How local is your local Farmers’ Market?
January 27, 2014
OPINION By APRIL MCLAUGHLIN
In San Luis Obispo County, we are lucky to have a whopping 19 certified farmers’ market to shop at. It makes sense though, given how much agriculture our area is responsible for – from avocados to lemons to zucchini, we pretty much have it all!
With this kind of bounty growing within 60 miles of any given ”local” farmers’ market you would think that almost every vendor is also within that same 60 mile radius but you would be incorrect in that assumption.
While we live in a unique area, surrounded by multiple pockets of microclimates that allow area farmers to grow a vast array of produce, your local farmers’ markets have vendors from as far away as Reedley (320 miles round-trip), Sanger (330 miles round-trip) and Orosi (340 miles round-trip) just to name a few out-of-area locales.
The operators of these markets would have you believe that certain items are just not grown within our “local” area, but that is simply untrue. Figs are grown in Reedley AND Templeton, stone fruit is grown in Orosi AND Paso Robles and Templeton, “Asian vegetables” are grown in Selma AND on multiple farms throughout the county, citrus is grown in Sanger AND Nipomo and various nuts are grown in Huron AND multiple “local” communities. There is very little out-of-area produce brought to our “local” farmers’ markets that does not grow in our own 60 mile backyard. Did you know that kiwis and Loofah sponges are grown on the Mesa? Pretty cool!
When non-local farmers are taking up the finite space at our “local” farmers’ markets, local farmers are being cut out of their very own communities. That Templeton farmer growing figs doesn’t get a chance to sell within their own community because the market operator only allows the Reedley farmer in – a Fresno county farmer who has traveled 320 miles round-trip to sell their figs. Do you think the Reedley farmer is traveling that far only to lose money each and every week? Our area farmers’ market sellers are doing hundreds of thousands of dollars in vendor sales each year. The Saturday morning farmers’ market at the Madonna Plaza did one MILLION dollars in vendor sales in 2012. Yes. You read that right. $1,000,000.00. Local sales that our local farmers’ cannot attain.
The other dirty little secret at our “local” farmers’ markets is that when those particular out-of-area items are no longer in season, the out-of-area farmers are still selling produce that is direct competition for our area farmers, in order to keep their booth space at market. When there are no more figs to bring, they are transporting onions, cilantro, carrots, kale, squash, etc. The very produce that is being grown in Huasna Valley, Nipomo, Santa Maria and Edna Valley and being sold at the next booth over. Items that have no signage telling you what is the local cilantro and what is the Lemoore cilantro. It makes you wonder – who is the local vegetable farmer and who is the Hanford vegetable farmer? No banner is required to provide that information. The market operator doesn’t make that information mandatory.
As a shopper, wanting to make a calculated “buy local” shopping choice, you would think that our “local” farmers’ market is the most logical choice – a “no brainer” in today’s parlance. That would be incorrect, thanks to the very folks bringing you these markets. With no required signage telling us where the produce was actually grown and the market operators helping perpetuate that false “locals” assumption by disavowing SLO County’s “Buy Local” program, we the consumers are caught in their self-serving lie of omission.
This Tuesday evening, Jan. 28, at 6:30pm, the Arroyo Grande City Council will make a final decision on what conditions (if any) their Village Farmers’ Market will be required to adhere to. The market operator does not want you, the very person that votes with their local dollars, to know which vendors are from the area and which vendors are traveling over 300 miles to sell to you – which vendors are taking up the space that a local vendor or farmer does not get to occupy. The same market where you can buy the multi-level marketing product “Scentsy”, hummus from a national food company, jelly from Oregon, (via their national sales representative) alongside farmers that travel a combined 2,700 miles round-trip each and every Saturday, every year, year in and year out. Now is your opportunity to stand up for our truly local farmers and your chance to “buy local” at our area certified farmers’ markets.
Click the link for the AG City Council meeting information, and you can also send correspondence to the following city council members and city planning officials, for consideration at the upcoming meeting:
April McLaughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and she looks forward to meeting you on Tuesday.