Monday, August 4, 2008

Santa Monica Farmer's Markets

One of my favorite things to do in France is to shop for the ingredients for my meals at the outdoor markets in the neighborhood. I love the fresh produce arranged like artwork, the smell of the cheeses, and the variety of meats and fish displayed like cornucopias. I think my favorite part of shopping in a neighborhood market is the friendly banter from the proud merchants who have all grown or produced their own products; there is nothing like buying fruit from the grower, or eggs from the farmer. Nothing is packaged in plastic wrap or hidden by containers; every color and smell is nakedly displayed so you can see both the blemishes and the beauty of what is locally grown and produced. Farmers literally bring in their vegetables and fish or meat in the morning to set up their stalls and by nightfall they have gone home to their farms to harvest or prepare for the next day's market. It is both a simple and seductive way to sample the best of the region.

Here in the U.S. we tend to shop for our daily food in super chains, with a few select stores for items rare enough or expensive enough to sustain a specialty, like the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills or Petrossian for caviar. But for everyday fruits and vegetables, fresh from local farmers, there are very few choices.

Santa Monica is one city that has embraced local farmer's markets; they have farmer's markets three days a week in different locations throughout the city, all selling locally grown or produced foods, some are even organically grown. Not only do you get fresh locally grown produce, but the prices are also far less than you would pay in a store because the stands must be non profit entities sponsored by the farmers. The same or similar vendors make the rounds at the different locations, but there will always be fruits, vegetables, an assortment of breads or pastries, and a few cooked items (if the sight of all the produce makes you hungry, you can eat some roasted corn or a chicken sausage sandwich). The latest addition to the Virginia market is a shell fish vendor who sells fresh clams, mussels and oysters. So far I have not seen any meat or poultry vendors, but fruits and vegetables with shellfish are a great start. All the locations also have fresh flowers for sale to brighten up your home for far less than you would pay at a florist (and which will last far longer than flowers you buy in a super chain).

The only caveat to shopping at one of the farmer's markets in Santa Monica is that you must go early or you will not find parking (i.e., go before 10am) and you will be left gazing longingly at the stands from your car as you circle endlessly around full parking lots.

The markets are open rain or shine and sometimes there are live bands which perform, so check the listings. Go spend the day out in the sun shopping for fresh food; it's an old concept that is new again.

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