Nestled between Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean, Chefs from all over Los Angeles gather on Wednesdays to get their first pick of the goods from the world-famous Santa Monica Farmers Market.
With over 70 farmers spread over the four blocks, the selection is bountiful. Several of the growers have been setting up shop there for over 40 years, and visitors and locals from all over scurry to this specific market due to the quality of the food and produce being offered.
It's also worth noting that most of the food offered in restaurants in the Santa Monica area are often purchased from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
As a local resident of this beautiful city and a former employee of several restaurants within the area, I can confidently say that chefs are constantly on the lookout for fresh and local ingredients, which is why the food in this city is spectacular. However, before we dive into that, let's do a little recap of the history of farmers' markets.
Farmers' markets date back to the early 1700s, starting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where city planners created a 120 square foot lot in the very center of the town as a public marketplace. Now, this is the oldest, continuously running public farmers' market in the country, known as Lancaster Central Market.
The buying and selling of fresh produce, meats, and baked goods have always been an essential to daily life, but after World War I, "curb markets" sprung up around towns, and these markets consisted of merchants and local farmers setting up their wagons on street curbs and selling their goods to the community.
There were only a total of 6 farmers' markets in California when the USDA undertook its first census of farmers' markets in 1948, but it wasn't until the 1970s, when America became health-conscious, that farmers' markets started to reappear again.
Fresh and healthy foods became the priority for housewives and their families. Which ultimately reminded the public of the quaintness of farmers' markets and all the access to healthy and fresh foods they provided.
However, it wasn't until 1994 that farmers' markets really started to go up the ladder. Farmers Markets' increased over 300% in that time and still continue to grow to this day. Today, there are nearly 3,000 farmers' markets across the country, at which Americans spend $1.1 billion annually.
Studies prove that many nutrients are formed when food ripens; however, the moment they're picked, the sugars start to convert to starch, their plant cells shrink, and their nutrients begin to diminish.
When you're buying produce at a grocery store, you're most likely buying items that have been harvested across the country or even internationally, which requires weeks of transportation, during which the product continues to lose nutrition.
In addition to that, in order to arrive at your local store ready to eat, the product must be harvested many weeks in advance, so many of the nutrients never even form. On top of that, these foods are often treated with gasses that hinder their ripening, so their ability to form nutrients is slimmer. After making their long journeys, most of the products even become exposed to ethylene gas in order to be artificially "ripened."
However, when you buy from a farmers' market, you're getting the product directly from local farmers, which means that the produce has traveled only a few miles and subsequently can be picked during the ripening stage and thus resulting in a more nutritional product.
Another thing to think about is that farmers sell seasonally, and studies have shown that off-season produce may see a reduction in their nutrients. Local farmers also tend to use fewer chemicals than large, industrialized farms.
Conventional agriculture utilizes significantly more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land, and air with toxic agricultural byproducts.
According to researcher Rich Pirog at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, the average piece of produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles; meanwhile, local food might only travel 100 miles or less. This means all of the shipping uses large amounts of natural resources, specifically fossil fuels, and inevitably contributes to pollution, as well as creating trash with all of the extra packaging. Contrary to local foods, which travel smaller distances, and actually reduce CO2 emissions.
Farmers Markets’ are plentiful nowadays, and California is no stranger to them, but today I want to zone in on one particular market that I constantly find myself drawn to, and that’s the Santa Monica Farmers Market as it offers the most versatility.
Some vendors are seasonal, and some only participate at certain locations, but if you find yourself at this specific location, you'll be met with dozens of vendors offering incredible and fresh produce. With that being said, here are a few to pay attention to if you happen to be in Santa Monica:
Andy's Orchard: Joseph Mariani emigrated from Europe and settled here in the 1930s, he was originally a vineyardist who understood the importance of growing quality fruit, and in 1957 he found and purchased his Orchard, a sunny south-facing slope with well-drained alluvial soil, free of spring frosts and with ample water for irrigation. Here, he and his family set out to grow some of the finest fruit in a religion already known for the quality of its agricultural products.
He started with apricots and prunes, followed by cherries, and then peaches and nectarines. Currently, his son Andy is continuing his tradition of growing fruits of distinction, including heirloom and specialty varieties.
I'm a recurring customer of Andy's and can confidently say he's one of the best. I find myself counting down the days for cherry season to arrive, as he offers some of the very best I've ever had, and if you ever find yourself looking for peaches, nectarines, or plums, look no further because you'll get the best ones from him. When you first bite into them, they burst with so much flavor that you'll never look at another stone fruit from a grocery store the same way again.
You'll find Andy's Orchard on Wednesday only, be sure to get there early, as he gets sold out pretty quickly.
Achadinha Cheese Company: Achadinha was created by Jim Pacheco, who is a third-generation dairyman. His family's long history of dairy farming in California was established in 1955, however, Jim and his wife, Donna, only started producing cheese in 2000.
Jim and Donna have passed on their passion for dairy farming to their children, and now the entire family runs it.
The Pacheco family feeds their animals an alkaline diet, making the cheese easier to digest, and they don't feed them corn. Instead, they feed them grain from Bear Republic and Russian River Brewing Company.
Brewer's grain and yeast is a fermented byproduct of making beer with a great deal of nutrition, so after making cheese, they take the whey and feed it back to their animals with a scoby from making Kombucha to increase the probiotics in the whey.
They don't use pesticides on the pasture or give any hormones. The season completely affects the flavors in the cheeses due to what the animals are eating.
Throughout the colder months, you'll taste the sweetness from the grass; in the summertime, you can taste the bitterness from the brewer's grain.
I had the pleasure of talking to one of their workers, Patty VanDyke, a sweet lady who comes every single Wednesday without fail. She brings feta in sea salt, Fromage Blanc, which is a spreadable soft cheese that is sweet and creamy with a touch of tangy zest, fresh cultured butter, cheese curds, Broncha cheese, and kefir in various flavors, although the apricot and raspberry are my personal favorites.
While waiting for her to bag up my kefir and Fromage, I asked her a few questions.
“How long have you been selling Achadinha Cheese products at The Santa Monica Farmers Market?”
Patty VanDyke: 'I've been coming here for about four years now… but I've been with the company for 9."
"Do you have a lot of regulars?
Patty VanDyke: "Oh yes, 82 people per day, to be exact. I also deliver some on my way back home."
"What do you think makes Achadinha Cheese stand out from others?
Patty Vandyke: Our farming practices. “It is very important to know where our food is coming from and how it has been treated. We ensure that our animals live in a healthy environment."
Achadinha Cheese Co. was named "Best in Show" at the American Cheese Society, and you'll find them at the Santa Monica farmers market on Wednesdays. Say hi to Patty for me.
Apricot Lane farms: The most interesting thing about this particular farm is 'its purposeful integration within an intentionally reawakened ecosystem.'
"The marriage between farm and nature is how we maximize the flavor of the food we grow and regulate the immune system of our land. It all starts (and ends, and restarts) with the soil. The relationship between the health of our planet and everything that lives on it is regulated by the stability of microbially diverse soil systems. Whether we eat a cow or a carrot, it's only as nutritious as the soil that feeds it. And healthy soil is built from the top down, which means every decision we make above it matters. In short, this is why ecologically regenerative farming methods that restore biodiversity above and within the soil (cover cropping, compost application, managed grazing, etc.) create some of the most nutrient-dense and flavorful food that only nature can provide." - John Chester
John Chester and wife Molly founded the farm in 2011; now, the farm spans over 214 acres in Moorpark, California, approximately 40 miles north of Los Angeles.
"We grow over 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables and humanely raise sheep, cows, pigs, chickens, and ducks on pastures and within our orchards. The farm carries three certifications: Organic, Biodynamic, and Regenerative Organic. Several of our restored habitat areas of the farm are Certified Wildlife Habitat. And our animal program is Humane Certified. Learn more about our practices by clicking around the different areas of the farm above." - John Chester
You'll find Apricot Lane Farms at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays selling fruits, vegetables, eggs, and more.
Overall, shopping at Farmers' markets won't just benefit your health in a massive way, but it'll also allow you to truly enjoy the seasons, reconnect with the cycles of nature, protect the environment as shipping uses huge amounts of natural resources, and also, by shopping locally you'll help support family farmers.
So the next time you're planning out your weekly grocery shopping, remember that a trip to the farmers market is one of the best ways to connect with where your food comes from, and you'll be making a positive impact on our planet. And, if you're in the Los Angeles area, check out the Santa Monica Farmers Market between 4th and Ocean on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 am until 1 pm.
You won't be disappointed.
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