California farmers arrive at locations throughout Los Angeles County on a regular basis all week long. LA County is home to over 80 Certified Farmers’ Markets – by far the most locations of any county in the state, and no wonder, considering the number of urban customers and the dearth of local farms. Starting this month, images of farmers can be seen on six-foot posters on the sides of 35 of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Buses as part of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market’s twenty-fifth anniversary observances honoring California farms, farmers and the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.
The idea to put “The Face of California Farming” on bus posters came to me as I wondered how best to acknowledge the hard work and contributions the farmers have made to Santa Monica and local area citizens over the past twenty-five years. Several of our farmers and countless customers have been regulars at the downtown Wednesday farmers’ market since it opened on July 15, 1981. Since then, the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market program has grown to four markets, where second and third generation farmers and shoppers meet regularly to engage in commerce, conversation and community bonding.
The Farmers’ Market portrait project was given its professional look through the generous services of Hill Street Studios, a Hermosa Beach photography studio owned and operated by Betty Mallorca and Lawrence Manning. Betty is a long-time market customer and has assisted in cooking demos at the market with her friend and long-time market patron Amelia Saltsman. Betty and Lawrence, who specialize in stock photography, were eager to capture farmers’ portraits for us to use on the buses at no charge. A temporary photography studio was set up at the Wednesday market in late May and early June, and farmers were invited to show up in fifteen-minute intervals to pose for the camera. Farmer Bob Polito from Valley Center invited his parents Bob and Rose and wife Mary to join him for a photo session and lunch, and you might catch their family portrait on a bus around town. Jim Tamai, one of the very first Wednesday farmers, came down from the farm in Oxnard for the first time in fifteen years to pose with his daughter Daisy, sister-in-law Akiko and daughter-in-law Gloria. The farmers, who are not accustomed to posing and being fussed over for the camera, proved to be excellent subjects. The low-key “studio” and non-stop bantering with the photographers put them at ease so they could relax and simply be themselves. And of course there was the lure of having your portrait on a bus — larger than life and in 1200 dpi resolution. It’s practically the next best thing to seeing yourself on a Sunset Boulevard billboard.
The Faces of California Farming posters will be on City buses through September 20. Displays of all the posters will also be set up at various locations throughout the City, including City Hall and the Ken Edwards Center. While you are out and about, be sure to take a look when a Big Blue Bus rolls by. (Check the curb side of the bus, where the posters are all displayed.) You might see a familiar face in rock-star proportions.