In each issue Vegetarians in Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an outstanding person or organization that endeavors to practice or promote education, natural health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques for the mutual benefit of humans, animals, and the earth.
Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to Laura Avery and the City of Santa Monica for sponsoring and operating a community-wide farmers' market program and for bringing farm-fresh produce to schools in a creative and nutritional school salad bar endeavor.
Laura Avery was not the most likely candidate to operate a farmer's market when she signed on in 1982. The market in its second year needed a new manager. Her husband, a friend of the first manager who was leaving, suggested his wife for the position. Laura had no experience, but possessed a willingness to learn. After a month's training, she became the manager and has held that job ever since.
Because of flexible hours Laura, who lived a few blocks away, was able to handle the manager tasks as well as her busy mom duties. At that time her son was six weeks old, her daughter, an 18 month toddler. Her second daughter was born two years later. The children literally grew up at the market. In their early years they would accompany mom and work for the farmers. During the process, the kids became knowledgeable about the market and even liked their involvement. The eldest daughter is now attending college; her son is graduating high school; and the youngest daughter is in high school.
During Laura's tenure as manager, the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market has become the largest all-farmers' market in California. Up to 90 farmers participate with 16 offering certified organic produce. Over the years she has assisted in the opening of three more markets and now has the title of Supervisor of Santa Monica Farmers' Markets.
In 1991 the city opened its second market in the same downtown location on Saturday morning. Because of the passage of the California Organic Foods Act in 1990 and patron requests for organic produce as well as a weekend shopping day, the city complied with a market which now features approximately 20 of its vendors who are certified organic.
Demand for another market across town was the motivation for the Pico Market on Saturday mornings in the Pico-Cloverfield area. This market, with 40 farmers, is located in an area with few commercial markets. Upon the completion of Virginia Park, the market will have a larger, more attractive venue.
The most recent development was the Sunday Market at Main Street and Ocean Park that opened in January 1995. Unlike the other three, this one is not exclusively produce. Instead, it is a carnival-style market with food vendors, live music, arts and crafts, face painting, and pony rides. The Sunday market has developed into a family gathering place.
One achievement Laura and the city have taken great pride in is the school salad bar lunch program which began in 1997 as a pilot project at McKinley School. The grant, written by one of the parents, was for a two-week salad-bar lunch offering at the school. "The program was well received," says Laura. "The kids were not throwing the food away." The unexpected bonus was that the school district was able to provide fresh farmers' market produce to the children and save money by buying it directly from the farmers.
Soon other schools wanted to participate. The district paid for the produce while the grant covered the coordinator's salary. By the end of 1998 six schools were in the program. In the spring of 2000, 11 schools were involved. Laura assumed the role of farmers' market liaison. Her first task was to introduce the farmers to the coordinator who would shop the market twice each week.
"The farmers love to see the kids eat good food, " Laura says. "At first they wanted to give the food away free." Instead, they are offering "good prices" to the schools. The farmers are delighted when the kids are brought to the market for special tours and tastings.
Laura also takes pride in the number of renowned chefs who shop at the Wednesday market. Names like Campanile, Granita, Broadway Deli, Border Grill, Capo, and Ivy roll off her tongue as she estimates 21 chefs devote up to four hours shopping and spend up to $2, 000 on produce per visit. During the process the chefs become well acquainted with the farmers. One farmer even held his wedding reception at the restaurant of one of the chefs.
Laura is somewhat of a celebrity appearing on the Good Food Program hosted by Chef Evan Kleiman of Angeli Cafe. Heard every Saturday morning at 11 a.m. on KCRW-FM 89.9, the program features a segment by Laura reviewing the produce of the week and giving tips on the best of what's in season. She has held this featured spot for the last two years.
Now residing in Fullerton, she finds herself taking the train to Santa Monica for her 32-hour-a-week job to which she conscientiously devotes many extra hours. On Wednesday, the biggest market day, her morning begins at 4:30 a.m. when she drives in to Santa Monica. After a full day of helping farmers with set up to open at 9:00 a.m., handling emergencies, helping shoppers, answering questions, and supervising the break down at 2:00 p.m., Laura then spends the afternoon completing paperwork. Tired, but fulfilled, she doesn't arrive at her at home until about six that evening. Somehow she also finds time to do her own shopping at the market during the day.
During her spare time Laura likes to read and go camping, hiking, or backpacking. The house abounds with pets. There's Nipper, the dog and Tigger, Pandora, Iris, and George, all cats. Apollo, her daughter's horse, is boarded a few miles away.
Laura's enthusiasm for her job seems just as strong after 18 years as it was when she began."I love doing this," she exclaims."Just when you think you've tasted everything, you discover something new."
"I want to see us keep the farmers farming, keep them in business, " she adds. "I'm glad I have a part in it."
Santa Monica Farmers' Markets
Wednesday Downtown Market
Saturday Pico Market
Saturday Downtown Market
For more information call 310-458-8712 or access the web site at http://farmersmarket.santa-monica.org.