Alleged scam involving organic produce deliveries that never arrive spreads through Southern Utah

Vegetables that were delivered to an Eden Organics shareholder, Kanab, Utah, July, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Laura Mattesini Klina

ST. GEORGE — At first glance, the members of a new Facebook group that is meant to draw attention to an alleged scam are all telling the same story.

It goes something like this: Two women, who represent Eden Organics CSA, knock on the door. They offer community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares, which entitles shareholders to receive fresh organic produce delivered to their door on a bi-weekly basis for a year.

Carli Ivie, who lives in St. George, bought a single share in Jan. 2021. February and March went by without another delivery.

“They offer single shares at $850,” Ivie told St George News. “For $1200, you get a family share, which seems like a good deal. They give you some of the fruits, vegetables and breads they have right then and there. If you complain enough, you may get another delivery within the next couple of weeks. But then, you never hear from them again.”

In April, she sent Eden Organics CSA an email.

“They said that they were between seasons,” Ivie said. “They were behind because one of the women had left the company. Otherwise, they hadn’t heard any complaints. Still, I never received another delivery.”

When Ivie did some research, she said that she learned that it was a scam. So, she started the Facebook group “Eden CSA is a scam” to raise awareness.

“The group grew from five to 140 members in 24 hours,” she said. “All victims. And almost every story is the same.”

Ivie said that the two women who knocked on her door – Breanne Mackert and Michelle Harker, who were listed as the company’s CEOs – employ pity as a tactic to get more people to buy in to the program.

“They say they’re trying to escape polygamy,” she said. “One of them was pregnant, and she played that up. But, it turns out, they’re manipulating you.”

They weren’t acting alone, Ivie said, adding that the man behind the alleged scam is Spencer Black. Black, who bills himself as a “best-selling author and teacher,” was married to Harker and Mackert at the time.

Collette Cox, president of the Kanab Area Chamber of Commerce, said that she knows Black and his wives from their days in Colorado City, Arizona, and that manipulation is their modus operandi.

Spencer Black allegedly built this structure on a Kanab woman’s property without her permission, Kanab, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Carragh Maloney, St. George News

“I’ve seen them visit with family, and something seemed off,” Cox said. “There were times when I looked at their bellies, and wondered: Is that padding under their clothes?”

Cox said she’s been trying to raise awareness about Black and company for years, after they allegedly scammed her mother out of hundreds of dollars.

“It doesn’t stop at scamming people,” Cox said. “They began badgering local businesses to buy advertising in their calendar. They’ve squatted on people’s property and built structures on their land without permission.”

Cox said that Black doesn’t own a farm and that he doesn’t live anywhere long enough to start a garden.

“I know people who have seen him getting food from the food bank and grocery stores, and then selling it to people,” Cox said. “I tried not to get involved, but one of my jobs is to protect the community from bad businesses.”

Cox encouraged people to be leery of door-to-door salespeople, especially if they don’t have a license.

“It’s okay to say ‘No,’ and shut the door,” Cox said. “But don’t stop there. You should also let the police know.”

Kanab Police Sgt. Darrin Coleman said that he’s been building a case against Eden Organics for more than a year. During that time, he has been contacted by at least 40 people who claim to have fallen for the scam.

“But the actual number could be in the hundreds,” Coleman said. “There are many people who may be embarrassed, so they won’t come forward. My advice to anybody who’s been affected by this is to get with others and file a class action against the company.”

Coleman said that in one suspected case, $5,000 was paid for a lifetime membership. Coleman said he’s still working with the Kane County Attorney’s Office to determine whether the case is criminal or civil and what charges may be filed. To complicate matters, alleged victims from Kanab, Hurricane, LaVerkin and St. George have stepped forward. He’s also heard from victims in Fredonia, Arizona, and San Francisco, California.

Coleman said he’s currently waiting on 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 that it didn’t start out that way.

“I truly believe that, when he started this thing, Spencer’s goal was to provide a good service,” Mackert said. But time after time, she said, things happened that showed her that there may have been something amiss.

To begin with, Mackert said, Black made Harker and her CEOs of the company as a gift. But Mackert, who had been baking bread and home-schooling 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 any of that. I’m a baker.”

When Mackert started going out with Harker, they were cold calling at residences throughout Kanab. Mackert said that Black wrote the script, and Harker was good at using it to get new people to sign up for shares. They built up a clientele of over 200 shareholders, but Black urged them to sign up 500 new shareholders a month.

“But we didn’t have that much produce,” Mackert said. “In 2020, Spencer didn’t grow any of the produce he delivered. It was all bought from another vendor.”

In March of 2019, Mackert said she began playing a larger role in the operation. She said she immediately saw that Harker, who she credited with making most of the company’s sales, wasn’t good at documenting which shareholders were due to receive a delivery. So, Mackert began keeping meticulous records. But when shareholders started complaining, Mackert was the one who went to smooth things over.

“That’s what Spencer liked most about me,” Mackert said. “He knew that I would work to make good on our commitments. I care for people.”

Still, Mackert said that when she was too honest with shareholders, Black would get upset. On more than one occasion, she said, Black had reminded her that he was the owner and boss of the company.

“I was the black sheep of the family,” Mackert said. “I was the outspoken one, the discordant wife.”

Their arguments led to what Mackert described as her breaking point.

“It was the end of 2019,” she said. “Spencer took away my phone, and made me stay in my room to ‘work on my mental health.’ It was like living in a nightmare.”

Though Mackert said that was the moment she knew she had to get out, she said that it was a cumulative process that had been building for years.

“I was basically breaking and repairing myself everyday,” she said. So in March 2021, she took her children and left Black, her common law husband of 11 years, as well as Eden Organics.

She then said she read the posts in the Facebook group and the feelings she’d bottled up for so long came pouring out.

“I saw that he was still out there hurting people,” Mackert said. “I’ve been silent for too long, and it needs to stop.”

Spencer Black told St. George News that he’s taken the reins of Eden Organics since its alleged founder and CEO, Breanne Mackert, left the company.

“When she left, she wasn’t happy,” Black said. “She threatened to destroy the company.”

Black dismissed the allegations on the Facebook page as slander and defamation. Despite the loss of some crops, Black said that Eden Organics has over 600 shareholders who receive regular deliveries. Black said the deliveries are documented via photos and video.

“All shareholders sign an agreement which includes a ‘hold harmless’ clause,” Black said. He recently tried to warn off disgruntled customers with a post that promised to discontinue deliveries for any customer who spoke publicly against Eden Organics. But it’s unclear if the affected customers stopped receiving their deliveries before or after making complaints against the company.

The Facebook group, Black said, is just another manifestation of the divisiveness that’s creeped into American culture.

“It’s the work of mentally-ill and hate-filled people,” Black said. Despite recent setbacks, including Mackert’s departure, COVID-19 and losing some garden space, Black said that he’s excited about stepping to the forefront and running the company.

“We work 17-hour days to make sure that we’re establishing local food security,” Black said. “It’s so important to have locally sourced food that isn’t tainted by pesticides and herbicides. It’s also important that prices don’t fluctuate with the rising costs and unpredictable nature of shipping.”

Black said that while he isn’t interested in pursuing legal action against Eden’s “detractors,” he has engaged the services of an attorney just in case.

“We have yet to be contacted by law enforcement,” Black said. “I’ve dedicated my life to this. Whatever happens, I’ll go down smiling.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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