Three farmers joined Farmers’ Market Supervisor Laura Avery at the Main Library in a discussion about farmers markets in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
Avery, a Mirror contributing writer, began the discussion on a personal level by stating, “My children never had to have grocery store produce. They only eat California grown produce and know the difference.”
Los Angeles Times food writer Russ Parsons also joined Avery, and stated that his research has shown, “Farmers’ markets have given us a wider range of choices” and have caused special items to become “mainstream.” For the farmers, these markets have given them a “financial reward for doing good work” and have encouraged them “to find new things to grow and new ways to grow them.”
Phil McGrath of McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo stressed for his family – who have been farming in California since 1867 – farmers’ markets have “completely changed our operation” because they now grow so many more varieties. To him, the popularity of the markets has meant taking “three steps backward to take one step forward” because farmers markets used to be popular 80 years ago and then they disappeared and started again in the late seventies.
McGrath believes “direct marketing is changing how agriculture operates today” and is “going to save the American farmer.”
Tomato farmer Maryanne Carpenter of Coastal Farms in Santa Paula believes the “freshness factor is the main thing that separates us from the produce section” at the chain markets. She noted that she and other farmers’ market farmers pick everything “the day before they attend the market.”
Carpenter also discussed the criticism frequently heard that farmers’ markets are “chef driven” because restaurants are big customers by stressing the markets “need the business sales” to make it.
Avery also mentioned the Farmers’ Market salad bar that is now an alternative choice for lunch in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Twenty local farmers benefit from the School District salad bar because they receive a fixed rate for their produce year-round. Another program that is run in conjunction with the School District is the Farmers’ Market Tours, held every Wednesday year round. During the tour students get a chance to taste, learn about and purchase produce.
A new program that has recently been implemented by the City is the Zero Waste Farmers’ Market Program. It was started at the Sunday Main Street Market. The goal, according to Avery, is to have “all food items served on compostable – not just recyclable – plates, cups, napkins and utensils. The “food waste goes into a compost bin. Then it’s taken to a transfer station in Bakersfield where it is turned into usable compost.”
Two more panel discussions will be held as part of the celebration. On August 17, “From Professional Chef to the Accomplished (and Not-So-Accomplished) Home Cook” will feature a panel discussion on how market ingredients are purchased and prepared and how the average shopper can take advantage of the best that the market has to offer. “Finding the Best in California,” on September 21, will feature a panel of farmers, food writers and chefs sharing anecdotes and first-hand experiences in locating inspiring things to grow and cook. Both events will be held in the Martin Luther King Auditorium at the Main Library. For more information, call 310.458.8600, or go to www.smpl.org.