Urban locavores: I have bad news. Some of the produce you bought at a local farmers market may not have been grown at local farms — and may not be pesticide-free even if they were marketed as such. That’s what NBC Los Angeles discovered through an undercover investigation of farmers markets in Southern California.

Apparently, some farmers market vendors are supplementing the produce actually grown on their farms with additional produce grown from far away, bought from large wholesale produce warehouses. Other vendors are claiming their strawberries are grown pesticide-free — though lab testing reveals those strawberries have pesticide levels “too high to have drifted from another farm.”

Vendors named and shamed include Frutos Farms, Juan Uriostegui, and The Berry Best. But the problem goes beyond those three vendors. “By the end of our investigation, we found vendors who make false claims selling at more than two dozen farmers markets,” reports NBCLA.

For lying about their produce, vendors can get fined or suspended from selling at farmers markets. So if you, say, see a suspicious produce sticker on the avocado you bought at the farmers market, report the matter!

NBCLA offers some suggestions for figuring out which market vendors are telling the truth — namely by asking a lot of questions to get to know the specific vendors. That advice seems a rather ineffective suggestion to me, since NBCLA itself tried asking a lot of questions — and got a lot of lies in return.

My suggestion would be to, whenever possible, shop from the certified organic vendors (in Santa Monica, these vendors get a special orange pennant on market day for easy identification) — since at those booths, you have third-party certification that your produce is free of dangerous pesticides. And while getting to personally know and trust every vendor at the farmers market may be impractical, getting to know one or two — and perhaps even visiting the farms in person — could give you locavoring confidence. Last but not least, supporting a local Community Supported Agriculture program lets you know exactly which farm or farms your produce is coming from.

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