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Farmers market was unaware they broke the rules

Organizers of the Montrose Harvest Market say they were unaware they were breaking state regulations.

September 01, 2011|By Brittany Levine brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Patrons buying fresh bread at the Montrose Farmers Market. (File photo)
Patrons buying fresh bread at the Montrose Farmers Market.…

Organizers of the Montrose Harvest Market are working to bring themselves in compliance with state rules after they were notified this month that they’ve lacked the needed sponsorship for years.

The state requires certified farmers markets to be sponsored by a government entity, a nonprofit group, or a grower, but the Montrose event, which has operated in its current form since 2002, lacks that backing.

In exchange for the sponsorship, the state lets market vendors sell food without labels and packaging, which is required for other food sales. Markets that aren’t certified and sell unpackaged goods may face closures or fines, but Ken Pellman, spokesman for the Los Angeles County agricultural commissioner, said the goal is to bring errant operations into compliance.

Following up with a complaint filed with state officials, the county agricultural commissioner’s office determined that the Montrose Harvest Market had been breaking state rules.

“We’ve been working very hard to bring the situation into compliance,” Pellman said. “We’re trying to be cooperative, but we’re trying to enforce the rules.”

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Organizers said they were unaware that they were breaking the rules until the county brought it to their attention.

“We will do our best to take care of it,” said Alyce Russell, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., which runs the Sunday market.

The investigation of the Harvest Market’s certification came as the agricultural commissioner stepped up enforcement this year, Pellman said.

“The [Certified Farmers Market] program began as a much smaller program 30 years ago, but has grown so much, which means it attracts some people who might take shortcuts, and enforcement regulations hadn't been keeping up with the growth,” Pellman said.

In March, a county worker asked the Montrose market for proof of one of the three sponsorships as part of a review. At the time, the market manager said the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. was a nonprofit, but lacked the necessary paperwork.

The association has called itself a nonprofit since 1968 before tax rules for nonprofits changed in the 1970s, said Executive Director Dale Dawson. Association members thought the nonprofit status would be grandfathered in, and so didn’t file with the IRS, he added.

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