Santa Monica: Setting the Bar for Farmers Markets

March 9, 2017

Uncorking Casa del Mar’s New Wine Room

Four Cultural Destinations in Santa Monica

Shutters Ingredient of the month March 1

Meet Laura Avery, the visionary in change of the Santa Monica Farmers Market, a short cab or bike ride from Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach.

She’s been the Supervisor since 1982, the year after the market started—”when Arizona was a sleepy little one-way street,” she says—and has guided the market from experiment (by a mayor who wanted to inject life into downtown Santa Monica) to a celebrity of sorts. Which, might we add, was not her original intention.

The market, held on Wednesday and Saturday, runs for roughly two blocks along Arizona Avenue (2nd to 4th Streets), with tentacles down the side streets that have grown over the years, proof of its success. According to our source, Wednesday is the best day for celebrity sightings.

But forget about that. Because Laura Avery is not about stars and superficiality. According to her, “We’re focused on doing one thing: the produce.”

This isn’t just talk. The Santa Monica Farmers Market actually has an admissions process. You have to be a real farmer and fill out an application for a Certified Producer’s Certificate, which can run to 10 pages detailing crops, location of each field, expected yield, and harvest season. Then, Avery or one of her staff shows up to verify what you said (no alternative facts here).

She also has a lot of competition: There are 140 farmers markets in Los Angeles County alone. But Santa Monica is the agricultural version of an Olympic trial—it comes out as gold or silver in online surveys—and so far farmers are voting with their feet. The average one-way commute is 175 miles, and two farmers have been at the market since opening day.

Still, Avery isn’t shy about discussing how she uses her green wand. (Listen to her on the Good Food program at KCRW.com/goodfood/marketreport.) She sees her job as imposing both excellence and diversity. Who needs 17 lettuce growers? (Hence why she characterized the market as a “garden of superior lettuce.”) A guy once came to her saying he grew bananas; he got in. “You got mango, you’re in.” The day we met, she said, “The last of the peach people are here.” Organic gets you a slight advantage, chefs get preferential passes, and a lot of them, as well as restaurants in Las Vegas, send buyers to the market. “Field-run, peak of flavor. That’s what this market offers.”

So if you add the market to your Santa Monica itinerary, you’re not just looking at an outdoor produce section. You’re looking at one woman’s vision of what food should be. “There’s no entertainment,” says Avery, referring to the invasive species that typically gain a foothold at successful farmers markets. “You’re here to focus on the produce.” And, at the very least, to have interesting conversations with the people who grow it.

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