Downtown LA Has Traded Seedy Liquor Stores for Day-Fresh Farm Produce

By Green, Emily | New Statesman (1996), February 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Downtown LA Has Traded Seedy Liquor Stores for Day-Fresh Farm Produce


Green, Emily, New Statesman (1996)


Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. When it opened in the late seventies it was one of about 100 such markets across the US. Today there are 300 farmers' markets in California alone and about three times that nationwide. Twenty years ago Santa Monica attracted perhaps two-dozen stall-holders. Today there are more than 90, half of them organic producers.

Twenty years ago most of the farmers seemed straight out of a Steinbeck novel: leathery brown skin, piercing blue eyes, blond hair bleached white by desert sun. They looked rather like Irene Burkhardt, who has a 4 1/2-acre grove of oranges near Fresno and has never used a chemical, or the chap from "Energy Bee Farm" with his Pooh-sized vats of orange-blossom honey.

Yet America rewrites itself before the ink on the last legend is dry, and the 1998 market is testament to a new breed of Californian farmer. There is Korean-born Mr Ha, a man proud of the Fuji apples that he sells sweet and fresh, or dried in slices. At least four or five of the stalls sell fresh flowers: lilies, stocks, bird-of-paradise, eucalyptus. Three are Japanese-run, as the exotic lilies they sell so vividly attest. The fourth is run by a tiny Mayan Mexican, helped by her two Americanised sons, who have grown to nearly twice her height. A huge spray costs $10, a third of what florists charge, and will last twice as long. The flowers will have been picked that morning.

The food, like the flowers, costs less because these markets cut out the middleman. Moreover the food, like the flowers, is day-fresh. Salads picked that morning will be eaten that evening. Of the two egg stalls, both run by Mexican-born farmers, the laying dates are scrawled on cardboard: "same day eggs", "24 hour eggs", "the hen didn't miss them eggs".

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Downtown LA Has Traded Seedy Liquor Stores for Day-Fresh Farm Produce
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