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Controversy at the Clarendon Farmers Market

by ARLnow.com — July 1, 2010 at 8:14 am 2,305 27 Comments

A seemingly minor dispute over food prices at the Clarendon Farmers Market has taken on a life of its own, prompting threats to expel a vendor and a visit from a local TV news reporter.

It started when farmers market vendors started complaining about C&T Fruits and Vegetables, which was selling produce at prices that other growers could not match.

The Clarendon Alliance, which runs the market, tried to convince C&T owner Tracy Debernard to raise her prices so that long-time vendors would not be squeezed out. When Debernard refused, she was told that this would be her last week at the market.

Meanwhile, someone apparently pitched the story to WJLA (ABC 7). Reporter Stephen Tschida showed up yesterday afternoon and reported live from the market. His story included soundbites from plenty of people who like the low prices, but did not include comments from any of the other market vendors.

For her part, Debernard told Tschida that she is considering legal action to force her way back into the market.

  • Mike

    Price fixing is illegal. But the yuppies that buy that overpriced crap don’t care because it is labeled “organic”.

  • Peter

    Competition is GOOD!

  • Anon

    Went to the Clarendon market yesterday and noticed everybody, besides C&T, was charging more than they do at the Ballston Farmers Market. The other vendors have the prime spots right at the top of the metro – so C&T competes by not ripping people off. Seems right to me.

  • diane

    I saw C&T in the parking lot of Whole Foods on Tuesday. It was odd and I wondered what it was about. Looks like Whole Foods is helping them out for the time being.

  • NorthArlingtonGuy

    Huh. I thought a farmer’s market would be the kind of place where small business people could sell a good product, at a fair price, that they determined. I had no idea it was a oligopoly where prices were set, and those who refused to toe the line were cast out.

    When corporations do this, it’s seen as evil. It’s called, “price fixing.” Words like, “cartel,” get thrown around, and charges are brought. Is it OK when small farmers do it?

    • Mike

      People feel better about themselves paying extra for something labeled “organic”.

      Organics, the indulgence for the 21st century hipster doofus.

      • Skeptical

        Mike, it might be nice if you took the trouble to educate yourself once in a while.

        I am about as hip as Box Butte County, Nebraska, but I go out of my way to buy food that has not been drenched with a roster of pesticides which are dangerous not just to the end consumer and the ecosystem, but the farmer who has to apply them. Anyone who pays attention to the methods of food production in this country should be very afraid; the market’s demand for flawless-looking, uniform, and fairly flavorless food has set us up for a mess. We have already bred Roundup-resistant weeds in the cornfields sown with Roundup-resistant corn, for example. This cannot go on indefinitely.

        Organic crops are a lot hardier and safer. Yes, it is currently impractical to convert all of US food production to organic methods, but the more demand there is, the more cost effective it will be. And just as a consumer note, if I buy an organic vegetable and forget it’s in the back of the crisper, typically when I find it two weeks later — oops! — it’s still tasty. If it’s a conventional supermarket vegetable, it’s a repellent mass of slime. Tells you something, I think.

        If someone can sell that organic vegetable to me at a lower price (assuming C&T’s merchandise is indeed all organic), more power to them. I believe we both believe in free market competition.

        • Mike

          Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers provide a bigger yield which is better for the enviornment. And organic growers DO use pesticides. FYI. Just beware “organic” labels, because unless you grew it yourself you’ve no idea how it was produced.

          • Skeptical

            Actually, a lot of the organic vegetables I eat do grow in my own back yard.

            Whatever an organic farm uses to control insects and weeds — I’ve bothered to do my reading — is a lot less frightening to me than the multiple applications of hormone-mimics and nerve poisons that have been poured into our major tracts of arable land for decades. And “bigger yield” is going to turn out to be a mirage. Crop volume does not equal nutritional worth, longevity of the soil or, as I noted above, hardiness after harvest (I have been noticing this for years and find it quite striking). As for it being somehow “better for the environment” to pour successive generations of toxins into the air and aquifer, that’s up there with Wonder Bread building strong bodies twelve ways.

            I learned all this at the knee of a good ol’boy who grew up in Vienna back when it was farmland, someone who lived in jeans and a T-shirt, smoked Salems and drank Miller Lite by the case, drove a pickup with a cap and had a dog that stunk to high Heaven. But he was a sick man when he ate conventionally and got well when he plowed his backyard up and grew organic vegetables, that is, farmed pretty much the way his grandfather had. You can bet trendiness was the last thing on his mind.

          • Mike

            Enjoy your homegrown.

  • Darwin

    I hate what America has become. It used to be when someone produced a better product at a better price they were allowed to succeed, now it’s called “not fair” and they are punished.

  • JennP

    Wow. Unbelievable. I hope she does fight back. Is it that other vendors cant match or wont match? I frequent the Courthouse Farmers market and have sometimes wondered about some of the prices. I like buying local and knowing my food is fresh, and understand there are can be signifcant costs involved, but forcing a vendor out like that seems way out of line.

  • Steven

    This outta be entertaining. Getting my popcorn right now.

  • Sarah

    I’m an economist who studies local foods and I am disturbed by this. As long as all the grower/sellers follow the rules (produced by seller (no re-selling), within 125 miles of the FM, etc.), market-based pricing is optimal! I don’t know of C&T, but perhaps their transportation costs are lower and they pass this savings onto consumers? Perhaps C&T had a bumper crop (due to superior practices?) and are forced to reduce their prices in order to move all the highly perishable produce before it spoils? Regulating this is just crazy!

  • Laima

    Alot of the produce vendors at the markets operate like a girls club and circulate at several Arlington (and other) markets during various days of the week. I prefer the farmers market at Old Town, Alexandria where there is a larger selection of vendors. I do not believe there is “price fixing” among vendors there. Open 5am-10am and plenty of parking in the city lot underneath.

  • Lou

    Thanks for that tip Laima. I am much less likely to patronize the Clarendon market after hearing about shenanigans like this.

  • charlie

    The Farmers market at the Court House is also a scam. Wonder why the “Urban market” vendors are on the other street — because the farmers said they didn’t want them anywhere nearby. Isn’t Easter Market and Alexandria market better off because of the mix of products.
    Has anyone ventured over to the Florida Avenue Market early in the morning to see how many of these vendors are “purchasing” their products.
    And what exactly is somebody in a 500 series BMW doing selling bread at a Farmers Market.
    I hope she sues the hell out of them and Arlington County and METRO for being complicit in this whole thing.

  • David

    Nothing brings out the crazies like a good farmers market brawl.

  • Bob

    I think if they had bothered to interview any of the other vendors they may have realized that C&T does not abide by the market’s contract. I am a regular market customer and have gotten to know many of the vendors. I also happened to be at the market yesterday when this all occurred so I asked the vendors for their version of what was going on.
    C&T has a farm in Stafford but it’s unclear how much, if any of the produce at the Clarendon market is actually grown there. Much of the produce which this vendor leads customers to believe is locally grown is actually purchased and resold from farms far, far away. No surprise it can be sold more cheaply than those truly local, small farms who are playing by the rules. Always wondered how C&T was the only vendor to grow and sell certain vegetables in the off season. Now I know.

  • charlie

    yep, Bob, there is alot of stuff sold off-season. only so much can be grown in greenhouses and be profitable.

  • John

    As someone from cowboy country who has done my time in 4H and FFA I can say that anyone knocking organic farmers and their customers deserves a quick kick in the behind. Put down your computer for a few days and get to know someone involved in your food supply chain beyond the Dominoes delivery guy. To put it. In terms you’ll understand: the hard working farmers who lead the American revolution didn’t need some wussy chemical to grow the finest corn and raise the tastiest beef in the world. The only chemical they needed was the sweat of their brow. You mix that with the love of a good woman and the strength of your arms and you’ll never really be poor. You eat food grown by men like that and you’ll gain some wisdom and I won’t have to beat it into you.

    • Skeptical

      :)

    • dpan

      I will be raising a glass in honor of this comment on the 4th of July.

    • Mike

      Is that before or after you finish your cafe au lait?

      Internet tough guy.

      • mike’s pal

        thas right mikey….you tell em. All organic food is poison. The only good stuff is from Monsanto and McDonalds. Don’t listen to all that propaganda stuff. Twinkies and powdered milk was good enuf for my ma…an it’s good enuf for me. never min all these big citty folks an their fancy things like “coffee” an “proper nutrition” an “supply chain awareness.” Who ever heard of sich a thing. Now hand me my fruitty loops an sit down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.shippey Jim

    Does C&T sell at the ColPike market?

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