There’s a new epidemic in America: fake farmer’s markets. With the success of local farmer’s markets come corporate copycats hoping to cash in on the new trend. Two major U.S. supermarket chains have been holding misleading in-store marketing using “farmer’s markets” as their advertisement tag line.
The new trend in false marketing seems to have begun earlier this year, with a Kirkland, Washington woman spotting a fake farmer’s market at a local big-box grocery store. She became suspicious when the so-called “farmer’s market” in the grocery’s parking lot featured mangoes, which definitely don’t grow inWashington State.1
That incident prompted Martha Tyler, an organizer for a nearby (and legitimate) Redmond farmer’s market, to do something. So local farmers market associations and their customers organized a protest and forced thestore to change the “Farmer’s Market” in their parking lot to an “Outdoor Market” instead.
That didn’t stop other grocery chains from copycatting, however. Another popular chain in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and other areas put their “farmer’s markets” indoors near the produce section. The signs, however, are said to be “justified” since the produce came from local sources in-season.2
The trouble isn’t with grocery chains faking farmer’s markets, says the Wall Street Journal, but it is with the dilution of the term itself. Once people begin associating it with grocery storesrather than with true farmer-direct markets, the public will begin to stop seeing the direct-from-the-source connection that farmer’s markets imply.
Of course, this implication at even non-store, outdoor farmer’s markets isn’t always correct either.
An investigative report by an NBC News affiliate in Los Angeles, California found that some sellers at LA-area farmer’s markets were anything but farmers. Some vendors were pretending to be growers while actually just selling produce purchased at a wholesaler. Others lied about their products being pesticide free.3
The real trick to knowing what you’re buying at a farmer’s market is, of course, to know the farmers themselves. Most legitimate growers are more than happy to allow you to visit and even tour their farms to see how they operate. Building this one-on-one connection takes time, but it’s well worth the effort as it builds a trust relationship between you and the producer of yourfood. That’s always a good thing.
Whatever you do, be leery of big grocery chains attempting to cash in on the farmer’s market trend with false advertising and pretend “local” displays. They might fool the bottled water-toting soccer moms, but they shouldn’t fool you.
1 – Safeway Tries to Pull a Fake “Farmers Market” by KUOW Seattle, PR Watch
2 – Copycat Farmers’ Markets Reap a Crop of Complaints by Nick Wingfield and Ben Worthen, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 24, 2010
3 – Top 5 Ways to Find Honest Vendors at Farmers Markets by Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg, NBC LA (note that the original investigative report has been removed from their website, it was here)