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Farmers market: 30 years in Santa Monica

August 12, 2011 |  1:37 pm

Santa Monica Farmers Market celebrates 30 years

Alex Weiser (above, right) is one of the best-known farmers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. His melons, carrots and wide variety of potatoes draw crowds to his tables every week. But when he began, he was a college student helping out his parents and employing his friends.

Meanwhile, Molly Gean had to ask repeatedly before the market allowed her to sell her product: Harry's Berries -- now a foodie favorite for its fragile strawberries, among other items.

Gean and Weiser shared their memories Thursday night on a panel about the 30th anniversary of the Santa Monica Wednesday market -- a market that chef Mark Peel of Campanile called one of the most important in the country.

The panel was one of many events marking the anniversary, concluding with the Good Food Festival and Conference in September.

The market opened in the summer of 1981 with 23 farmers, said Laura Avery, the manager who joined the market the following year. "I'm in awe of what these farmers do," she said.

Gean noted that some of the early farmers have died, and that in some cases, like her own, the next generation is at the market stalls. She and Weiser both said farmers markets helped save their farms -- and saved them from having to grow produce not for flavor but rather to the specifications of more commercial wholesale operations.

Peel, a market maven, makes menus around what he finds. And these days, he goes on Wednesday, writes a menu, sends pictures and tweets about what he'll cook that night. Often, he says, the menu is posted before he can get from Santa Monica back to his La Brea restaurant.

Josie LeBalch from the restaurant Josie said she and other chefs have asked the farmers to grow what they want to cook, and in turn the farmers have introduced them to ingredients such as purslane that they now use.

The attitude toward a new thing, she said, is sometimes: "I don't even know what it is, but I want it first."


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Photo: Sotera Jaime of Jaime Farms and Alex Weiser at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times