Author: Linni Kral
Natural. Organic. Macrobiotic. Grass-fed. Free-range. Pesticide-free. Fair-trade. In a hungry world where there is no greater evil than Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), it can be downright dizzying to find your way around the mess called eating local. Stores like Whole Foods offer everything from vegetarian lamb and milk from cows that live “free from unnecessary fear and distress,” and people are buying it. Organic companies now command an $11 billion industry, the fastest growing sector of the food economy according to New York Times reporter Michael Pollan.
America has found its latest diet craze and for once it doesn’t prescribe unnatural tactics of starvation—quite the contrary. Following the passage of the Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act of 1976, active U.S. farmers’ markets have grown from about 350 to well over 3,500, or about 75 per state. This recent shift in our collective dinner plate results from an appreciation for bounty. Folks from California to Maine are filling their plates with the stuff of the earth, rather than lab products with unrecognizable ingredients. In a country formerly suckling at the high-fructose corn syrup teat, this is a significant change.
To make the transition smoother, markets have popped up in parking lots across the nation. They range in size and breed, but they all offer people a closer connection to what they put in their bodies. At a market, you can converse with the man who nurtured your broccoli to flower, or find out the details of the tree that bore your apples from the woman who guards it year-round. These places demonstrate that getting at our literal and figurative roots is what brings people together.
That said, there’s no greater place to become a farmers’ market junkie than Southern California. In one of the few states that can manage year-round markets, it’s easy to support local farmers. For any given day of the week, residents of Los Angeles County have multiple options to choose from. Some provide music and some showcase hand-made arts & crafts, but they all provide a glimpse into the personality behind the products. If you strive to feel a greater connection to the foods you consume, a day at one of L.A.’s countless open-air markets might be just what you need.
TUESDAY: Old L.A. / Highland Park
The market week begins on Tuesdays, and if you’re an Oxy student, it begins in Highland Park. The Old L.A. Certified Farmers’ Market is located on Avenue 57 and Marmion, a mere 10-minute drive from campus. Open year-round from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., the typical tent rows are often interrupted by specialty bounce houses, puppet theater performances and even the occasional Hollywood movie promotions. Their annual Haunted Harvest takes place the week of Halloween and featured a haunted house this year, as well as free bee costumes handed out as a promotion for Bee Movie.
Their weekly staples are impressive as well. La Gordita Feliz fries up sopes, huaraches and tortillas out of fresh masa dough right before your eyes. They also serve six flavors of aquas frescas. “They make easily the best horchata that I’ve ever tasted,” Jessica Yant (junior) said. “It’s just so real and authentic.”
Across from these hand-crafted masterpieces, a woman selling scarves, purses and hats knits her products live on the premises. Other specialty stands include the massage booth, charging $1/minute, myriad jewelry stands and one vendor whose products range from poetry books to incense.
The produce section is smaller than most, but the merchants stand out. One stand, boasting pesticide-free black tomatoes, is run by Pierce College faculty who have started a farm of student growers. These farmers range in age from 18 to 55 and do their growing in Woodland Hills, California. Next door, Uncle Berch’s Foods was enticing market-goers with free samples of various olive oils, cheeses and jams. Uncle Berch insisted everyone try the chow chow—“it’s an old southern Christmas-time recipe for green tomato relish,” he said. Berch also handed out bread spread with fromage blanc and mango habanero or chipotle pepper jam. The oil selection varied from blueberry maple to fig and from black truffle to Thai spice, each one conveying Berch’s dedication to his craft.
In true Highland Park fashion, this is the place to go if you’re strapped for cash. While no market has exorbitant prices, the vendors in Old L.A. are especially reasonable. Just come on an empty stomach and head straight for La Gordita Feliz—five tacos and three dollars later, you’ll walk away satisfied.
Also on Tuesdays: Baldwin Park 4-9 p.m., Culver City 2-7 p.m., La Verne 5:30-9 p.m., Lynwood 12-5 p.m., Norwalk 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Pasadena Villa Park 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Torrance 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
WEDNESDAY: Adams & Vermont
Located in the parking lot of St. Agnes Church & School, this USC-friendly location is a bit of a trek from campus. If you pick up the Metro at Avenue 45 and Eagle Rock and transfer at Olympic and Grand, it will drop you off right next to the modest market, but it’s probably a better idea to drive to this semi-distant locale.
Not many stands boast organic production here—in fact, not many stands even advertise the name of their farm. However, this is a place to look closely at the enormous piles of seemingly plain vegetables. Pigeon peas and tomatillos linger beneath wads of kale and cilantro, while bales of broccoli and cardboard boxes stuffed with sweet corn hide tiny bushels of baby bok choy. One stand’s claim to fame is their $2 bundles of sugar cane stalks, ready to eat or easily incorporated into any sweet recipe.
The ambition of this market isn’t clear at first glance-its location across from a gas station leaves something to be desired, but don’t let that deter you. One farm brings a special breed of eggs in astronomical supply. “They’re cage-free, hormone-free and veggie-fed,” said this vendor, who’d traveled from Arvin, California. Across the aisle, Sweredoski Farms carry their delicious golden plums up from Carson.
Once a month, a Champions for Change team comes out to do demonstrations and educate market attendants about healthy eating. Backed by the University of California Cooperative Extension of the L.A. County Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, tutorials in English and Spanish are offered about portion sizes, fat content and low-fat, low-sugar recipes. They often make a pineapple coconut parfait of fat-free yogurt, crushed pineapple, coconut and sliced almonds. A member of the Champions crew instructed me on how to make their healthy fall demo—“You just boil some apple juice, add the yam, cinnamon and maybe some salt, and boil for 30 to 45 minutes,” he said.
This year-round market runs from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. June through August, and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. September through May. No matter the time of year, it’s worth showing up early to receive the Champions for Change demo samples!
Also on Wednesdays: Westchester 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Santa Monica Wednesday Market 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Gardena 7:30 a.m.-12 p.m., Hollywood Sear’s Market 12:30-5 p.m., Huntington Park 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Northridge 5-9 p.m., San Dimas 4:30-8:30 p.m.
THURSDAY: South Pasadena
We’re all familiar with Old Town Pasadena, but how many of you have trekked down to the equally adorable South Pasadena? The neighborhood surrounding this market’s tents has a tinge of east coast charm, with ancient-looking brick buildings and old-fashioned street lamps that coincide nicely with the chilly fall weather. Forgive the use of cliché, but this place is downright cozy.
The smell of kettle corn is overwhelming, even when you park multiple blocks away. Before getting to the line of produce stands, you must make your way through an onslaught of specialty stands throwing more samples at you than you’ll know what to do with. First up L’artisan du Chocolat tries to entice you with truffles, then Nana’s Specials attempt to spoil your appeti
te with a sampling of their homemade tortilla chips and seven varieties of salsa. Press on and you’ll hit The Sweet Spot, where samples include Indian chai spice and African spice almonds as well as organic pecan pie.
“There’s no reason you can’t have organic desserts, too,” said the Sweet Spot owner, who also said his products are available for sale out of his kitchen in Pasadena. Right next door, Pakistani bolanis and samosas are fried up, ironically placed next to the super-green, super-healthy raw cane super juice stand.
The juxtaposition continues across the aisle, where Lush brand pomegranate juice stands up to Schreine’s sausages and Grill Masters in a battle for your arteries. It’s hard to resist the golden crispy smell of rotisserie chicken at Grill Masters, but you could at least wash it down with the antioxidant-rich red liquid. Further down the line, Jinou French pastries destroys waistlines in the most delicious way possible, while Mom’s Products lets you sample over 10 types of hummus.
“Sample the stuffed olives at Mom’s,” Yant said. “He’ll try to tell you they’re too spicy for some people, but they aren’t that bad and they’re amazing.” Corn Maiden brings their mind-blowing tamales, but you’ll hear more about them on Sunday when they make their pivotal weekly appearance in Hollywood.
As if this wasn’t enough, the South Pasadena farmers also bring the basics-they even have an all-organic stand selling apples and grapes. A delicate fruit, grapes are hard to grow without pesticides, but their thin skin actually makes them one of the most dangerous fruits to eat inorganically. That said, the taste and texture of these organic grapes did not disappoint, and neither did the beautiful squash blossoms sold nearby. To top it all off, this market sits right next to a Metro train line, so even car-less people have no excuse to stay away.
Also on Thursdays: Carson 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Century City 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., El Segundo 3-7 p.m., Glendale 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Chinatown 4-8 p.m., La Cienega 3-7 p.m., 7th & Figueroa 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Little Tokyo 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Long Beach uptown 3-6:30 p.m., Redondo Beach 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Signal Hill 2-7 p.m., Westwood 1-7 p.m., Wilmington 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
FRIDAY: Eagle Rock
If you haven’t visited the Eagle Rock Farmers’ Market yet, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. While some of these places are far and may seem inaccessible, this market makes it easy for students to partake in the experience.
“I had never done the farmers’ market scene before, but it was definitely a cool experience that had no limitations,” Ashley Van Sipma (junior) said. The Eagle Rock market has almost limitless peculiarities, among them pony rides, an open gallery of at least 20 rotisserie chickens and most importantly, those I Heart Eagle Rock bumper stickers you know you’ve always wanted. And don’t forget the fake band, complete with instruments made out of construction paper and other household objects.
On top of all that, our local market offers some of the best eats this side of the San Gabriels. These stands cook up kettle corn, yams and pupusas, or hand-crafted Salvadoran tortillas thick enough to hold anything you feel like topping them with. The produce fare varies from baby bananas and absurdly-shaped squash to grapes and myriad breeds of avocado. They have an Alex’s Fruits & Nuts stand, a vendor who attends at least one market a day in Los Angeles and will let you sample just about any product they sell if you linger long enough—students like Yant and Van Sipma recommend these highly.
If a bumper sticker isn’t enough to express how much you truly love Eagle Rock, the city representatives will gladly sell you t-shirts, sweatshirts and even tote bags from their table at the center of the market. They might even throw a mug in there for good measure. Get it filled up with aquas frescas, help yourself to a pupusa or a tamale and pull a chair up to the community tables gathered at the market’s center. You can converse with fellow Eagle-Rockians and engage in the guilt-free gluttony only a farmers’ market could allow.
Also on Fridays: Whittier 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Venice 7-11 a.m., San Pedro 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Monrovia 5-9 p.m., Long Beach Downtown 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Lawndale 8 a.m.-1 p.m., 7th & Figueroa 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Hermosa Beach 12-4 p.m., Echo Park 3-7 p.m., Covina 5-9 p.m.
SATURDAY: Santa Monica Organic
When this market began in 1991, it was joining the Wednesday farmers’ market in the same location and it had a different position to fill. The California Organic Foods Act passed in 1990, and the folks in Santa Monica set out to provide their weekend shoppers with more organic produce. As of right now, over 60 percent of the produce sold here is grown organically, making it one of the highest organic concentrations in the state. On top of all that, this market exhibits a breed of community like no other place around.
A large band of seasoned regulars bring their instruments to provide musical entertainment for the duration of the fair. In front of the band, a makeshift dance floor is constructed weekly from overlapped oriental rugs—mothers with their babies and old couples alike take to this stage to show off their moves. Large groups gather on the grass to munch on their finds right next to a circle of pony-riding children. Most people can be seen eating crepes, a French specialty that has grown popular in American markets. Some are oozing Nutella while others hold more unconventional ingredients, like sweet potato or egg.
If that isn’t enough for Francophiles, a table selling organically grown lavender products can lure them in. Their wide range of items includes chapstick, body mist and tiny pillows to be used anywhere you’d like the sweet smell of these purple flowers. Corn Maiden makes it out to the coast with their tamales, but the long line here still doesn’t compare to the one you’ll see on Sundays in Hollywood. Upon inquiry about their position at the back of this queue, one market-goer shrugged-“What can I say, they’re just the best tamales in all of California. It’s completely worth the wait.”
If the Santa Monica community isn’t doing it for you, there’s always the beach—arguably one of the best parts of this market is its proximity to the Pacific. With less than a block before you’re enjoying your gala apples and crepes on the sand, the prime location is just another thing that sets this market apart.
Also on Saturdays: Burbank 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Calabasas Old Town 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Central Avenue 8 a.m.-12 p.m., Cerritos 8 a.m.-12 p.m., Chatsworth 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Diamond Bar 9 a.m.-2 p.m., L.A. Harambee 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 7th & Figueroa 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Silver Lake 8 a.m.-1 p.m., La Verne 9 a.m.-1 p.m., La Canada Flintridge 8 a.m.-12 p.m., Leimert Park Village 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Pasadena Victory Park 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Pomona Valley 7:30-11:30 a.m., Santa Monica Pico 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
Congratulations, you have reached the treasure, the motherload, the veritable Holy Grail of farmers’ markets. Radiating from the juncture of Ivar and Selma, just one block away from the corner of superficial Sunset and vain Vine, the phrase “the spoils of the earth” springs to life in the heart of Hollywood. Every grocery store vegetable and then some spill off of tables as the sellers practically throw samples at the passersby.
“Try a persimmon!”
“Want to sample some pistachios?”
“You look like you need some lavender lotion.”
Head straight for Hollywood first thing on Sundays—do not stop to eat breakfast, do not pass go, do not collect $200. This place is an empty stomach’s paradise and visitors will need room for samples as well as actual purchases. The market is shaped like a cross, with a long strand of produce intersected by a row of prepared food stands and arts & crafts dealers. The gourmet tamale stand run by Corn Maiden often has a line weaving around the block, and with good reason-their blue corn, goat che
ese and sun-dried tomato fillings are just the tip of the creative iceberg.
Making your way down the aisle, be sure to sample One Smart Cookie and Jungle Juice from a couple committed to keeping vegan food delicious, and stop to ask the kettle corn purveyors for a sample—they’ll give each person in your group enough to feed three people. Wheat grass shots are available from the sprout stand and raw milk can be purchased from a politically-charged man operating out of the back of a van. You’ll also find a man who thinks wheat is the source of all evil selling delicious sourdough loaves in a variety of flavors, such as olive and orange peel. “It tastes exactly like real tea,” Dana Marshall (junior) said about the tea with cardamom sourdough roll.
The icing on the cake is this market’s central Hollywood location—Jake Gyllenhaal has been known to pop up around the carrot tent with his buddy Heath Ledger, and Gary Busey stops by sometimes to buy orchids. The Cinerama Dome across the street also hosts the occasional premiere, where celebs like Cathy Bates and Dakota Fanning have made Sunday-morning appearances in the past.
Also on Sundays: Alhambra 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Atwater Village 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Beverly Hills 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Brentwood 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Claremont Farmers and Artisans 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Encino 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Larchmont Village 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Melrose Place 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Montrose Harvest 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Studio City 8 a.m.-1 p.m., West L.A. 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Westwood Village 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
MONDAY: Day of Rest
Monday is essentially the Sabbath of farmers’ markets. This day of rest comes after the busiest day of the week and it’s not uncommon to witness a tumbleweed blowing across the strawberry-stained pavement that was so alive on Sunday. While L.A. may be one of the most happening cities for local growers, these farmers take a hiatus to avoid blue Mondays. Just three markets set up their tents on this notoriously gloomy day and they’re anything but nearby. Unless you feel like driving to Bellflower and South Gate or taking two buses and a Metro train to west Hollywood, you might have to leave local farmers unsupported for a day. These farmers know that most refrigerators are packed with Sunday’s booty, too overloaded for even the most dedicated localvore to make a trip to the markets.
This is a time to take exploring your new treasures—if you bought something anonymous because of its eccentric appearance, now’s the time to hit up Google for information. How can I tell when my cherimoya is ripe? How would I go about slicing a persimmon? And what on earth should I do with this raw milk? The market vendors might be good sources for many of these questions, but in case you forgot to ask, there’s always Wikipedia.
You’ve got a lot of eating to do before Highland Park’s market rolls around again, so take this opportunity to rinse, chew, swallow and repeat.
On Mondays: West Hollywood 9 a.m.-2 p.m., South Gate 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Bellflower 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
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