The new issue of L.A, Magazine takes a look at L.A.'s neighborhood farmers' markets, their influence on city cuisine and culture, and the reciprocal relationship with the the farms that surround it.
Josiah Citrin, chef and owner of Melisse in Santa Monica, replenishes the kitchen with farmers’ market goods each week. The ingredients arrive and inspiration strikes: he plans to roast celery root and slow cook pureed brussel sprouts in salted butter to make a simple soup.
“All year there’s great product there. We’re so lucky in California especially, because we get so much variety all through the wintertime, fall, spring,” he told KPCC’s Patt Morrison on Friday.
Though Citrin is spoiled with his farm-to-table bounty, he said he most enjoys interacting with the people who work hard to produce what he eventually labors to serve at his restaurant.
“I think the one thing that you can only find at farmers’ market is the direct connection with the farmer,” he said. “How they feel, and everything they put into what they’re doing there and their growing, and how they’re producing their products and their love for it.”
Los Angeles Magazine turns towards the stories of these markets in their latest issue, “Food Lover’s guide to L.A.,” as the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The issue pays homage to an L.A. farmers’ market scene ever-growing in popularity, reflecting on how it has affected L.A. culture since its first appearance in Compton. L.A. Magazine editor Lesley Barger Suter describes the influence as a cycle.
“The buyers have an influence on what the farmers are growing, and what the farmers are growing influences our diet as a city, and also our culinary scene as well,” she told Patt.
The publication also tackles myths to unearth truths about the open-air produce markets. For one, farmers’ markets aren’t as expensive as they seem.
“This is an odd misconception,” Suter said. “Down here, it’s seen as being a very bourgeois-type activity, to go in and buy these farm-fresh goods.”
The publication decided to test the notion, purchasing a list of the same exact ingredients from an everyday market like Vons or Ralphs, an upscale market such as Bristol Farms or Whole Foods Market, and a farmers’ market. Myth busted: Expenses at the farmers’ market totaled $28, while L.A. Magazine paid $38 at the everyday market and $54 at the upscale store.
Upscale grocery stores often advertise organic produce, touting “better quality” products for a steeper price. Suter challenges the notion of labeling food organic – at farmers’ markets, too.
“Organic is not necessarily one of the things that means it’s a great farmer or a great market,” she said. “Some of these smaller farmers can’t afford the manpower or the paper work and the actual fees that it takes from the government to become certified organic, so a lot of them have chosen to forgo the certified title.”
Suter said that some farmers may still use organic growing techniques, and recommends striking up a conversation with them to find out the process that goes behind the food that ends up on a plate.
Though Hollywood’s Sunday market and Santa Monica’s Wednesday market reign as the largest in the area, Suter said smaller neighborhood locations are popping up all over. Where do you shop?
What are your favorite neighborhood markets, or are you more of a CSA household? What makes them so special? What is your must-have ingredient for fall? What would you like to see improved?
Lesley Barger Suter, "Dine" editor, Los Angeles Magazine