Since a scandal exposing cheaters at farmers markets erupted in 2010, there has been general agreement that something needed to be done to restore the integrity of the markets and public confidence. A year ago, an industry group devised a plan that called for hiring three state inspectors to boost enforcement, but this proposal has not yet gained traction because market stakeholders could not agree whether fees paid by farmers should be raised, who should pay how much or how enforcement should be structured.
So it was a surprise when Steve Patton, head of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Certified Farmers Market Program, mentioned at an advisory committee meeting in Torrance on March 14 that the CDFA will soon hire a full-time "fruit and vegetable quality control supervisor" for the farmers market program.
Administratively this is a rank intermediate between inspector and investigator, but the crucial part is that the new officer will have the authority to catch cheaters. In recent years, the state farmers market program has had only part-time field officers with limited time to visit farmers markets.
The state managed to find the money from small yearly increases in fees as the number of markets increased and from careful budgeting, says Patton.
"The CDFA is being responsive to the industry's needs," says Amelia Saltsman, the public member on the advisory committee. "This is good news for everyone who cares about farmers markets."