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Farmers Market Pioneers Celebrate 30 Years  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

August 9, 2011 – The Santa Monica Farmers Market is getting a jump on its five-day 30th birthday bash to be held in September with a panel discussion at the Main Library this Thursday appropriately titled “Celebrating 30 Years.”

Two chefs and two farmers – all farmers market long-timers – will “share their memories, dreams and reflections” after decades of fruitful relationship, Farmers Market Supervisor Laura Avery told The Lookout.

Well-known chefs Mark Peel of Campanile and Josie Le Balch of Josie will join farmers market stalwarts Alex Weiser, “celebrity potato farmer” of Weiser Family Farms, and Molly Gean of Harry's Berries as they swap tales from the good old days.

In this case, that means the 80's and 90's when the sustainable food movement and fine dining were just encountering each other.

They'll talk about “how farming operations are different now than when they started,” Avery said, adding that there's a “really great synergy” between the chefs and the farmers.

Peel was one of the first chefs to recognize what a great asset Santa Monica had in its farmers market, and Le Balch was “a big fan of the market in the late 90's,” said Avery.

As the chefs expressed their needs, the farmers changed their operations and grew new crops, she said.

“They've really grown together,” said Avery.

Now high-end restaurants offer three-course, “farmers market dinners,” and Iron Chef and Top Chef are regular visitors – if relative “newcomers” – at Santa Monica's farmers markets, she said.

Thursday's audience will get to enjoy more than just talk.

Chef Peel will prepare a special farmers' market treat – a surprise (he has to see what's fresh at the Wednesday market) – which will in all likelihood be paired with fresh bread from Campanile, Avery said.

The panel discussion is one of a series of quarterly talks which started five years ago, when the Farmers Markets celebrated their 25th birthday.

“Celebrating 30 Years” will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium at the Main Library at 601 Santa Monica Boulevard. Seating will be available on a first come, first seated basis.

Next month, the Farmers Markets will really kick out the jams with a five-day Good Food Festival and Conference, billed as an “unprecedented multi-day event” bringing together famers, sustainable food advocates, chefs, food businesses and “people who care about good food.”

Events will include a good food street fair, cooking demonstrations at Santa Monica High School and programs focused on school food at Santa Monica College, among many other highlights.

Brochures describing the festivities can be found at the four farmers market in Santa Monica –on Wednesday and Saturday at Arizona Avenue downtown, Saturday at Virginia Park and Sunday on Main Street.

The festival – held September 14 through 18 – will be sponsored by Chicago-based, which trains farmers, promotes local sustainable food and is leading a national effort to improve food safety on small farms.

The Santa Monica Farmers Markets were established in 1981, and now bring farm fresh local produce to some 900,000 customers a year. They give the region's farmers a chance to stay on their land and bring their produce to an urban marketplace.

The Santa Monica Farmers Markets are organized and managed by the City of Santa Monica. For more information, see the farmers market website.


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