Growers disciplined at Farmers Market
by Vickie Elmer
In September market manager Molly Notarianni ordered Fusilier Farms to stop selling cherries and peaches at the downtown market. Another grower, Glenn Heim of Chelsea, was expelled outright. The sanctions grew out of a new farm inspection program, launched earlier this year to investigate complaints that some vendors were violating market rules by selling produce they hadn't grown themselves.
A burly man with a corner stall near the market's south end, Heim is known for his brown-bag signs that sometimes misspell names of the vegetables he sells. According to Notarianni's letter, inspector Matt Demmon asked to see Heim's carrot plantings during a routine inspection in mid-August. Heim allegedly told Demmon that because his carrot crop had failed early in the season, he planted a new one at his cousin's farm. But Heim refused to give Demmon his cousin's address, and eventually refused outright to let Demmon inspect the other farm. That was grounds for expulsion under market rules. (Heim did not respond to a letter and several phone calls from the Observer, but Jeff Straw, who oversees the market as deputy manager of Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation, says Heim has appealed the expulsion.)
Demmon's September inspection of Fusilier Farms raised questions about whether the family was growing all the radishes and green onions it sold at the market. But the big issue was peaches and cherries-neither fruit is grown on the farm near Manchester. The Fusiliers told Demmon they got the fruit from farms they leased in northern Michigan. Notarianni asked for documentation-and ordered them to discontinue sales in the meantime.
Yet on September 13, just three days after the manager sent her letter, a staffer wearing Fusilier's signature bright orange T-shirt was selling baskets of peaches at the market. Mike Fusilier, who owns the farm with his wife, Kathy, says the fruit came from a rented orchard in Kent City near Grand Rapids. "It's a contracted job with someone running" the orchard day to day, he says,
adding that he uses a similar approach for cherries.
Fusilier says he'd discussed those arrangements with previous market managers and they'd approved them. But Notarianni says that the September sales violated the instructions in her letter, and that she'll take further action if they continue.
Since July 2007 the market has received three complaints charging Fusilier Farms with "buying and selling" cherries, corn, radishes, and cucumbers-complaints Mike Fusilier dismisses as "frivolous." He says Fusilier Farms sells at a dozen markets and does sometimes buy vegetables and fruit for resale at places where that's permitted. But with the exception of the contract fruit, he insists, "we grow everything down on our farm that we sell in Ann Arbor." Fusilier says he's been inspected three times in the last fifteen months and is feeling "a little bit harassed"-especially since some growers have not been inspected at all yet.
Other vendors strongly support the inspections. Last year, close to eighty of them signed a petition calling on the market to hire an independent inspector. Demmon started work in March and has been visiting two or three producers a week ever since.
[Originally published in October, 2008.]