Contact 5 Investigates: Farmers Markets

Who's inspecting vendors at your local market?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - They're popular, they're packed and they're open year-round in South Florida.

But do you ever wonder where that bread or produce you are buying at your local green market came from? Or what about the pastries you buy -- how is the kitchen where it is cooked?

The Contact 5 Team traveled to farmers markets across South Florida from Boca Raton to Fort Pierce and found big differences in what is inspected and what is not.

Farmer Brenda Gibbons sells produce at the Downtown Fort Pierce Market every Saturday morning. Everything comes from her St. Lucie County farm. It's certified organic. So, it gets inspected a lot.

"We have more inspections here at the farm in a year than most businesses do," Gibbons said.

But that's not the case for a majority of vendors at farmers markets. Most small farmers and vendors who sell items, like produce or jam, do not have to be inspected.

"It's all fresh picked," Marcus Quirino with D and D Farms said. "It hasn't gone through distributors, it hasn't gone through stock rotation somewhere," he said. D and D Farms is a vendor at the West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce markets.

The state does inspect larger, commercial vendors. It will inspect their booths and the kitchens where the food is prepared. 

The Contact 5 Investigators went through more than two dozen inspection reports and found vegetables not being kept cold enough and kitchens with outdated utensils. There were also two businesses with more serious issues.

JC's Daily Bread in Port St. Lucie cooks up baked goods for farmers markets across South Florida. Less than three months ago, inspectors detailed a long list of violations.

View the latest inspection documents for JC's Daily Bread here. bitly link: http://bit.ly/LlRSVe

The owner invited us into his kitchen to show us that everything was cleaned up. "It's disturbing," chef Jon-Claude Stevens said. "Nobody wants that to happen to their company."

It was disturbing for customers as well. "That's terrible," bread customer Heather Maxwell said. "And gee, I just bought my bread too." 

"It was in the walls and in the ceilings, it was never down into this area where we produce stuff," Stevens said. According to him, it was cleaned up within six hours. He replaced the ceiling tiles and is now looking to move into a new building.

Le Petit Pain serves up treats at the Green Market in West Palm Beach. Inspectors found "insects in the flour" of the company's Lantana kitchen four months ago and rodents and roaches in the bakery.

View the latest inspection documents for Le Petit Pain here. bitly link: http://bit.ly/Mn01KC

"The situation of the roaches is completely done," Chuck Bado the owner of La Petit Pain said. "We have hired a company named Orkin."

But they are still doing repairs. We found a door with cracks where anything could crawl through and come right into the restaurant.

It's a work in progress and why some farmers say, it's important to ask questions.

"Know your farmer, ask where it's grown, that's my advice to all consumers," Gibbons said.

"Sometimes we don't ask questions because we don't want to know," Maxwell said. "we want to believe that it's the best thing for us."

We also discovered that many times the fruits and vegetables sold at local markets, especially at this time of year, are not even grown in Florida. They're bought from large wholesalers from outside the state.

View inspection reports from other vendors at the West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce markets by clicking here.

bitly link: http://scr.bi/LlS7zD

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story. 

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