Don’t be a Party PNOOPer! What it Means to be a Producer-Only Market

JFM West Wall Street

PNOOP = Products Not Of Own Production, a term originally coined by Los Angeles Times writer David Karp to describe the act of selling something at a farmers’ market that you did not produce, while claiming to have grown or made the item yourself.

Janesville Farmers Market is a producers’ market.  This means that the vendors selling the food and other products are the same people responsible for growing or producing those products.  When a vendor signs up to sell products at the Janesville Farmers’ Market, (s)he is required to sign a form stating: “I acknowledge these products must be of my own production and produced at the location described on my application, with the exception of items approved in writing by the JFM Manager or Board of Directors.”

The producer-only rule and vendor statement are designed to ensure that items you purchase at the Janesville Farmers Market are coming from the local farmers and businesses who sell them.  This rule helps protect local producers from unfair competition.  The few exemptions from the producer-only rule are permissions that have been granted to long-time vendors for a small amount of Wisconsin-grown products that are needed at our market.  One example of an exemption is the mushrooms sold by Sashay Acres.  The mushrooms are a small percentage of the total items sold by the vendor and also fill a need in our market.

Why is accountability important to a farmers’ market?

If you are reading this post, you are probably aware of the growing “local food” movement.  There is no denying that local food is popular right now, and for good reason.  Local food is good for our bodies and for our communities.  We are helping small farmers to stay in business.  We are encouraging responsible farming practices.  We are developing and restoring our connection to the land.

The popularity of the local food movement, however, means that everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon.  In this competitive environment, it is authenticity that sets a genuine farmers’ market apart.

A big box store wannabe!

A big box store wannabe!

Enforcement of the producer-only rule.

As a small, nonprofit market, we freely admit that we do not have the time to investigate all of our vendors every year to make sure they are complying with the producer-only rule.  We do reserve the right to do inspections as needed.  Some markets have a group of volunteers or even a paid position who do regular inspections.  California even has a statewide audit and certification program for market farmers.  The costs of the statewide audit program are covered by a fee that is paid by farmers’ market vendors in that state.

As our market grows, we may need to establish additional rules and methods of enforcement.  For the time being, please contact the market manager if you suspect that a vendor is re-selling a product not of own production (PNOOP).  If you have strong reason to believe that an inspection is necessary, please utilize our Grievance Form.  Also, please read the lists below to help you recognize the difference between a true PNOOPer and an honest vendor.  Together we can help ensure that the products you purchase at our community market are as local as possible.

What are some signs of “PNOOPing” that you might see at farmers’ markets?

  • Produce that is too perfect.  Although our farmers grow nice stuff, you should find an assortment of shapes and sizes, often with fresh-looking leaves attached.
  • Produce that is out of season.  Ask the vendor, though, because some products can be grown in hoop-houses, greenhouses, under row covers, etc.
  • Produce that does not grow in Wisconsin.  You will never find bananas, avocados, mangoes or pineapples at our market.
  • Produce with plu stickers or sticky spots where grocery store stickers were once affixed.
  • Prices that are significantly cheaper than other vendors with similar items.
  • Vendor is seen removing plastic wrap or other packaging before putting the items on display.

Sometimes you may wrongly suspect that a vendor has committed a PNOOP.  Here are a few honest things that you may see at a producer-market.

  • Out-of season produce grown through the use of season extension methods or hydroponics.  You may find greenhouse tomatoes, early hoop-house greens and storage vegetables at unusual times of the year.  As the farmers’ market movement grows, so will the abilities of local farms to meet consumer demands through various season extension methods.
  • Nursery tags on plants.  While some farms and nurseries will have hand-written tags, those printed ones with the nice photos of flowering plants are available for farmers to purchase with their seeds.  The presence of nice tags usually does not indicate a violation of the producer-only rule.
  • Produce boxes similar to those seen in a grocery store.  Many farmers purchase professional produce boxes or re-use boxes from the supermarket.Farmer with hoe
  • Vendors who don’t “look like” farmers.  Many vendors farm part time and work another job during the week.  They may not wear overalls or work clothes on their farms or at the market.  Also, some vendors rely on family members to sell their products at the market.
  • Crafts, such as personal care products, that are beautifully packaged in professional-looking containers.  Some vendors may still choose more rustic designs, but professional-looking cellophane packages, glass jars and even plastic lip balm containers can be purchased and adorned at home with fancy, computer-made labels.
  • Produce that is nicely washed and packaged.  Vendors can (and usually do) wash the dirt off their produce before bringing it to the market.  They may also package it in nice containers.

Raleighs with customer

When in doubt, ask a farmer and talk to the market manager.  These face to face interactions help build trust and encourage authenticity.  Check out the links below for more information about the movement to increase the accountability of producer-only farmers’ markets:

The Real Deal, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

Truth & Transparency Webinar, Farmers Market Coalition


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