Online Issues / Summer 2013 (Vol. 1, Online Issues)

Trendiest Farmers of the West


Trendiest Farmers of the West

By Ashley E. Mendez | Photos by Derek M. Mendez | Los Angeles

Farmers’ Markets have been hugely popular during the last decade and in one city in particular, the culture of fresh and local has become more than just a food option—it’s practically a mantra. So get down and dirty with the fresh and local as L.A. native Ashley Mendez brings us to The Grove, an iconic market location.

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Los Angeles evokes different images for people. Depending on where you live or the type interaction you have with the city, L.A. is either thought of as the Mecca of movie-style life or as the traffic-clogged smog sister of sunny beaches. Unlike the Big Apple, its big-city counterpart, L.A. has beautiful weather year-round and is full of health fanatics. Besides sun block being as essential to life as is water, and flip-flops being worn year-round, concern with “proper” food shapes daily conversations:

“You must check out Tyler’s Instagram feed. He is on a 30-day paleo diet!”

“I only feed organic vegan food to my two-year old daughter.”

“Excuse me? Is this arugula with pan-seared organic pears on the truffle-infused pizza crust gluten free?”

“Oh, I can’t eat that. I am on a juice cleanse.”

mendez_collage2Healthful food is a mainstay of L.A. culture—or at least, that’s what the hipster-influenced Californians want you to think. In order to sustain their vegan diets and daily wheatgrass shots, these individuals seek every resource possible, including the inestimable farmers markets.

California’s rich soil and fair climate allow for not only the growth of excellent produce, but also the possibility of selling that produce in an outside venue throughout the state on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. While supermarkets have monopolized the national food business, farmers markets have stimulated a cult following, especially within the greater Los Angeles region.

Determined to find ingredients for my own, organic, gluten-free meals from an alternative source, I set out with my younger brother to explore the farmers market scene in my neighborhood. After consulting the Los Angeles Times’s interactive farmers market page, we found ourselves in a quiet section of the Pasadena suburb. In a shaded street, sellers had set up their easy-up tents to block out the sun and any incoming traffic that would have come onto the street. As we walked towards the market, we were hit by the smell of blossoming gardenias and fresh greenery. Creating a colorful entrance, full grown plants and ready-cut bouquets lined the sidewalk.

mendez_collage1Resisting the urge to buy an extraordinary amount of flowers, my brother and I were eventually rewarded with another bright visual: a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables covered each table in a single-file row down the street. Baskets of figs and pale peaches, wooden boxes with vibrant chili peppers, and cardboard cutouts holding ready-to-eat avocados tempted to our eyes and appetites. The tranquility of the market and the murmur of peoples’ voices created a peaceful environment for us to fill our re-usable bags with rosy apples and full heads of kale. Within the intimacy of the market, we were able to relax, survey all the edible options, and make decisions about what we wanted to eat that week.

One Caucasian woman exclusively sold avocados. A Mexican family claimed that they sell the best peaches and plums in the whole market. A bearded man in his late 20s sold honey and nuts. At the end of the row of vendors was a small metal stand where a middle-aged woman sold tamales and menudo. The diversity within just one block was striking, yet very comfortable. For these vendors, ethnicity, wealth, and expertise did not matter as long as everyone contributed to this little community in their own, unique, non-interfering manner. My bother and I couldn’t help but notice the diverse market patrons as well, such as the heavily tattooed Latino pushing his daughter’s stroller past the lanky hipster and his fixie bike in order to access the grapes for sale. Children raced past us while their mothers negotiated with vendors. We laughed as we watched two young men selling garlic try to flirt with a pretty girl who was outside walking her Yorkie puppy. This market brings together completely different people for the sake of fair prices.

mendez_collage3Despite the pleasantness of this quaint setting, we realized our hunger would not be satisfied solely in a market that didn’t even span a full block. Thus, we wove our way through the traffic gridlock that L.A. natives would call a typical Tuesday afternoon towards the icon of all farmers markets: located off of Fairfax Avenue, The Grove is the upscale outdoor mall where Michael Bublé’s sultry voice blasts from the overhead speakers while Bublé himself strolls with his wife past elaborate fountains. The designer shops and five-star restaurants located near the TV and movie set studios have made this location a tourist attraction and an ideal date spot. However, despite its glamour, The Grove is simply an extension of a farmers market that was founded in 1934.

Over the years, this farmers market has transformed from a temporary market, similar to the one in Pasadena, into a permanent establishment. The vendors do not stand behind tables, because they now have small stores that they rent and decorate, the final result of which resembles a mix between a full-staffed restaurant and a booth at a carnival. The open seating plan allows customers to rove the area and pick the type of cuisine they want to enjoy before sitting in light green metal seats that catch a bit of the warmth from the sun. Sushi, homemade ice cream, tacos, and pizza are just a sliver of the variety of food available for the hungry people who are just grateful to have found a meter-less parking spot.

Mendez_collage4Being two of those grateful individuals, my brother and I entered the farmers market and walked past the photographs of Marilyn Monroe eating at the market and through the aroma of freshly baked doughnuts. At one in the afternoon, the marketplace was filled with people craving various things to eat. Businessmen made small talk over Southern soul food while sitting next to pajama-dressed 20 year-olds devouring vegan pizza. We saw mothers buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as choose between a slab of ribs or fresh shrimp. In The Grove, the Pasadena farmers market’s young bearded man selling small jars of honey, is replaced by women dressed neatly in sanitary white uniforms standing ready to serve anyone interested in gourmet cookies containing a hint of honey or agave sweetener. Families gathered in the center of the market to eat together because it allowed their picky teenagers and toddlers to choose their own meals. A young father appropriately dressed in a Barcelona soccer jersey sat with his daughter at booth where they ate high-priced Spanish food. While the price tag of any food at this farmers market instills hesitation, the incredible variety available definitely makes up for the expense.

Million dollar homes sit nearby The Grove’s iconic farmers market, while the patrons of the Pasadena one seem to try to save an extra buck wherever possible. Yet, the diversity that makes the smaller farmers market so endearing is the same diversity that creates excitement in the heart of L.A., even if it comes under a different form. While my brother and I might have gone to those markets to supply my special diet, the little brunette boy who ran as fast as he could to smell the popping corn kernels had a different idea. While I reviewed my grocery list, his eyes widened over the variety of sweet and salty treats. We were in the same place, but we had entirely different intentions. This is what makes farmers markets in California so vital and trendy; whether it’s wheatgrass or a classic cheesecake, the ability to choose what fits best for everyone’s individual quirks is a fresh trend that anyone can get behind.

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The Original Farmers Market (in The Grove)

6333 W. 3rd St.

Los Angeles, CA

(323) 933-9211

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To learn more about the “Keep in Touch” online issue, click here.  To see the rest of the articles in the “Keep in Touch” online issue, click here.

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