County a magnet for illegal produce vendors |

County a magnet for illegal produce vendors

Most people don’t know it, but many of the produce stands they buy their fruits and vegetables from in Nevada County are shady operations.

Not to mention illegal.

This means that there is no way to know what type of pesticides were used, whether the produce was stolen or purchased, and the cleanliness of the operation, to name a few guarantees that come along with a legal operation.

“They are questionable as far as public safety,” said Brian Steger, the county’s agricultural biologist.

There are only two legal stands in the county – the ones run by Randy Smith and “Farmer Bob” Keyser – both located in the Brunswick Basin, said Agricultural Commissioner Paul Boch. Both have permits and must adhere to environmental health and tax regulations. They also cannot sell on roadsides, only on private land.

Keyser admitted that he was an illegal vendor at one time, but while slipping under the radar may have eliminated his overhead costs, it just wasn’t worth it.

“It isn’t worth the time in jail for a little thing like that. I’m part of the community and I’d rather pay the money,” Keyser said. Each year, Keyser said, he pays a few thousand dollars in permit fees, space rental, and insurance costs.

“I just feel that if I am legal, everyone should be. We just want everybody to be fairly treated,” he said.

Illegal vendors not only threaten the business of the legal ones, but also the business of local farmers and farmers’ markets.

“What happens a lot of times is they have vendors that set up right next to their farms and they will call themselves a similar name. It is almost like they are pawning themselves off as part of the farm,” Steger said.

Part of the problem is that, because of a lack of enforcement, Nevada County practically welcomes illegal vendors to sell here – especially since the nearby counties have cracked down hard on them, said farmer Richard Johansen at an agricultural commission board meeting recently, where the topic was discussed.

Some vendors come from as far away as Southern California because they know that this county is lax, Boch said.

Nevada County Sheriff’s officers admitted that they don’t enforce the law often. “We used to contact those who were illegal and have them pack up and leave, but today we are just too busy,” said Lt. Ron Smith, attributing the busier days to population growth and a more proactive way of handling crime that takes more time.

But the agricultural commission wants to do something about it.

One thing they said they would like to do is mimic the policy Placer County has that allows it to bust the illegal ones. If a vendor does not have a permit that shows where the produce originated from, it is confiscated until they can show the proof.

“Our local growers, they didn’t like to see these roadside vendors at all. Well, their voice became loud enough and urgent enough that there is no roadside vending now,” said Christine Turner, Placer County’s agricultural commissioner.

“We’ve been doing this for over a year, and we have had no one come back. It has been very effective.”

In order for this to work in Nevada County, the agricultural commission will have to work with county officials to determine the details of the law. They are expected to bring a proposal before the county supervisors next month.

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