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MARKETPLACE: Lies at your farmer's market

Marketplace reports that sometimes aren't as they seem at your local farmer's market. POSTMEDIA

Marketplace reports that sometimes aren't as they seem at your local farmer's market. POSTMEDIA

Some farmers'market vendors push bogus homegrown stories to consumers looking for fresh local fruits and veggies - and Marketplace has the hidden camera footage to prove it.

The Marketplace team went undercover at 11 bustling markets in Ontario this summer to ask vendors where their produce comes from and then tested the veracity of those claims using surveillance and other investigative techniques.

The results suggest many consumers could be paying premium prices for produce with fake backstories about where it was grown.

At four of the markets, the investigation exposed five different vendors who claimed to be selling fresh produce they had grown themselves but who were actually cashing in by reselling wholesale goods purchased elsewhere.

At a fifth market, the team discovered a vendor passing off Mexican produce as Ontario-grown.

In northern Ontario, a vendor claimed to have personally picked strawberries on his farm the day before market, but Marketplace discovered he doesn't even have a farm.

Most of the markets

Marketplace visited had vendors known as resellers, who sell produce they didn't grow. They purchase wholesale fruits and vegetables from places such as the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto - Canada's largest wholesale market - and take it to farmers'markets to sell for a profit.

When asked directly, many resellers were upfront about the fact they didn't grow the produce, but others were not.

One vendor told undercover Marketplace journalists that most of the produce they were selling was grown on family farms, or was from neighbouring properties.

Marketplace started digging after noticing the cucumbers this vendor claimed to have grown were labelled with stickers from a large multinational corporation that grows greenhouse vegetables 500 kilometres away.

One morning, Marketplace followed the vendor's truck as it drove 100 kilometres from their property to the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. There, the journalists witnessed the vendor and his employees loading their truck with more than 50 boxes of produce including peppers, zucchinis, strawberries and radishes.

At market the next day, the same vendors were seen unloading boxes that looked to be the same as those loaded at the terminal. Staff at their stall peeled stickers off peppers and transferred vegetables from wholesale boxes to farm bushels.

There are no provincial regulations anywhere in Canada against reselling at farmers markets, so it's left to each individual market to set and enforce its own rules. Some markets prohibit or limit reselling but the majority do not.

For the full investigation into farmers markets, tune into Marketplace tonight at 8 p.m. (8:30 in NL) on CBC.