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Farmers facing cruelty charges were regulars at Elmwood Farmers Market

Thousands throng to the Elmwood Village Farmers Market on summer Saturdays, looking for fresh, local food.

And many customers, no doubt, are familiar with Painted Meadows Farm, whose owners sold meat products at the market and now face animal cruelty charges in Cattaraugus County.

Since joining the market in 2008, Donald and Bonnie George of Painted Meadows Farm sold chicken and duck eggs, plus rabbit, chicken, turkey, and other poultry. Last month, investigators found neglected animals at their Cattaraugus County farm, according to police reports.

Some customers may be wondering if their shopping contributed to cruelty.

They should know the market has decided to start inspecting vendor farms regularly.

Part of the market’s draw is the quality of its vendors. Unlike most area farmers markets, it doesn’t allow vendors to sell anything they didn’t grow or make, backed up with inspections. The market’s policy was one on-site inspection when it joined the market, then no more unless responding to a complaint, said Elmwood Village Association Executive Director Carly Battin.

“We have not had a policy in place to do regular farm inspections after a vendor is accepted into the market,” Battin said.

The Painted Meadows case has changed that, she said. This year, in addition to new vendors, the market will begin inspecting about a third of its 40-45 vendors, she said. Thus the new policy is aimed at inspecting each farm in person at least every three years, she said.

Unfortunately, conditions at farms can go bad faster than that. Animal husbandry requires daily care, and authorities have leveled 24 misdemeanor charges against the Georges for allegedly failing to do so.

It is not yet clear whether authorities are alleging that animals were neglected while Painted Meadows sold products at market.

The summer market’s last session was Nov. 28, and Painted Meadows did not participate in the market’s winter session, held at SUNY Buffalo State.

“A breach in trust is what ultimately ends many relationships. Sadly, this was the case with Painted Meadow Farm and the Elmwood Village Farmers Market,” said market board president Stewart Ritchie. “The farmers market takes food safety  and sound animal husbandry very seriously. Without the trust of our customers, the farmers market would cease to exist.”