Preventing Farmers Market Fraud

LUBBOCK, Tx - UPDATE: If you've gone out to a farmers market you're not alone. The USDA reports there are more than 8,400 markets in the United States and that number is still growing.     

The city of Lubbock is home to three of them allowing you to purchase produce straight from the source. But, how do you know what you are buying was actually grown by the person selling it?

"If you walk up to a vendor and ask where these come from and they can't tell you, that's a red flag," said Larry Simmons, Market Manager for the Lubbock Downtown Farmers Market.

It's that problem that Simmons said the Downtown Farmers Market fights on a regular basis. He said it's exactly why they have strict regulations to make sure most everything you buy at the market was actually grown by the person selling it.

"The majority of our growers, I'll say 99% of our growers grow 100% of what they sell," Simmons said.

However, there are thing that shoppers want to see at the market that don't grow in the area. It's why the market board allows sellers to bring in 35% of their produce from another location. That way you can buy things like New Mexico Chilis, Pacos Melons or Peaches from Weatherford.

But, there is still that 1% who don't live by that rule and why Simmons gave some pointers on what you should look our for to avoid farmers market fraud.

"One of the first things is a CPU sticker, any kind of a price look up sticker that's on any kind of a vegetable or produce," Simmons said.

Another tale tell sign is the way the produce looks.

"Look for the wax coating and things like that....If you see something that is blemished or ugly you know that is pretty well locally grown or from a local farmer," explained Simmons.    

The Downtown Market also requires vendors to fill out a label for each item that lists where it's from, what it is and what the growing practices are for the product.

But, not all markets in Lubbock follow these same practices. If you go to the Texas Country Farmers Market at 19th and avenue A, you'll see CPU stickers, wax coatings and what growers call "Perfect fruit," or the kind of produce you would see at a grocery store.

But, owner and operator Cal Brints said there are reasons why you'll see those things at his location.

"We are, with our guidelines, have to supply as broad a range of product as broad a range of product that is in accordance with the SNAP guidelines as we can," said Cal Brints, owner and operator of Texas Country Farmers Market.

The Texas Country Farmers is one of a handful of markets that accept WIC, Lonestar and SNAP food benefits.

Brints also said he does everything he can to 'source' their produce locally. 

Both Brints and Simmons agree on one thing concerning anything sold at either market.

"The biggest thing that I would say is, talk to the vendor and ask them where they're from and how they practice. Become friends with your market vendor," said Simmons.

Then you as the consumer can know what is locally grown as well as the reasons on why any market across the country may have to source items that aren't grown in the region.

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