LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Nearly two dozen vendors have been fined or sanctioned for misleading buyers at Southern California farmers markets about “locally grown” produce, according to reports Friday.

KNX 1070’s Margaret Carrero reports Southern California officials have cracked down this past year on vendors who violate state law by selling fruits and vegetables they don’t produce.

Violators can be fined up to $1,000 for each offense and banned from the markets for up to 18 months.

This year, 20 vendors were fined in Los Angeles County, while San Diego County sanctioned five, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Inspectors are trained to recognize tipoffs such as fruit with a commercial appearance — waxed or of uniform size — or that is out of season in a particular growing area. They also look out for sales volume that exceeds a grower’s capacity, although some farmers have tried to fool inspectors by planting dummy crops.

JC, the owner of Savuer, which sells homemade meals, said he has gone to farmers markets for years and has been seeing these law breakers more recently.

“Go to the fruit and vegetable market in downtown and you seeing people buying them, and they resell as organic and everything,” he said.

Fighting market fraud is a costly proposition, though. Los Angeles County, which has 153 farmers markets, spent $243,000 during the fiscal year that ended June 30, about three times what the county made on market fees.

But violators also are hit in the pocketbook.

Victor Gonzalez of Atkins Nursery in Fallbrook was among the farmers sanctioned in San Diego County. He acknowledged that on three occasions, his vendors sold produce his farm didn’t produce. He was banned from farmers markets for six months and the penalty was upheld Tuesday by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Gonzalez told the Times on Thursday that some of his workers mistakenly placed fruit from another farm on his vending tables.

“I fired those people, and I’ll pay the fine, but please let me work, or I’m dead,” he said.

Stopping cheaters is crucial, said Laura Avery, supervisor of the Santa Monica market. “For farmers markets to continue to prosper, it is crucial that consumers have confidence that vendors really grow what they sell.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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