLA’s undercover cameras followed Jesse’s trucks on farmers market days, and saw him going to the big wholesale produce warehouses in downtown LA.

We saw him loading up his truck, with boxes of produce from big commercial farms as far away as Mexico. He bought many of the types of items we saw him selling at the farmers markets.

Their customers don’t bother asking, so it’s easy to get away with selling things you pick up at Sam’s Club. This should not shock people. It would be like me getting offended by the local markets I saw with Sam’s Club delivery trucks parked outside their stores in Hawaii. It’s just the easiest and cheapest way to get goods into the hands of people who want them, yet want to shop at a smaller or closer store. Yes, I could go buy the same things at the same prices, but there are tradeoffs with that – more quantity than I can eat, and another shopping trip to make.

But, this is also a good excuse to highlight an email Virginia Postrel posted in response to her recent locavore column in the WSJ.

Beyond these public policy issues, we run a series of focus groups and mall intercepts and other studies that interact with consumers from the UK to North America and on to Australia/New Zealand. You would be shocked at what people expect. A seemingly intelligent woman walked out of a farm stand in Massachusetts. The stand stood on a small farm but probably 90% of the sales of the farm stand were purchased off the local wholesale market. Yet when we asked shoppers why they liked shopping there, more than one pulled out their pineapple and pointed to the advantages of a good Massachusetts grown pineapple!

Painful.

What I don’t get is why some shoppers are upset if they find out the truth. Is buying into the lifestyle of farmers markets really that important? We bought a bunch of jams, sauces, and spreads out in Hawaii that tasted delicious. (The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet – don’t miss it.) If you were to tell me that they were secretly manufactured by some big company, I wouldn’t be upset. Instead, I’d be excited since it would increase the likelihood that I could purchase more without having to go to Honolulu. The fact that we did buy from small local retailers is interesting, but note the key to my purchase. The reason we purchased was because each of the products was delicious. We’re not looking for a lifestyle beyond one filled with fruity delicious jams.

15 Responses to “Massachusetts Grown Pineapples & Farmers Markets”

  1. FatWhiteMan says:

    The local Amish buy a lot of “Amish Potato Salad” and bread from the local Wal-Mart. Their stands don’t have “permits”. :)

    Let the buyer beware.

    • Bitter says:

      That’s the funny thing, I wouldn’t be offended if I found out that the delicious onion relish I bought for Sebastian at the Amish market near us was available at Wal-Mart. I’d point out that I never noticed it in the wealth of selection at Wal-Mart, but it did jump out at me at the Amish market. That’s what matters – I managed to get my hands on something he enjoys. If I find it for less elsewhere, that’s just an added benefit.

  2. When I was in Detroit, I went to the Eastern Market one day. Was impressed at first, since there was one or two people selling produce actually grown in Detroit, but for the rest, it was all the same stuff I could by at any supermarket.

    I think people just like the idea of buying into the idea of a Farmers Market.

  3. The food at local farmers markets around here are mostly just ethnic groceries. Very little is local, but they’re fun places to find interesting new fruits and veggies to try. Which is fine.

  4. ExurbanKevin says:

    It goes beyond produce. When I lived in Costa Rica, I’d go to the “native” markets (read: tourist traps) which would inevitably be stocked with a variety of lovely woven rugs that pictured snowy mountain vistas, historic missions and stylized llamas…

    … which were actually made by the Quechua indians of the Andes, 1500 miles to the south (Hint: Llamas are NOT native to anywhere north of Columbia).

    But heck, the tourists didn’t know and didn’t care. Anything south of, say, Dallas, was all the same to them.

  5. Monty says:

    I think your missing the point, its perfectly fine for you little country store to be selling stuff they bought at Sam’s club because no one is claiming they didn’t. They are providing you convenience, and maybe some atmosphere, which is all the reason people shop there. The difference is that farmers markets are supposed to be full of locally grown produce. Now you can argue about the value (or lack thereof) of buying locally grown produce, but those attending a farmers market have decided, for whatever reason, that they value it, and that they are willing to pay a premium for it. To sell non-locally grown produce without it being clear is outright fraud under the circumstances. Its fine to sell maple syrup that is actually just high fructose corn syrup, as long as you don’t claim its 100% maple, but that doesn’t mean you can claim its something its not.

  6. Sebastian says:

    I tend to agree with Monty. If they are lying about the origin, that’s fraud.

  7. Bitter says:

    I do agree with the problems of fraud. But do you really think that the Massachusetts farm stand was claiming they grow pineapples?

    While California has regulations on small markets, I doubt most states do. And most of those types of small markets I’ve been to don’t actually tell you where the product came from. People just assume.

  8. robert says:

    And yet the nannystaters will use this as an excuse to regulate the food industry even more.

  9. JKB says:

    Well, some is just plain gullibility, like Massachusetts’ pineapples or on the East Coast buying tomatoes in May anywhere north of central Florida. The thing is, modern farmers markets have these expensive long lease stalls. The one I went to as a kid, had a few produce places like that but you knew there stuff was mostly non-local. The local farmers sold from the back of their truck which was backed up to a raised covered platform and they didn’t start arriving till late June even in TN/GA. No A/C, no refrigeration and they only had what was in season. Not everything was picture perfect pretty but you could buy a bushel of corn or a peck of beans all very tasty. Now, in season, I can get locally grown produce at Walmart because the local produce wholesaler isn’t going to have stuff trucked in when he has local supplies.

  10. emdfl says:

    Of course one of the reasons those California farmer’s markets don’t have much local grown produce is because about four or five years ago the epa turned off the water that was being used to irrigate those California farms.

  11. Ian Argent says:

    Water rights in the Southwest is something that would probably result in war if the sovereignities involved were allowed and equipped to make war on one another. Add the busybodies from across the continent trying to save one damn thing or some money, sheer cussedmindedness, &c; and I’m sure it would make an interesting history book after about a century.

  12. Alpheus says:

    My wife and I had a discussion along these lines after we read an article about how the “locally-grown” movement is evil for various reasons. I defended the small farmer, and had to explain that while I agree that there are advantages to getting food from across the continent, there are a LOT of regulations–federal, state, and local–that make it difficult for small farms to do what they do, and to reduce costs as well.

    Having said that, my only fear about the “locally-grown” movement is that they may try to insist on enforcing their values on everyone else by law.

    • Bitter says:

      Alpheus, the rest of Virginia Postrel’s email post addresses that very topic. It’s one thing to enjoy buying locally grown and even advocate it as a good thing, but there are some in the movement who want to turn that advocacy into more regulations or show favoritism through tax spending.

  13. Jon Huettl says:

    It is all about REGULATION. Take a deep look into all of these so called FARMERS MARKETS and you will find they are administrated at the local level from FUNDS provided by the USDA in the good old DISTRICT of Columbia.

    If the USDA were interested in providing an avenue for local growers of the area it (USDA) would invite local HOME GARDENERS to participate. But low and behold the USDA will not do that because they do not have rights to regulate the Home Gardener. No REGULATION-NO SALE. Something the Legal World calls VENUE.

    When the REGULATION MONEY goes away and local control by the community is finally instituted, then all GROWERS will have a TRUE PLACE TO MARKET in a Central Location convenient to the Consumer.

    If you want to have some harmless fun, just go down to your local Farmers Market and talk to the local Administrator and ask her/him when are they going to let Home Gardeners have a little space to share their bounty with the community. What an ear full you will get. Do this week after week and you will notice that the Administrator will avoid you at all costs and instruct Security to keep you under close supervision while you are at the Market. Hate to tell her, but the Local Police officer assigned to the Market knows I’m one of the good guys and we swap local gossip and laugh out loud at our attempts of Laconic Humor on our weekly stroll through the Market (must admit he his getting better at one liners).

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