How to be sure what you're buying is really farm fresh

Published: Jul. 19, 2012 at 6:38 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2012 at 1:38 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's a trend to buy local and get your food from farm to table fast.

However,  if you asked 10 people to define local you'd likely get 10 different answers.  Some say 50 miles from point of purchase, while others say 500.

Now we've learned some phony farmers are trying to pass off food they picked from a truck as something they picked ON the farm.

"There's been quite a bit of masquerading at farmers markets where people will put on overalls and a straw hat and buy food from the big warehouses," said farmer Sammy Koenigsberg when we met up with him at the Matthews Community Market.

At the Matthews market they have strict rules.  Anyone who sells here must produce their food and other items no more than 50 miles from Matthews.  They're trying to avoid something called "reselling".

"It could be someone who buys from the big distribution center in Columbia, SC and that stuff was maybe grown in Florida.  They take it from the truck and put it in what looks like a farmers market stand and people assume its locally grown," said Pauline Wood who runs the Matthews market.

The State of North Carolina runs five farmers markets across the state.  We asked the Commissioner of Agriculture how the state battles reselling.

"In our markets we designate a 'farmers area' or 'farmers shed' where we gather all of the farmers selling local products so you can be sure you're buying local," said Commissioner Steve Troxler.

The state also proudly places the "Got To Be NC" logo on locally grown products.

"If people buy local then they are putting money in the pockets of local farmers and we think that's a good thing," Troxler said.

At Charlotte's Yorkmont market, one of the five run by the state, there is no 'farmers shed' because there just aren't enough local farmers there every day to support the special designation.

Despite that, there are "Got To Be NC" signs on the outside of the building.

It's an example of what it's really important to ask the farmer you're buying from where their farm is and if they're the ones doing the picking.  Ask to speak to the farmer and that will help you to know what you're buying is local.

We found one vendor at Yorkmont advertising local strawberries but when we asked where they were grown, they told us they came to the market from California.

"If they're not being truthful in advertising we try to investigate those things as they're reported to us from the markets," Troxler said.

Because of what we found, that vendor got a warning from the state and market management will be keeping an eye on them.

"When you build a relationship with the farmer you build trust and that adds a lot to your meals.  It increases the enjoyment of eating," Koenigsberg said.

Those vendors who are re-selling aren't doing anything wrong.  We just wanted you to know it's happening so you can decide how you want to shop.

You should ask those same questions at the grocery store when you see items advertised as local.

To see more red flags that a farmers market isn't selling all local foods watch the exclusive web extra video on this page.

Copyright 2012 WBTV. All rights reserved.