Z: Largest is not the word to use. Humongous is more like it. We were amazed at the size of this market. Not only size, but we found this market was more serious than the others. It didn't have the carnival atmosphere. The focus was on farm fresh produce.
R: I noticed that immediately. There were no street musicians or people selling crafts or clothing. The only non-agricultural booths were the two bakeries and the fish vendors. All the others were farmers with tables loaded with fresh-picked fruits and vegetables. Before we go any further, we should tell everyone where to find this agricultural oasis.
Z: The market is on Arizona between Second Street and Fourth Street. It actually goes a bit beyond Second Street. At Second it goes off a half block in each direction. With approximately 85 vendors the choices were great. I couldn't believe the size of the strawberries. They were as large as plums. Harry's Berries from Oxnard had Seascape and Chandler varieties. There were many tables featuring Fuji apples with wedges we could taste before we bought. As usual, the prices were the same if not better than the markets.
R: Speaking about talking to people, I found Jack Bezjian of Bezjian's Bakery quite interesting and very passionate about his breads. He started selling imported foods in 1966. The following year he opened his bakery that produced pocket pita breads. When his oven broke in 1985, he rethought his bread-making process and through experimentation came up with his natural wild yeast process. His breads have no preservatives and natural wild yeast rather than baker's yeast.
Z: We took home some spelt bread and a whole wheat bread, but there were so many other tempting choices.
R: As we visit these markets we learn quite a bit by talking to the managers. We began by introducing ourselves to Ted Galvan, the assistant manager. He's a city employee who works part time and has been with the market for seven years. He introduced us to Vivian Spadafore, a volunteer, and Laura Avery who is the market manager. The three of them run the Wednesday market.
Z: Laura has been market manager for 17 years. She told us that the mayor and city manager started the market in the summer of 1981. They wanted to do something for the senior citizens and revive business on the Third Street Promenade which had fallen on hard times. The market had 23 vendors from the start and was quite successful, so much so that they sought a manager. Laura signed on the second year and has been in charge ever since.
R: The Wednesday market now has up to 90 vendors in the summer and is the largest agricultural market in number of participants in the state of California. They used to go to 3:00 p.m. but the farmers complained about getting on the road at that hour. The hours are now 9-2. The Saturday market, managed by Mort Bernstein, is much smaller.
Z: Laura described how the chefs from the finest restaurants in the Los Angeles area shop the market for fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the chefs tells people that the best day to come to her restaurant is Thursday after she has been to the Santa Monica Market. "Farmers at this market grow things just for the customers they meet here, " she says.
R: Really exciting to her is the Santa Monica School District purchases of produce for salad bars at eight area elementary schools. "Salad bar consumption at those schools has increased eightfold, " she says. "The kids are eating more salads. The teachers are buying more salad bar lunches."
Z: She described how bus loads of kids are brought to the market on field trips. The kids tour the market and have an opportunity to meet the farmers who grow the vegetables for the salad bars.
R: The market visit was not complete until Zel could make a few more purchases from all those dried fruit possibilities. The biggest and sweetest golden flame raisins from Peacock Family Farms in Dinuba went into the bag along with those honey dates from DaVall Gardens in Coachella.
Z: I was happy because at Coleman Family Farms I got the black kale I missed at the last market. They even had beautiful Sierra lettuce, and bunches of fresh pea shoots that provided wonderful variety to our salad that night.
Santa Monica Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 1999