Since I wrote my piece on the Tapia Brothers’ urban farm in Encino, I have made it a weekend ritual to shop at farmer’s markets. Nearly every community within the city of Los Angeles has these street markets—Santa Monica has two each week—featuring the freshest produce, organic and gluten-free products, fresh-cut flowers, fresh fish and meats, just-baked bread, a heady mix of spices, herbal remedies, clothing items, healthy drinks, entertainment, and petting zoos for kids. Usually, the city closes a block or more to traffic and vendors set up booths for shoppers to peruse. These markets are not just for the average customer looking for some good tomatoes; well-known chefs from landmark restaurants also wander the stalls looking for the freshest produce of the day to feature on the menu that evening.
I recently spent two Sundays in a row at the Studio City Farmer’s Market, held rain or shine from 8 AM to 2 PM Sundays on Ventura Place between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Radford Avenue in Studio City (the name comes from the CBS lot nearby where programs like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere were filmed.). Customers can find parking behind the nearby Chase Bank or at the CBS Studios on Radford Avenue. It is best to come early, as by 2 o’clock, the best of the best has been snapped up. Coming early also means beating the rush for a parking space.
I recommend walking the entire length of the block before retracing your steps to buy. Often, the $2.99 a pound peaches might be $1.99 farther down the street. Also, as the day draws to a close, vendors will drop prices to unload the last of their wares before packing to go home. Buying bulk is a good thing; some stalls offered a reduction in price if a customer purchased five pounds over a half pound. Cash makes for an easy transaction, and many booths do not take credit cards or checks. Shoppers with cloth bags have an easier time transporting their purchases without the damaging and ubiquitous plastic bags, although most vendors have the dreaded plastic available. The whole experience of shopping at a farmer’s market takes a little time to fully appreciate, but once a shopper has a system, it is a great, fresh way to buy food.
In addition to the produce, flowers, and bread, there are vendors offering prepared meals like the Salvadoran favorite, pupusas. These are thick corn tortillas stuffed with meat and cheese, similar to a Cuban empanada. There are vendors selling fresh pasta and Italian sauces, and of course, hot dogs and snow cones if someone is jonesing for calorie-rich carnival food, although one could probably score a gluten-free or whole grain hot dog bun.
Many of the vendors are local farms and businesses. Homeboy Bakery has a booth. This is the business started by Father Greg Boyle in east Los Angeles to help gang members find employment and turn their lives around. The bakery stall featured a wide variety of breads and baked goods. Customers could purchase good food while also helping to support a worthy cause.
One discovery I made was Organic Raw Kombucha flavored with ginger. Kombucha is an ancient elixir composed of fermented sweet tea. In the fermenting process, most of the sugar is consumed by the raw culture leaving a slightly sour, effervescent liquid packed with probiotics and powerful antioxidants. Although the health benefits have not been proven conclusively, the drink supposedly cleanses the liver and aids with digestion. I sampled some at a booth at the market and purchased two bottles to drink throughout the week. Did I find myself with super-human energy and verve? Well, the jury is still out, but my own unscientific evaluation is that I did feel better and more energetic. The taste of Kombucha is not for everyone. Still, it was fun to sample something new and different.
The Studio City Farmer’s Market has a lot of stuff for kids to do. In addition to the petting zoo and jumpers, there are also face painting booths, balloon animals, and even Snow White. All in all, farmer’s markets are a great, healthy way to spend a few hours.