Vegetables delivered to shareholder of Eden Organics, Kanab, Utah, July 2019 | Photo courtesy of Laura Mattesini Klina
ST. GEORGE – At first glance, members of a new Facebook group meant to draw attention to an alleged scam all tell the same story.
It goes like this: two women, who represent Eden Organics CSA, knock on the door. They offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) actions, which allow shareholders to receive fresh organic produce delivered to their doorstep every two weeks for one year.
Carli Ivie, who lives in St. George, bought just one share in January 2021. February and March have passed with no further deliveries.
“They are offering individual stocks for $ 850,” Ivie told St George News. “For $ 1,200 you get a family share, which sounds like a good deal. They give you some of the fruits, vegetables and bread they have on site. If you complain enough, you may receive another delivery in the next few weeks. But then you never hear from them again.
In April, she emailed Eden Organics CSA.
“They said they were in between seasons,” Ivie said. “They were late because one of the women had left the company. Otherwise, they had heard no complaints. However, I never received another delivery.
When Ivie did some research she said she learned it was a scam. She therefore launched the Facebook group “Eden CSA is a scam” to raise public awareness.
“The group grew from five to 140 members in 24 hours,” she said. “All the victims. And almost all of the stories are the same.
Ivie said the two women who knocked on her door – Breanne Mackert and Michelle Harker, who were on the company’s CEO roster – are using pity as a tactic to get more people to join the program.
“They say they are trying to escape polygamy,” she said. “One of them was pregnant and she played that. But it turns out they are manipulating you.
They weren’t acting alone, Ivie said, adding that the man behind the alleged scam was Spencer Black. Black, who describes himself as a “successful author and teacher,” was married to Harker and Mackert at the time.
Collette Cox, president of the Kanab Area Chamber of Commerce, said she has known Black and his wives from their time in Colorado City, Ariz., And manipulation is their modus operandi.
“I saw them visiting their families, and something seemed to be wrong,” Cox said. “There were times I would look at their tummies and wonder, is that padding under their clothes? “
Cox said she had been trying to spread awareness of Black and his company for years, after allegedly ripping off her mother with hundreds of dollars.
“It doesn’t stop with ripping people off,” Cox said. “They started harassing local businesses to buy advertising on their calendars. They squatted people’s property and built structures on their land without permission.
Cox said Black doesn’t own a farm and doesn’t live anywhere long enough to create a garden.
“I know people who have seen him buy food from the food bank and grocery stores and then sell it to people,” Cox said. “I tried not to get involved, but one of my jobs is to protect the community from bad business.”
Cox encouraged people to be wary of door-to-door sellers, especially if they are unlicensed.
“It’s good to say ‘No’ and close the door,” Cox said. “But don’t stop there. You should also notify the police.
Kanab Police Sgt. Darrin Coleman said he had been leading a case against Eden Organics for over a year. During this time, he was contacted by at least 40 people who claim to have fallen for the scam.
“But the real number could run into the hundreds,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of people who can be embarrassed, so they won’t come forward. My advice to anyone who has been affected by this is to side with others and file a class action against the company.
Coleman said in one suspicious case, $ 5,000 was paid for a lifetime membership. Coleman said he’s still working with the Kane County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether the case is criminal or civil and what charges can be filed. To complicate matters, alleged victims from Kanab, Hurricane, LaVerkin and St. George have come forward. He also heard from victims in Fredonia, Arizona, and San Francisco, California.
Coleman said he is currently awaiting a call from the Utah attorney general.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” he said, “But make no mistake, this is a scam.”
Breanne Mackert, who left Eden Organics last March, said it didn’t start that way.
“I really believe that when he started this thing, Spencer’s goal was to provide good service,” Mackert said. But time and time again, she said, things happened that showed her there might be something wrong.
For starters, Mackert said, Black gave Harker and his company CEOs a gift. But Mackert, who had baked bread and home schooled the family’s 12 children, didn’t understand why.
“He said he didn’t care about the money or the fame,” Mackert said. “His mission was to feed all of southern Utah.”
“But I don’t grow food,” she continued. “I don’t garden. And I have no ambition to do anything. I am a baker.
When Mackert started dating Harker, they were canvassing residences in Kanab. Mackert said Black wrote the script and Harker was good at using it to get new people to sign up for shares. They built a client base of over 200 shareholders, but Black urged them to recruit 500 new shareholders per month.
“But we didn’t have that many products,” Mackert said. “In 2020, Spencer did not grow any of the products he delivered. Everything was bought from another supplier.
In March 2019, Mackert said she had started playing a larger role in the operation. She said she immediately saw that Harker, who she said had made most of the company’s sales, was not good at documenting which shareholders were to receive a delivery. Thus, Mackert began to keep meticulous records. But when the shareholders started to complain, it was Mackert who went to fix things.
“That’s what Spencer loved the most about me,” Mackert said. “He knew I would work to keep our commitments. I care about people.
Still, Mackert said when she was too honest with shareholders, Black would get angry. On more than one occasion, she said, Black had reminded her that he was the owner and boss of the business.
“I was the black sheep of the family,” Mackert said. “I was the frank woman, the discordant woman.”
Their arguments led to what Mackert described as his breaking point.
“It was late 2019,” she said. “Spencer took my phone and made me stay in my room to ‘work on my mental health.’ It was like living a nightmare.”
Although Mackert said this was the moment she knew she had to go out, she said it was a cumulative process that had been building for years.
“I was breaking and fixing myself every day,” she said. So, in March 2021, she took her kids and left Black, her common-law partner of 11 years, as well as Eden Organics.
She then said that she read the posts on the Facebook group and that the feelings she had held back for so long poured out.
“I saw he was still out there hurting people,” Mackert said. “I have been silent for too long, and this has to stop.
Spencer Black told St. George News that he has taken the reins of Eden Organics since its purported founder and CEO, Breanne Mackert, left the company.
“When she left she wasn’t happy,” Black said. “She threatened to destroy the business.”
Black dismissed the allegations on the Facebook page as slander and libel. Despite the loss of some crops, Black said Eden Organics has more than 600 shareholders who receive regular deliveries. Black said deliveries are documented via photos and videos.
“All of the shareholders sign an agreement that includes a ‘disclaimer’ clause,” said Black. He recently attempted to warn disgruntled customers with a message that promised to stop deliveries for any customer who spoke publicly against Eden Organics. But it’s unclear whether affected customers stopped receiving their deliveries before or after filing complaints against the company.
The Facebook group, Black said, is just another manifestation of the division that has crept into American culture.
“It’s the work of people with mental illness and filled with hate,” Black said. Despite recent setbacks, including Mackert’s departure, COVID-19 and the loss of backyard space, Black said he was thrilled to step up and lead the business.
“We work 17 hours a day to make sure we are establishing local food security,” Black said. “It’s so important to have locally sourced foods that are not contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. It is also important that prices do not fluctuate with rising costs and the unpredictable nature of the shipment.
Black said that while he was not interested in legal action against Eden’s “detractors”, he hired a lawyer just in case.
“We have not yet been contacted by law enforcement,” Black said. “I have dedicated my life to this. Whatever happens, I’ll go down smiling.
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