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“Buzzkill” at Farmers’ Markets: Business as Usual Despite Quarantine


Under sunny skies, the day before Thanksgiving, the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona Avenue bustled with pre-holiday shoppers. Nobody seemed deterred by the quarantine procedures requiring netting to cover some produce at the booths.

On October 28, two Mediterranean fruit flies were discovered near the 10 Freeway in eastern Santa Monica. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) ordered that certain fruits and vegetables that attract Medflies be covered with netting or some other form of protection while on display at all open-air markets within 65 miles of the site where the flies were found. As of Monday, the quarantine is expected to last until Sept. 2010.

Produce that is exposed but not sold cannot be returned to the farms that grow the produce – an effort to keep Medflies from spreading.

According to the CDFA’s list, fruits and vegetables that must be covered include the following: mock oranges, olives, cactus fruit, avocados, Native American plums, apricots, sweet and sour cherries, peaches, guavas, pomegranates, pears, eggplants, blueberries, grapes, most citrus fruits, persimmons, apples, and some varieties of tomatoes.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. The last time was in 1999. Laura Avery, supervisor of Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets and manager of the Wednesday Market, said many venders still have their nets from a decade ago.

“Farmer’s know the process, they know what to do,” she said.

Avery said the good news from previous quarantines are that the med-fly has never established itself in California. If it ever does, Avery said it would cripple the State’s economy, because no one would import from California farmers.

“We couldn’t ship our fruit anywhere, everything would shut down,” she said. “It’s the nightmare scenario.”

Because of this, Avery had no doubt that all venders would take all the necessary precautions to ensure compliance with quarantine procedures. Additionally, representatives from LA County, California and U.S. departments of agriculture stopped by farmers’ markets in the area on Wednesday to make sure all was going well. Venders had to sign compliance agreements and brochures were even handed out to customers on how to ensure safe storage of produce.

At the Peacock Farms booth, bright orange Hachiya persimmons were covered with red netting. Even the free sample pieces were covered, although a vendor gave out the samples, mounted on toothpicks, at customers’ request. Jessica Gore, manager of the booth, admitted that in spite of the netting, her booth was “pretty busy.”

Some vendors seemed reticent to talk too much about the quarantine in front of customers.

At a booth that displayed Fuji Apples and grapes, carefully covered with net, one vendor told The Santa Monica Mirror that the use of the covering was “annoying.” The manager said that business was “good,” but seemed to not want to discuss the matter further.

Karen (who gave no last name), a vendor at Whitney Farms, had Meyer Lemons, Hass Avocados, and blueberries in baskets on display within clear plastic boxes. “Our boxes [of blueberries] have little openings in them, so we protect them,” she explained.

Karen said sales were good and people seemed to be happy, but some of them, while liking the appearance of the clear plastic boxes, found it a bit difficult to get them open.

There appeared to be a few inconsistencies at some booths. One booth had all its fruits under netting but had its Heirloom tomatoes openly displayed. Since the CDFA list described “pink and red ripe” tomatoes as the ones required to be protected, the Heirlooms apparently were okay to display without netting. Strawberries were also being sold uncovered. When The Santa Monica Mirror asked a vendor about his strawberries, he shook his head and said: “I don’t know about them. I guess they’re all right.” Strawberries are not on the CDFA list.

Jodi Low, a Farmers Market coordinator, said that contrary to what people assume, the day before Thanksgiving, from a “gross sales viewpoint,” is not the busiest day of the year for the Wednesday market. “But is it one of the busiest.” She added that business was “up” for the Sunday open-air market on Main Street.

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