Embattled Montrose Harvest Market back on track

After years of operating without the proper certification, officials say the Montrose Harvest Market is back on track.

At the end of September, the Los Angeles County agricultural commissioner, which oversees local farmers markets on behalf of the California Department of Agriculture, approved the Montrose event’s certification, said spokesman Ken Pellman.

For years, the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., a business group that organizes the Honolulu Avenue market, had advertised it as a certified market, but it lacked either backing from a certified farmer, status as a nonprofit or partnership with a government agency.

The market has been in hot water lately because of certification issues and run-ins with county health officials because of dogs spotted near the food booths, which are banned because of health concerns.

“We’re probably one of the most regulated markets in the state right now in terms of having [agriculture and health department officials] observing what we’re doing,” said market manager Mark Sheridan.

Certified farmers markets must be run by a nonprofit, government agency or certified farmer. Being certified means markets don’t have to follow strict food rules for packaging and labeling imposed on other produce sales.

The Montrose Shopping Park Assn. has been represented as a nonprofit in city documents for decades, but never officially secured the status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Leaders of the group, which runs a business improvement district, said they thought the association was considered a quasi-governmental agency because of the city partnership, but that didn’t square with state agriculture rules.

The association had asked the city to sponsor the market, but the city, which sponsors a certified market on Brand Boulevard on Thursdays, wasn’t interested. The association is currently working on attaining nonprofit status, but until then, Sheridan stepped up to the plate, lending his status as a certified farmer to bring the market in line with state requirements.

“It’s an interim solution to a somewhat complicated problem,” Sheridan said, adding that he has been added to the market’s insurance policy.

Sheridan, who has been operating farmer’s markets for about 25 years and cultivates honeybees, applied to become a certified farmer about two months ago. Once he was approved, the shopping park’s board of directors transferred responsibility of the market to him, an arrangement the state Department of Agriculture signed off in late last month.

“It’s all been put behind us,” said Dale Dawson, the association’s executive director.

Sheridan said he took on the added work and risk to protect the farmers and merchants.

“To me it was just too important,” he said. “There were too many livelihoods involved.”

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