Vendor suspended from Oak Park Farmers Market for selling fruit he didn't grow

How 'bout them apples

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Walter Skibbe is like many farmers in the Midwest dealing with the cruel consequences of Mother Nature and who can't catch a break.

Skibbe felt an extra crunch two weeks ago when it was determined that the apples at his stand, which has been an Oak Park Farmers Market favorite for more than 20 years, were from a fellow Michigan vendor and not from his own orchards. This left Skibbe's stand being banned from the market for the following week.

Skibbe, who travels from his farm just outside Benton Harbor to come to Oak Park during the season, doesn't have much to say about the penalty, said he understands the reasoning and doesn't hold the market staff at fault. He does, however, think it's been a particularly tough time for farmers due to the unusual weather patterns and tough growing season. Because of this, he was hoping for a little leeway since it was still locally grown produce.

"It's kind of a unique situation," Skibbe said in a phone interview last week. "The weather this year has been tough. …This year is especially bad for us, bad for the help and bad for the customers."

Still, he and the Farmers Market staff understand each other's perspective and the issue came and went like any other weekend. Skibbe is among many vendors who have brought fewer crops this year, particularly the fruit vendors who fell fate to an unseasonably late frost during the early part of the growing season.

"There's been a lot of hardships. That's the truth of it," Skibbe said. He grows items like asparagus, blueberries, plums, grapes, raspberries and blackberries. Fruit has particularly suffered this year. "This is the only market I go to. I have to stay home to run the farm the rest of the week. It's hard to be away from there. …It's just an unusual year and I'm paying the penalty."

Some farmers market requirements call for the food and goods to be locally grown and made only in the area, but Oak Park's guidelines state that goods must come only from the vendor itself. The market staff does spot checks periodically and when Skibbe was questioned he told the truth.

Jessica Rinks, manager of the market, explained the ordinance is designed to ensure customers know exactly where the products are coming from. It also sets a standard and fair system for the vendors to follow.

"I think it's a foundational principle [of the market]," Rinks said. "You can know as a customer that if you buy from a farmer you know that you are buying items that are not from a wholesaler. We want the customer to be confident in what they are buying, which is why the rules exist."

From a customer standpoint and a market philosophy, Rinks said it isn't easy to make a decision about how to deal with loyal vendor in this particular year, but said other vendors have had similar situations and have chosen not to attend every week due to low crop yield.

"We definitely sympathize with this situation. This type of crop loss is really unheard of," she said.

. Discussions about reviewing the rules have come up as a result, but in this instance, the staff decided a small penalty would be fair. "We decided that since the rules are stated in the ordinances, we decided we would just stick with the rules. We weren't going to allow for any resale of apples."

Regardless of the tough year, Skibbe was back at the market last weekend and was greeted by his hearty base of customers. He's set to be back this weekend for the last market of the season on Saturday that features the stone soup event where food from local vendors is used in large soup pots to be passed out free to customers. Fair warning, though: It runs out quick.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

OPRF Parent  

Posted: October 31st, 2012 5:41 PM

Seemingly arbitrary rules? Unyielding enforcement? Is the Farmers' Market run by the same people who are in charge of parking?

People First  

Posted: October 29th, 2012 4:03 PM

How about a comment from Nancy Ricketts on the subject? She was the lead investigator on the Great Cauliflower Caper that garnered national attention a number of years ago regarding the Oak Park Farmers' Market.

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 29th, 2012 3:58 PM

I agree with Bobbie Raymond. It's been a tough year. Let him sell but remind him of the rules.

Anonymous Farmers Market Farmer from Oak Park  

Posted: October 29th, 2012 3:53 PM

I just buy my produce at Dominicks down the street and mark it up to the outrageous Oak Park farmers market prices and I make out like a bandit!

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 28th, 2012 3:25 PM

Cont. So anyway, the farmers market blueberries had little flavor and were kind of wrinkly--as if old, in other words. They did not have that fresh and rich taste that you'd expect. I thought about it: what would stop someone from going to Aldi's and buying pints for $1.49 and putting them in those half pint containers (that are made from cardboard and have no writing on them)? How could someone prove they weren't yours?

Violet Aura  

Posted: October 28th, 2012 3:22 PM

If that farmer still got apples that were LOCAL, he should not have been suspended, although he should have disclosed the situation with those in charge. I have a different issue, which has made me a bit leery of the OPFM. A while back I bought some blueberries from one of the vendors. Everyone knows they aren't very cheap--I bought the little container--maybe half a pint--and it was around $3! Right beforehand, I had bought some from Aldi's and I swear these tasted like the Aldi's ones.

get over it  

Posted: October 28th, 2012 12:49 AM

Wow, Brendan, maybe you should move to a farm and grow all your own fruits, vegetables, and proteins. I love the compassion and arrogance from the new breed of Oak Parkers.


Posted: October 25th, 2012 5:55 AM

When I want food from a farm i go to that farm or go to a farmers market. If i wanted food from a distributor then i would shop at whole foods. I am not interested in buying my food from a farmer that is knowingly deceiving people. Skibee will remain off my list. BTW has the market leaders asked skibee whose apples they use for their cider?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2012 10:57 PM

Years ago, a farmer did the same thing with I think a celery crop.This being Oak Park, shouldnt that farmer be compensated by the Farmers Market for his losses during his suspension? Fair is fair.

Scott McMillan from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 24th, 2012 7:41 PM

"Kramer, these people work and wait their whole lives to move down here, sit in the heat, pretend it's not hot, and enforce these rules."--Jerry Seinfeld

Fresh fruit fan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2012 12:31 PM

The chance to buy fresh fruit grown in the region, instead of the mushy apples sold by Jewel that go bad within days, is the reason to shop at the Farmers' Market. This farmer did us a service by selling his neighbor's produce when he had none to sell. I think his action within the spirit of the Farmers Market. Maybe this is just a matter of providing full disclosure.


Posted: October 24th, 2012 12:25 PM

Brendan, could we maybe meet in the middle with a simple requirement that all Farmers Market vendors list where their product was made/grown and let consumers decide if they wish to purchase from a particular seller? Then Mr. Skibbe would be in the clear & you'd know where your apples were from.


Posted: October 24th, 2012 11:57 AM

When i go to the farmers market i go to buy produce from that farm. I want to know where my food is coming from. I hope the oak park farmers market creates stricter rules to prevent this from happening again.

Chris from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2012 11:10 AM

Normally I'd back this policy, but my family went to an apple orchard in central Michigan last month that had acres of barren trees because this season produced almost no apples for them (I believe it had to do with the warm spring and a sudden frost in late spring, if I recall from what they told us). My heart was breaking for them. I hate to think Oak Park made this farmer's loss even more painful, especially as it sounds like he was not deceptive.

bobbie.raymond from Oak Park  

Posted: October 24th, 2012 9:54 AM

It's tough enough for farmers to survive this year without our adding to their angst. In this case, being that the apples were from a nearby orchard, I think we should have bent the rules a bit and been more understanding. We could have let him sell product but remind him of the rules.


Posted: October 24th, 2012 9:37 AM

We love the Farmers Market...but every week when we pick up our CSA we comment that it's the same vendors every time. With the same stuff. We'd love to see the market branch out and opening the requirements is the way to do that. We really don't care if Mr. Skibbe brought apples not from his orchard. We'd rather support folks like Mr. Skibbe than tight requirements about who can bring what to a community market.

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