Standard Oil, Ma Bell, Microsoft, and … the Farmers Market? Yes, that quaint gathering of growers, health nuts, chefs, and sandal-wearers is the target of an antitrust lawsuit that was filed on Monday in Santa Barbara Superior Court. The plaintiffs, husband and wife Jeff Hendrickson and Roxanne Renner, own Santa Rita Flower Farm, a small organic operation outside of Lompoc.
They contend that the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association, the nine-person board of which contains seven members who don’t live in the county, favors larger, out-of-the area cultivators over small, local farms; engages in nepotism; and prioritizes profit over access. For the consumer, this means less choice and inflated prices due to a lack of competition, they say.
Renner and Hendrickson, UCSB alums, worked on area farms before striking out on their own in 2003, slowly building their business while working second jobs and applying to the Farmers Market in 2005. In 2008, they were given their first spot, but they have yet to crack into the lucrative Saturday market or the Friday Montecito market, which is popular with flower buyers. Although the Farmers Market Association maintains waitlists with guidelines for filling open slots, Renner and Hendrickson allege that those guidelines are not followed and that they have been leapfrogged multiple times.
Mollie Gean, president of the association’s board, said, “We have a difference of opinion at this time,” but did not want to comment further until having a chance to read the legal complaint and consult a lawyer. Manager Sam Edelman relayed a similar message.