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Putting the farmers back in the Farmers Market

December 18, 2008 |  4:24 pm

Originalfarmersmarket Decades after farmers drove onto the Gilmore property to sell their produce during the Depression, a new generation of farmers is coming back to 3rd and Fairfax –- now the Original Farmers Market.

Holiday shoppers regularly paused this afternoon for samples of satsumas from Penryn Orchard Specialties. Jeff Rieger, who drives south from Placer County for the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica markets, set up tables at midday with crates of satsumas, lemons and Hachiya persimmons -- one of the eight varieties he grows -- under the clock tower on the market plaza. A cheese vendor was waylaid by snow-closed roads.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, four farms will sell seasonal wreaths and flowers, grapes and citrus fruit, goat cheese and other products.

Officials at the Farmers Market have for some time been thinking about adding farmers, said Stan Savage Jr., the manager.  “It’s how we started originally. It’s something I wanted to do for a long time,”  Savage said.  “The grocery component of the market is very important.”

Savage said he also hopes to draw chefs to the market, but does not want to keep the farmers from the spots where they already set up stalls. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s good for everybody.”

No decisions have been made about how to include farmers permanently, but Savage has ideas. He would like to see a rotating group of farmers, with nine or 10 coming each day. The details haven’t been worked out. There could be a permanent spot that vendors would share. Or there could be more traditional stalls. Vendors could be inside or outside.

But Rieger said the tide is in: “It’s not a test. It’s started. We’re here. You have to start somewhere.” As Rieger talked, Laurence Hauben, who helps him at the markets, offered samples to shoppers coming from the Farmers Market and the adjacent Grove shopping mall. She had a steady flow of buyers, too.

Rieger works 4½ acres, on his own –- unless you count his sheep, Guinea hens and standard poodle -- and takes farming very seriously. Having farmers at the Farmers Market is another step toward educating people “to get them away from manufactured food,” and the consequent costs to health and to a sense of community, he said. “My mother always said she would rather give money to the farmer than the doctor,” Hauben added.

It’s been about eight years since a farmer sold his produce at Farmers Market, a spokeswoman said.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times