Farm­ers mar­ket food and fraud

GA Voice - - Columnists - By MELISSA CARTER

I’m get­ting the mes­sage: eat fresh and eat lo­cal. But when I tried to do that I was shocked at what I found.

Like you, I’ve tried to be health-con­science when it comes to food, but I be­came even more hy­per-aware re­cently af­ter watch­ing Katie Couric’s doc­u­men­tary, “Fed Up.” The movie out­lines how much sugar is in pretty much ev­ery food item we eat, not just desserts, and how that level of daily sugar in­take is poi­son­ing our sys­tems. The so­lu­tion? Eat fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles. And the best place to get them is at your lo­cal farm­ers mar­ket.

There is a small store­front near my house that sells a tiny harvest of veg­gies on a daily ba­sis, and be­cause ev­ery­thing is dis­played in old peach bas­kets, I as­sumed it was fresh from lo­cal grow­ers. Even the older gen­tle­man who runs the place looks like he came straight from the farm, and since he ac­cepts only cash or a check to bag up your goods, I as­sumed he was the real deal.

I felt very proud that I was be­ing healthy and help­ing out Ge­or­gia farm­ers by buy­ing and en­joy­ing their goods. That is, un­til last week.

I en­tered the store square-shoul­dered and con­fi­dent. I filled my peach bas­kets to the brim with toma­toes, pota­toes, or­anges, and plums. Ev­ery­thing was great un­til I got home and grabbed one of the plums to eat. Rins­ing it off, I no­ticed a sticker. With a bar code on it. From Cal­i­for­nia.

My mouth lit­er­ally dropped open for a mo­ment (be­fore I popped the fruit into it).

So if the plums I buy from this place aren’t lo­cal, how many other items did I pur­chase that weren’t ei­ther? And speak­ing of pur­chas­ing, did I end up pay­ing more for these items than I would have at the gro­cery store? I vowed never to go back.

Af­ter com­plain­ing about my ex­pe­ri­ence on so­cial media, a lis­tener sent me an ar­ti­cle from Mod­ern Farmer mag­a­zine re­gard­ing “farm­ers mar­ket fraud.” It de­scribed the ef-

“So if the plums I buy from this place aren’t lo­cal, how many other items did I pur­chase that weren’t ei­ther? Speak­ing of pur­chas­ing, did I end up pay­ing more for these items than I would have at the gro­cery store? I vowed never to go back.”

forts by Cal­i­for­nia to curb this fraud, cul­mi­nat­ing in Gover­nor Jerry Brown’s sig­na­ture on AB 1871 last fall.

Un­der the new law, grow­ers will be re­quired to dis­play signs on their pro­duce with their name, county of pro­duc­tion, and a state­ment that as­sures, “We grow what we sell.” False or mis­lead­ing claims about a pro­ducer’s iden­tity, grow­ing re­gion, or meth­ods of pro­duc­tion are a mis­de­meanor, pun­ish­able by fines of up to $2,500 or even im­pris­on­ment. It seems Ge­or­gia should con­sider pass­ing some­thing sim­i­lar.

I used to as­so­ciate food with South­ern cul­ture. A large fam­ily gath­ers for a Sun­day af­ter­noon din­ner with dishes they spent a day, or days, pre­par­ing. The worst of­fense at such a feast would be to bring some­thing you bought at a gro­cery store. That would be con­sid­ered cheat­ing, and lazy. The pride in hav­ing made the fa­vorite dish could last a life­time.

Now, af­ter these doc­u­men­taries about the food in­dus­try and my ex­pe­ri­ence in my own neigh­bor­hood, my re­la­tion­ship with food is dif­fer­ent. I look at food with skep­ti­cism, won­der­ing what some­one has added, trans­formed, or sub­sti­tuted in what­ever it is I’m about to eat. Un­like at the Sun­day gath­er­ings, I don’t trust the cook who has pre­pared my pre-pack­aged meals, and worse yet, I no longer trust the farmer who sells me a plum.

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