Readers were treated to a juicy tidbit in last week’s Clark Fork Market Report (see “Better late than never,” July 5) from Indy contributor Ari LeVaux: “The action has been getting so hot under the bridge, in fact, that it’s begun to attract leeches. One vendor was outed (and booted) for trying to pass off Washington cherries as local.”
LaVaux said he heard about the contraband cherries while getting a rundown of the day’s activities from a market employee. “It’s pretty easy to spot for the regulars,” LeVaux says of illicit resellers.
Some states and markets in larger cities have entire teams devoted to investigating intentional market fraud. The New York City Greenmarket has a team of inspectors that visit farms to make sure they’re growing what they’re selling. In California, farmers markets are certified by the state, and there’s a state law that requires vendors to sell only what they produce and state employees who check for compliance. Montana doesn’t have those statewide regulations or an official enforcement staff, so it’s up to market operators to set and enforce the Missoula markets’ stringent policies on reselling.
“In accordance with our mission statement, market vendors will be limited to producers from Western Montana (west of the Continental Divide),” the Clark Fork Market vendor rules specify. “All items must be grown or gathered by the vendor.” There are some exceptions, but when it comes to produce, it has to come from here and be sold by the person who grew it or picked it.
Market manager Franco Salazar told the Indy in an email that out-of-state vendors occasionally try to sell at the Clark Fork Market, and Salazar has to ask them to leave. In this instance, he writes, the issue was identified by himself and another vendor, and the seller was a Montana vendor that otherwise sold its own produce. “The vendor was honest and told me where the cherries were from. We are not sure what we will do about the vendor, but it seems it was a misunderstanding,” Salazar writes.
Lynn McCamant, who runs Forbidden Fruit Orchard in Paradise with her husband Tom, says they and some other growers had the first Montana cherries of the season at market on Saturday, June 30, the same day the out-of-state fruit was spotted. “There’s people always attempting to bring something over from Washington, usually the high-value crops like the cherries or the peaches or things that come into season earlier than what we have,” she says. McCamant says reselling is not an especially big issue, and that between market management and regular vendors, it’s usually spotted quickly and nipped in the bud.
As a seller of legitimate early Montana cherries, McCamant says Forbidden Fruit frequently fields questions from vigilant shoppers who want to be sure what they’re getting is local. “We get accused of having Washington cherries a lot, because at our orchard we’re like a week or two ahead of Flathead,” she says. Questioning shoppers can rest assured that the market won’t tolerate a Washington cherry at any stage of ripeness.