Food Daily Dish

Tighter enforcement snares farmers market cheaters

Stung by media exposes of farmers market cheating, Los Angeles County officials have dramatically stepped up enforcement, bringing in Ed Williams, deputy director of the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s office and an experienced agricultural sleuth.

As a result, 19 farmers market vendors have been fined in Los Angeles County in 2013, up from only two in 2012, and San Diego County has sanctioned six more. Here is a list of the vendors who have been fined.

These 25 vendors at certified farmers markets in the greater Los Angeles area were sanctioned by agricultural commissioners in 2013 for selling produce not grown at their farms.

Adams Olive Ranch (Dennis Bonfilio, owner), Lindsay. After a hearing, the farm was fined $1,800 by Los Angeles County and suspended from certified sections of farmers markets for six months, effective Nov. 13, for selling pickled Kalamata olives, pickled onions and pickled cucumbers not grown by the farm at the Hollywood farmers market June 12. Tipoff to inspectors: the three items were not listed on the certified producer’s certificate. (The stand can still sell in noncertified sections, with food vendors.)

All Green Farm (James and Tae Park), Perris. Fined $600 by Los Angeles County for selling Cara Cara oranges and Pink Lady apples not grown by the farm at the Motor Avenue farmers market Feb. 17. Tipoffs: Cara Cara oranges were not listed on the certified producer’s certificate; some Pink Lady apples were waxed and others were not.

Aoyama Farming (Ray, Sheri and Steve Aoyama), Parlier. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling pluots not grown by the farm at the Monrovia farmers market July 26. Tipoff: No pluots were listed on the certified producer’s certificate.

Atkins Nursery (Victor Gonzalez), Fallbrook. After a hearing and an appeal, the farm was fined $1,800 by Los Angeles County and suspended from certified sections of farmers markets for six months, for selling Asian pears not grown by the farm at the Pomona Valley farmers market Sept. 8 (tipoff: many Asian pears on the table, but the farm had only one tree); for selling Fuji apples not grown by the farm at the Wilshire Center farmers market March 22 (tipoff: quantity and commercial appearance); and for selling blood oranges not grown by the farm at the Watts farmers market April 20 (tipoff: the oranges were frozen, but the farm had not experienced freeze damage). Atkins appealed to the state secretary of Agriculture; after a review of the case, staff counsel affirmed the original decision on Dec. 20; if Atkins does not appeal to Superior Court, the farm will be suspended starting Jan. 20, 2014.

Farfan Aurelio, Parlier. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling yellow plums not grown by the farm at the West Los Angeles farmers market July 21. Tipoff: A Los Angeles County inspector took photos of all the fruit on the market table; a Fresno County inspector visited the farm and could not find yellow plums.

Behneman Family Farms (Julie Behneman), Valley Center. Fined $1,000 by San Diego County for making false claims about the extent of the farm’s avocado and Oroblanco grapefruit production during an inspection for the renewal of the farm’s certified producer’s certificate; fined $401 by San Diego County for selling Oroblancos not grown by the farm at 11 different San Diego County farmers markets in 2012.

Berumen Farms (Javier Berumen), Westminster. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling cantaloupes not grown by the farm at the Norwalk farmers market Oct. 29. Tipoff: The melons were of uniform size and appeared to be commercially sorted; it was also very late in the season for melons from coastal Southern California.

C&J Farms (Chan Sung Han and Seung Hoon Lee), Phelan. Fined $802 by Los Angeles County for selling yellow peaches and Thompson Seedless grapes not grown by the farm at the Monrovia farmers market July 19. Tipoffs: Yellow peaches appeared commercially cleaned and of uniform size; grapes were out of season for the growing area.

Circle K Ranch (Mel and Andrew Kazarian), Fowler. Fined $1,001 by Los Angeles County for selling Flame Seedless grapes not grown by the farm at the Old McDonald farmers market in Long Beach on Aug. 4, and at the Walnut farmers market Aug. 17. Tipoff: Grapes had the distinctive round shape of Flame Seedless, but the farm does not grow that variety.

Arnulfo Garcia, Kingsburg. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling cherries not grown by the farm at the Cerritos farmers market June 22. Tipoff: Garcia said the cherries were Tulares, but they did not have the pointed tip characteristic of that variety.

Gomez Farms (Oscar Gomez), Riverside. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling Asian pears not grown by the farm at the Hawthorne Del Aire farmers market Dec. 8, 2012. Tipoff: The stand displayed 30 pounds of Asian pears at just one market, but the farm grew only five Asian pear trees with a yearly production of 50 pounds.

Hillside Family Farms (Michael Cook), Fallbrook. Fined $802 by Los Angeles County for selling grapes and blueberries not grown by the farm at the Claremont farmers market Aug. 18. Tipoffs: commercial appearance and large quantity of the grapes; blueberries out of season at growing location.

Ibarra Farms (Jose and George Ibarra), Kingsburg. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling yellow nectarines not grown by the farm at the Lancaster farmers market May 30. Tipoff: Yellow nectarines were not listed on Ibarra’s certificate. Also, fined $600 by Los Angeles County for selling mandarins not grown by the farm at the Toluca Lake farmers market on June 9. Tipoff: Mandarins were out of season for the growing location.

Joe’s Produce (Joel Yepez Cervantes), Redlands. Fined $1,800 by Los Angeles County and suspended from farmers markets for six months, effective Nov. 18, for selling blueberries and raspberries not grown by the farm at the Montrose farmers market July 7 and Aug. 11, and for selling Brussels sprouts not grown by the farm at the Walnut farmers market Aug. 17. Tipoff: The berries sold at just two markets exceeded the farm’s estimated annual production.

Bernardino Loera, Fallbrook. Fined $700 by San Diego County for selling chayote not grown by the farm at the San Diego City Heights farmers market Feb. 2.

Manna Orchards (Jin Woo Uh), Madera. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling Flame Seedless grapes not grown by the farm at the Walnut farmers market Aug. 17. Tipoff: Flame grapes were not listed on the producer’s certificate.

Morning Star Ranch (Jeremiah Carlin), Valley Center. Fined $401 by San Diego County for selling a “green drink” that contained primarily grapefruit juice made from fruit not grown by the farm, at the Leucadia farmers market Feb. 10.

Ontario Farms (Hilarion Esquivias and Virginia Esqivias), Ontario. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling Fuji apples not grown by the farm at the Motor Avenue farmers market July 21. Tipoff: Apples were not listed on the producer’s certificate.

Salem Ranch (Seung Uh Lee, Mi Ra Lee, Eunice Yoon), Lucerne Valley. Fined $425 by San Diego County for selling tomatoes and bell peppers not grown by the farm at the La Mesa certified farmers market on April 12.

Frank Suarez, Cuyama. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling peanuts not grown by the farm at the West Los Angeles farmers market May 12. Tipoff: Peanuts were not listed on the producer’s certificate.

Tamai Farms (Steve and Jason Tamai), Oxnard. Fined $401 by Los Angeles County for selling large red tomatoes not grown by the farm at the La Cienega farmers market March 21. Tipoff: To the inspector the tomatoes looked similar to those grown by another farm. (A brother of Steve Tamai operates a separate business also named Tamai Farms, but was not involved in this sanction.)

Valdivia Farms (Francisco Valdivia), Carlsbad. Fined $401 by San Diego County for selling tomatoes not grown by the farm at the San Diego North Park farmers market March 28.

Walker Farms (Jose Avitua), Exeter. Fined $600 by Los Angeles County for selling Fuji apples not grown by the farm at the Gardena Hollypark farmers market March 3 and at the South Gate farmers market March 11. Tipoff: The vendor displayed 90 pounds of apples that seemed to be commercially waxed, but the producer’s certificate listed only four trees with yearly production of 200 pounds. Also, fined $600 by Los Angeles County for selling Sugraone grapes not grown by the farm at the Claremont farmers market on July 21. Tipoff: The grapes appeared to be commercially packed in white Styrofoam boxes, and Sugraone grapes were not listed on the farm’s certificate.

Xiong Yang / Herd Vong Yang Farm (Xiong Yang, Herd Vong Yang, Chong Yang), Sanger. Fined $600 by Los Angeles County for selling lemons and limes not grown by the farm at the Silver Lake farmers market on March 9. Tipoff: The lemons and limes appeared to be commercially processed.

Jose Zamora, Oceanside. Fined $500 by San Diego County for selling cauliflower, broccoli, nopales, cabbage and serrano chiles not grown by the farm at the San Marco farmers market April 14; fined $401 by San Diego County for selling zucchini at the Santee farmers market April 24. Tipoff: The produce in question appeared of suspiciously high quality for the time of year and growing area.

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