To step up enforcement, the CDFA originally requested raising fees to $4 per vendor per market, but Best and his colleagues knew that doing so would be a tough for farmers who operate on slim profit margins, and they fought to keep the fee at $2. “We were always in the wings trying to make sure the interests of the farmers were represented,” says Best.
Whether those fees will be put to good use still remains to be seen. “How 1871 gets implemented is critical,” says Ben Feldman, the chair of the California Alliance of Farmers Markets.
He noted a recent CDFA pilot project involving four counties that provides a blueprint for how county and state officials might coordinate to identify red flags, share data, and improve communication. Most critical: Inspectors visited farms within 48 hours of inspecting questionable market stands. “We now have a model to look to, in terms of CDFA and counties working well together and actually doing the type of enforcement that will identify fraud,” says Feldman.
While the new legislation could never replace the understanding that comes from shoppers knowing and talking to their farmers, it is intended to deepen consumer confidence and provide a useful tool for market managers to protect the integrity of the state’s modern farmers’ market program, enacted by Governor Jerry Brown in 1977.
“Regardless of how widespread it is, fraud is a significant issue,” says Feldman. “[Perpetrators] are trading on the good name of honest, hardworking farmers.”
Lehrer concurs. “If there are going to be cheaters that destroy that integrity, there’s got to be enforcement. It’s the same in any industry. You need somebody to shine a little sunlight to make sure everyone’s on the up and up.”