This Wednesday kicks off the City of Santa Monica Farmer’s Market 30 year Celebration, and Inhabitat got an exclusive interview with, Laura Avery, overseer of the Farmer’s Market for 29 of the 30 years it’s been running. We asked Laura to give us a history of the market, and tell us about its ultimate mission and future.
Can you tell us a little bit about the History of the Santa Monica Farmers Market?
I started in September of 1982, when the market was just on Wednesdays on Arizona Ave in a very depressed outdoor retail error. (There are currently four different markets held weekly in the city of Santa Monica.) Then current mayor Ruth Yannatta Goldway decided to start a farmers’ market because they had just started in California and she wanted to bring people downtown. She wanted to increase foot traffic. She wanted to bring healthful food into the city. She also had a very large senior citizen contingency and wanted them to have access to healthy foods.Because California is such a very large agricultural state, there are many large organizations that are involved in the business of packaging and shipping food for farmers and making contracts. Before the farmer to consumer direct marketing act came into effect in 1977 under Governor Jerry Brown, farmers could only sell their goods by taking their produce to the packaging houses and the public did not have direct access to farmers.
The first day the Santa Monica Farmer’s market open there was 23 certified farmers market, and were one of the first Farmer’s market in the greater Los Angeles to be run by a city. By the first year they had doubled in size, a trend that continued to grow year after year. Concurrent development of Santa Monica Place brought new life to the city and later plans were put into place for the 3rd Street promenade.
In May of 1991, we opened our Saturday market due to request from local working citizens who were unable to make the Wednesday market on Mother’s Day. That market did well from the start. A year later residents of the Pico neighborhood association wanted a market because a grocery store in their area had recently been shut down and demolished. Due to the interest from residents, neighbors, churches, the city agreed to open-up another market on Saturdays. We started the market out there in March of 1992.
Then our last market – we had the neighborhood community from Ocean Park come and say, a lot of us are writers and self employed and we want an affordable place to take their family on Sundays. So we started that market in January, on Sunday – in the middle of winter, in 1995. That market has a lot of prepared food, a lot of pony rides, kids activities, and live music and things like that. It is a little different from the other three markets. It is much more what we would call a neighborhood block party. That’s what the neighborhood wanted and that’s what the neighborhood got. So we now have our four markets.
It’s wonderful story to see the city respond to residential need in the development of the Farmer’s Market, what do you see as the bigger mission of the Farmer’s Market?
We have somewhere in the city charter that only the city of Santa Monica can operate a Farmer’s Market in the City of Santa Monica. We’ve been approached by individuals and others in big office buildings that are interested in getting a Farmer’s Market running for their tenants. The city is not in the business of creating extra amenities for building owners, these are farmers who have to drive an average of 175 miles from their farm in Fresno to come into city and set-up, pay for gas, and labor, and we are not even going to invite famers to come down unless we know they can make some money. We feel like our mission all along has been the promotion of small family farms, and giving them a place to sell produce so they can keep farming. We want them to do well, make a good living, so they can keep farming, so they can keep coming, and growing the food and bring it to us. That has been our focus this entire time, and I think that’s why – 30 years later – we are actually sort of in the eye of the storm in terms of the Good Food Moment. In the meantime, here we are sitting here and we have all these chefs coming and all these produce people coming buzzing into our markets because we have the biggest collection of farmers in any one place, in any one day, in the whole state. And we are very proud of that.
Why did you partner with the FamilyFund.org for the Good Food Festival?
In my capacity as a city employee, I don’t have the capacity or know how to put on a festival, and as the city we cannot go to the foundations and ask people for money to support the bigger vision we had to celebrate the farmers. So we partnered with a nonprofit in order to carry-out the vision, creating a tradeshow and festival where we could have programs and speakers and world thought leaders in the Good Food Movement to help create conversations that help us imagine where we are going to go for the next 30 years.
I heard about FamilyFarmed, and what they were doing in Chicago and the Mid-west and met the organizer, Jim Slama in 2008 while speaking at a panel up in San Francisco during a Slow Food Nation event. Jim and his team came and hit the ground running with their media knowledge, to help promote the event and get the general public aroused. Ultimately we want the general public engaged because we need them speak-up and say with one voice and day “we want better food, we want better prices for farmers and we want better conditions for the farmer works,” in order to get politicians involved and create a groundswell in the good food movement. We want to get everyone talking about it!
The food policy summit on Friday will help individuals who are interested understand how to get involved, and that’s what this is primarily about.
Interested who want to continue to spread the healthy food movement should definitely consider heading to Santa Monica College this Friday for the Food Summit. However if you want to bring your family along for the events. In addition to the weekly Farmers’ Market, Santa Monica High School is the host venue for cooking demonstrations, how-to scenarios, and much much more. The full schedule can be found on the event’s website.