The Downtown Santa Monica Farmers’ Market is one of the oldest Certified Farmers’ Markets in California. Thriving for nearly 29 years, the Farmers’ Market has survived numerous economic trials and the reconstruction of nearly all the surrounding buildings to become the most lasting institution in Downtown Santa Monica. In fact, it is experiencing its best financial year ever.
This unique connection between farmer and consumer is one of the main reasons the Downtown Santa Monica Farmers’ Market has withstood the test of bad economic times.
“We’ve been through a lot with this market. We’ve been through earthquakes, and fires, and the whole thing,” said Kathleen Cosgrove, an orchid farmer and owner of Cosgrove Cymbidium Company and a 20-year member of the market. “So, [the financial success of the market] drops off, and it comes back – it’s a very resilient market.”
Cosgrove’s business has benefited so much from the market that she gladly makes the nearly 200 mile trip each week from her farm in San Diego county to attend. “I think we have to stay on top of what people want, so we are happy to match, or try to match, the demand.”
The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market’s integrity lies in the fact that it is only a farmers’ market – there are no carnival-like gimmicks such as kettle corn to lure customers in. The star of this market is the amazing California grown produce, and the dedicated farmers who raise it, from the esoteric potatoes on offer from Weiser Farms (German butterballs, Red Crescents, Peruvian Purples) to the delectable English peas from McGrath Farms to the marinated chevres and fresh fromage blanc made at Harley Farms. The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is an exquisite taste of California’s unique agricultural cornucopia.
It was the first city-run market, and with an average of 12,000 attendees per week is the largest “Farmer-Only” market in the state. It features 75 farmers on Wednesdays, and 45 on Saturdays – many of whom have been a part of the market since its inception – and it takes up more than four city blocks. Much of the farmers’ loyalty can surely be attributed to the ever increasing revenues they earn by being a part of it – since the 1995-1996 fiscal year, the gross sales of farmers’ agricultural products has steadily increased at an annual rate of 5 percent.
“The mission of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market,” said its longtime supervisor, Laura Avery, “is to be a community service, a meeting spot, where our farmers bring the best produce possible and connect with local consumers, chefs, and the rest of California.”
The Farmers’ Market is meant to be “a compliment to the local retail businesses” according to Avery, and many of the local chefs purchase produce there weekly to feature in dishes on their restaurant’s menu. They have developed mutually beneficial relationships which help keep the community afloat.
Some of these restaurants have even tapped into the success of the Farmers’ Market by participating in the Market’s food tent program, where one restaurant from the local business district and its prepared food is featured each week. The program allows restaurants to offer the opportunity to taste their cuisine at a fraction of the cost of eating at the restaurant.
Avery believes that despite the national economic downturn, the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market has prevailed as one of the most stable business sectors in the area. It is “the heart and soul of Santa Monica” as she calls it. She has seen it survive the tear down and rebuild of Santa Monica Place shopping center, re-construction of the Third Street Promenade and the current economy.
In spite of the current recession, the Farmers’ Market had its best year ever in 2009. According to Avery, “people are more conscious of their food budget and the Farmers’ Market allows them to cook great food at home.” A recent survey of customers showed that the state of the economy had no effect on the number of visits they paid to the market per month.
The Market has an impact that extends past the borders of Santa Monica. Many restaurants both in and out of the City rely upon the locally grown produce sold at the market. One such customer is David Coleman, a chef who drives to the Santa Monica market twice a month to buy for his Long Beach-based restaurant, Michael’s on Naples. He stated that the economy has not changed his relationship with the market because he depends on the “fresh produce (and) the accessibility to the farmers…(since)… in Southern California it’s hard to get close to the farms.” It’s the kind of value that can’t be replicated by a grocery store or deliveries from a produce wholesaler.
The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona and Third Street Promenade takes place every Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m.– 1:00 p.m., with the weekly, featured restaurant starting at 10:00 a.m.
For a more detailed schedule of events and information about Santa Monica’s Farmers’ Market, go to www.smgov.net/farmers_market .
Upcoming featured restaurants in the food tent:
• March 24th: Border Grill
• March 31st: Fig
• April 7th: Ocean Café
• April 14th: Anisette Brasserie
• April 21st: Acadie Crepes
• April 28th: Shangri-la
• May 5th: Border Grill
• May 12th: Trastavere
• May 19th: Locanda del Lago
• May 26th: Fig
• June 2nd: Ocean Café
• June 9th: Anisette Brasserie
• June 16th: Locanda del Lago
• June 23rd: Anisette Brasserie
• June 30th: Fig
For more information about Downtown Santa Monica, please visit www.downtownsm.com