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AIM’s Farm Audit program ensures quality and integrity

UC Cooperative Extension partners with Agriculture Institute of Marin in support of Marin County farmers, and we are happy to have Sarah Darcey-Martin as a guest author and the Director of Outreach at the Agriculture Institute of Marin.

By Sarah Darcey-Martin, Agricultural Institute of Marin

This summer, all farmers at Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM) Farmers Markets will be certified as “AIM Checked.”  AIM Checked farmers are independently verified by AIM’s Farm Audit program that ensures the quality and integrity of its award-winning Bay Area certified farmers markets.

AIM’s Farm Audit program guarantees that farms comply not only with California Certified Farmers Market Program Regulations but also meet AIM’s Rules and Regulations. This effort helps make sure AIM’s markets are fair, honest, and of the highest quality.

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AIM’s Farm Audit program was first launched in 2010, following a series of media reports in the Los Angeles Times about vendors in Southern California who had been selling produce they bought from wholesale markets rather than what they grew themselves.  “We wanted to be proactive and not reactive, so we implemented a program where we would verify all of the producers in our farmers markets,” states Tyler Thayer, who manages AIM’s Farm Audit program.  A subcommittee made up of AIM staff, farmers market managers and farmers worked together to design the program with significant input from the Stanford Legal Clinic to ensure the program’s fairness and legality.   

The farm audit process begins at the farmers market where a Farmers Market Manager or Farm Audit Coordinator makes an unannounced stall visit to document exactly what the farmer has brought to sell at the market that day. They note varietal names, volume, quality, and maturity of the crops. A secondary visit to the farm is then scheduled and performed within one week of the stall visit. The goal is to verify that all the crops that were brought by the farmer are indeed currently being grown on their farm in the same size, quality, maturity, and in sufficient volume to correspond with what was brought to the previous week’s farmers market. The Farm Audit involves inspection of all production sites, packing house and cold storage facilities, as well as making sure all required agricultural and health department documents are in order.   

In just over three years, AIM’s Farm Audit team has traveled around the state to visit and verify all 230 farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and dairy producers in its farmers markets, and all new applicants are visited before they are accepted into AIM’s markets.  And in just twelve cases, the Farm Audit team found inconsistencies or issues, which led to farms being removed from the farmers market.  AIM’s Farm Audit Program is one of the few models in the industry, and it has been so well received that the organization is developing a fee-for-service program to offer these services to other farmers market operators.

“This program has allowed our team to get to know our farmers and their operations more deeply, which helps us better educate the public about local and sustainable food production,” explains Thayer.  “Visiting our members’ farms enables us to know our producers’ businesses better, to more effectively tell the stories of their farms, and to let our shoppers know they can trust the quality and integrity of the food they buy for their families.”

For more information about AIM’s farmers markets or their Farm Audit program, visit www.agriculturalinstitute.org or call 415-472-6100

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