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Saturday Arizona Santa Monica Farmers' Market vs. Wednesday? Any thoughts?

I usually go to the Sunday Beverly Hills Farmers' Market, but since it is closed for Easter, I went on Saturday to the Santa Monica farmers' market on Arizona..

It was kind of a hassle, since it is out of my way, I had to pay $5 to park becauseI didn't want to drive around trying to find a space and it was much more crowded than the Beverly Hills market, making for a less enjoyable shopping experience. I was also disappointed that although it is billed as the "organic" market, most of the stands did not appear to be organic. Plus the organic blood oranges that I did buy were a pale comparison to the organic ones that I had gotten the previous week at Beverly Hills.

The things I really liked compared to the Beverly Hills market were that there was a stand selling all kinds of organic dried fruits and nuts (I have not seen anything comparable at Beverly Hills), there was a guy selling wild nettles and he said he would have purslaine later in the season (wild greens don't seem big at the Beverly Hills market) and there were two vendors who had huge selections of beautiful organic greens (much bigger than the selections I have seen at the Beverly Hills market). Still, given the hassle, I think I will stick with the Sunday Beverly Hills' market. (Plus Beverly Hills has "Mom's', a Middle Eastern vendor who sells a feta cheese labeled "Tunisian" which is feta cheese lover's heaven).

Still, I was wondering how the the Wednesday Santa Monica market compares to the Saturday market? If people think that one is much better, I will give the Wednesday market a whirl.

Also, on my way home from the Saturday Arizona market, I did also stop at the Saturday farmers' market on Pico in Santa Monica. That one was a real disappointment. Not much organic produce and, in general, the selection and quality were not as high as at the Arizona market or the Beverly Hills' market.

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  1. OMG, I just tasted the lettuce/herb/edible flower mix that I picked up at the Saturday Arzona Santa Monica farmers' market. I served it with a homemade lemon mustard vinaigrette and some of the walnuts that I picked up at the market, and I have to say it was the best salad I have had in my life. Better than I have had at any restaurant anywhere. I forgot the name of the stand where I got this stuff. I'm hoping they are at the Wednesday market. If not, I will be trekking back and braving the hassle of the Saturday market.

    1. Definitely go to the Wed market. It is bigger than Sat, and has WAY more vendors and options. Some of the vendors are ONLY there on Wednesday, such as Rokenwager. A bigger variety of fruit, veggies, dried things and cheeses and stuff.

      The organic selection on Wed is much better, too.

      19 Replies
      1. re: Diana

        Agree about Wednesday being better. A lot of local restaurant chefs shop there too.

        1. re: J.L.

          Controversy at the Wed. Santa Monica Farmers' Market -- the LA Times (Sun Mar. 9, A1,29) reports that some of the chefs who are longtime shoppers there (they allow professionals to shop earlier) are being shut out because some of the vendors are preselling everything to big commercial distributors.

          1. re: nosh

            First off, the Wednesday market is incredible. I go to a lot of markets and this is the crown jewel of them all in terms of quality, quantity, and variety. The Saturday market in the same spot is probably a third or half the size of the Wednesday market. The Wed market probably beats out the Hollywood Sunday market because it has fewer prepared food vendors and craft vendors and more farmers.

            For what it's worth, I've found the prices at the BH market to be a tad higher than some of the other markets. My study is hardly scientific, but I noticed it.

            As someone who goes every week to the Wed market and is friends with a lot of the farmers, I think that LA Times piece was a bit overblown. Yes, some farmers are delivering big batches of produce to chefs and distributors, but that's been going on for years. Back in the day, everybody cried foul when the chefs started coming to the market. I think people should just settle down and celebrate the fact that all of this business is helping these farmers to make their businesses more viable. It's a tough way to make a living and Uncle Sam doesn't help.

            1. re: nosh

              Yeah, well those chefs only a year or so ago were shutting out the normal consumer by coming in the morning and buying all the good stuff beforee we could get there, or worse.

              Looks like they can dish out that kind of behavior, but not take it!

              They could, of course, as noted in the report, call the vendor before the market, ask what he had, and order ahead of time for the vendor to bring down specially for them. But they don't like that, it's an extra step.

          2. re: Diana

            I think Rockenwagner does a few of the FMs - for sure at the thursday Culver City FM. And yes, the Wednesday FM on Arizona dwarfs the Saturday market - I would guess on average by at least 50 percent. Go early as many of LA's chefs go early. In fact, even they are getting shut out of some of the better offerings as many of the growers have gained excellent reputations for offering fantastic produce and are now being paid top-dollar for their goods by wholesalers... oops - nosh already mentioned this... anyway, you get the point - the wednesday market is the one with the most and the best - and park in the public parking structures off 4th street - free parking for the first two hours... true Angelenos loathe pay parking...

            1. re: bulavinaka

              Exactly how early do you have to go? Will I be shut out of all the best vegetables if I don't get there at the crack of dawn? I went to the Saturday market late (11:45) and the only thing I think I was shut out of were pastured eggs (the fact that it was the day before Easter probably didn't help on that score).

              1. re: omotosando

                You should be good as long as you're there by 0900... but even if you get there after 0900, you'll still be amazed at the selection. It all depends on what you're after and what time of the year you're going. For example, if you're after mulberries, you'll be competing with LA's large Persian community for a relatively small harvest that has a short season and command a high price. Conversely, because So Cal abounds with great citrus, avocados, nuts, etc. etc. etc., you could probably show up at 1100 and still have a good selection. Just keep in mind that alot of the farmers will sell to the chefs in relatively large quantities before the market even officially opens. So if you're after something that may be in limited supply or season (like wild mushrooms as another example), go early.

                The whole organics issue is kinda crazy as alot of the original folks - mainly small specialized farmers - who spawned the organic craze - particularly at the FMs - were somewhat shut out of the certification process. The mountain of red tape and other costs involved in the certification process was viewed as too much and unnecessary by many of the small farms. They felt that their reputation would trump any regulatory title handed down by the government. I don't know if this is still the case in terms of the effort involved in certification but one of my favorite growers - Harry's Berries - mentioned the whole issue when it arose years ago. They opted not to deal with the process and they seem to be doing just fine. They are loved and respected for their produce by the general public as well as by many chefs.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  The certification process can be a big hurdle and there are lots of vendors who are transitional or uncertified and practice organic farming technituq. And Harry's has great berries, no question.

                  However Harry's DOES NOT grow organic berries, certified or not. Strawberries retain a huge amount of pesticide residue.

                  1. re: JudiAU

                    I think this message implies that Harry's Berries is using synthetic fertilizer and that is not the case. They have not used fertilizers like that in many, many years.

                    For other farms that use these fertilizers, JudiAU is correct that the berries retain the fertilizer compound more than many other fruits.

                    1. re: glutton

                      no, as i read it, she was talking about pesticides. that, of course, is very different from fertilizers. strawberries are one of the hardest fruits or vegetables to grow without pesticides because of the enormous number of pests that are drawn to them. indeed, until the introduction of chemical pesticides, strawberries couldn't be grown successfully in the same field for more than two years in a row. and because they are such a soft fruit, without a peel or even really a skin, they do retain pesticides ... if that sort of thing bothers you. i like my harry's berries and have been eating tons of them for more than 20 years without ill effect.

                    2. re: JudiAU

                      I could be wrong or maybe I misunderstood the folks at Harry's when I spoke to them about this whole issue back in '97 or '98, but they gave me the strong impression that they were in fact practicing organic methods - no pesticides. It was the certification process that Harry's had an issue with. I don't want to proclaim that they always have been or are still at the zenith of organic farming methods (because I'm not positive) but at the same time I wouldn't want to flame their reputation. Quite a few restaurants use Harry's because of their reputation. Axe (in Venice), for one, takes alot of pride in focusing on local growers, particularly ones who practice organic methods... Are you certain that Harry's uses pesticides (probably methyl bromide)?

                      1. re: JudiAU

                        OK, I did a little googling on Harry's and coincidentally the Santa Monica Mirror did a writeup this past week mentioning this very subject concerning strawberries and Harry's. I think Harry's reputation remains intact...

                        http://www.smmirror.com/mainpages/art...

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          In conversations I've had with Molly and Rick, the farmers behind Harry's Berries, they have said that they have not used methyl bromide for many years. A visit to their farm supports this because they are proponents of using natural methods to fight pests (i.e. other bugs) and you can see evidence of them encouraging that.

                          1. re: glutton

                            What you mention is consistent with what I vaguely recall back in the late 90s... again - I'm referring to a casual conversation I had with the son back in - I think '97 or '98 - when this certification process became an issue... thanks

                      2. re: bulavinaka

                        I hear this -- that the certification process is expensive or too much red tape -- fairly often. Does anybody have a reference to certification costs? The only reference I have been able to find shows that certification costs from 0.3% to 2% (depending on the size of the farm) for the initial certification; less for the annual recertification. This doesn't seem like an insurmountable hurdle to me.

                        1. re: Bjartmarr

                          I think what one wants to keep in mind in this case is that Harry's was among the first of a handful of farmers who decided on their own to change the way that they farmed, both vertically and horizontally. This alone was a huge step into "uncharted waters," as most farmers were (and still are) about cranking out massive volumes of produce that are focused more on transportability and shelf live (rather than flavor and quality), and distributing through wholesalers. From what I recall about what the son said, the whole organic certification process was in response to so many sellers and growers claiming that their products were organic without any way to legitimize it. This hurt the reputation (and pocketbooks) of those -like Harry's - who truly were doing things the right way. The son said something to the affect that they felt no reason to have to prove to anyone via a certification process that their product wasnot only good but organically sound as well. In other words, their reputation speaks volumes over any stamp of approval by a bureaucracy. Maybe they felt it was a slap in their face after being among the first few to encourage a positive change an otherwise chemical-intensive industry.

                          And 0.3 percent is 0.3 percent. This may not seem much, but most farmers do operate very close to the margin; thus, the need for volume. I don't know the cost structure for Harry's, but for a conventional strawberry farm, the annual cost per acre is about $25,000 and a net of around $5,000, which the majority goes into providing for future crops. Furthermore, time spent on dealing with this bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo is time spent away from taking care of the real business at hand...

                          1. re: bulavinaka

                            i think another very good thing to keep in mind is that in many ways the term "organic" is outmoded. Lots of people use it as shorthand for small, high-quality farmers, which is not necessarily so. Lots of people also buy into the notion that anything that isn't pure organic (no chemical) is somehow unsafe, which is not so. There is a huge gray area between pure organic and chemical-intensive industrial farming.

                            1. re: FED

                              I couldn't agree more... I made a mention about sourcing chile padi at the FMs and how one can just ask the Asian farmers for them. I was handed a ziplock bag of chiles at the Mar Vista Grandview FM and a lady noticed them. She asked, "are those organic?" The farmer responded, "Not totally - I use a nonorganic fertilizer higher in nitrogen on the chile plants..." The lady acted like it was poison, snubbed the farmer and walked away... WTF - give me a break...

                              1. re: FED

                                The folks at Harry's Berries would agree with you -- organic is a virtually meaningless term at this point in time. Like many farmers and consumers, they prefer to use "sustainable." I'm not much for the semantics debate, but I can say that their food is trustworthy and that's worth a lot of money.

                  2. If you come back to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, you shouldn't have to pay anything to park. the City of Santa Monica has several parking structures on 2nd and on 4th streets, just a quick walk away from the market. The first 2 hours is free. Just go to the City's website for a map of the structures. Cool thing - there is a sign outside each structure telling you how many spaces are available - this is also available on line, but that's usually not very practical when you're already in the car.

                    As to your complaint about organic vs. non-organic - I believe that all the major Farmers' markets are run by the same organization and the standards for organic compliance are the same. So I don't know why you got the impression that the stands in Santa Monica aren't organic.

                    And I encourage you to check out the Wednesday SM market.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: gsw

                      A few stands had signs advertising that they were organic. Most did not. I assumed that if a stand had organic produce, there would be a sign touting this, and so I assumed that the majority of stands were not organic.

                      1. re: omotosando

                        Here's the link to the California Federation of Certified Farmers' Markets

                        http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com/about/

                        Here's another link to the City of Santa Monica's market:

                        http://www.smgov.net/farmers_market/

                        I'm not seeing anything in a quick reading that specifically says they're organic. OTOH, both the Santa Monica market and the Beverly Hills market are part of the CFM organization. I had always heard that they were organic, but it doesn't seem totally apparent at the links.

                        1. re: gsw

                          Farmers markets are not necessarily organic, regardless of the organization overseeing the market. The Wed and Sat FM in Santa Monica on 3rd/Arizona are both organic. The other SM markets are not entirely organic, but are dominated by organic growers. For the organic Wed and Sat markets, it's the same market manager (Laura Avery) that oversees both of them and she's pretty meticulous about confirming that the farms are truly organic, so I think you can really bank on that claim.

                          1. re: glutton

                            hmmm, i don't think this is true. there are many non-organic farmers at both wednesday and saturday sm. originally, the saturday sm was supposed to be organic only, but they couldn't find enough growers to fill the market.

                            as for wednesday v. saturday (and sunday, too), there is no doubt that the wednesday market is the best in southern california as well as being one of the best in the state and even the nation. but the saturday market has a good assortment of growers and lots of folks like sunday because of its small-town family feel.

                            what wednesday offers that nobody else can is an assortment of really terrific farmers. but on the other hand, how many do you really need to cook dinner?

                            1. re: FED

                              You make a good point - for a home cook (especially a single one like me) exactly how much produce can you buy?

                              I'm afraid I might be a little overwhelmed by the Wednesday market if it is twice as big as the Saturday market. I am wondering, however, if it is less crowded than Saturday -- that would be a big advantage to me. Or maybe it has more purposeful shoppers. There were a lot of people at the Saturday market who seemed like they were making a social occasion of it, which was fine with me, except when they were blocking the stands chatting to each other. And I got run over by a few baby strollers. I guess if I had gone when the market first opened, I could have avoided a lot of that, but I'm not really a morning person.

                              1. re: omotosando

                                Wednesday can be MORE crowded than Saturday depending on the hour you arrive (the number of people seems to peak between 9:00 and 10:00 on Wednesday). There are alot more institutional buyers, and Santa Monica has a large community that can afford to shop the market pretty much any day it's open.

                                Incidentally, with both the Arizona markets, getting there before the 8:30 bell guarentees that you can browse without worrying about being aced out for the rarer, more limited items. Chocolate Persimons, Fraise du Bois, Persian Mullberries, Green Pistachios, sometimes even Gaviota Strawberries, and Last Chance Peaches (depending on weather conditions and time of year)... are often sold out within the first thirty to forty minutes. Of course, everything is seasonal, and there are alot of times of year that it doesn't make sense to race over there early, because there's nothing of great merit that's going to sell out.

                                You can listen to the market report on Even Kleinman's KCRW show, on Saturday morning, if you want to beat yourself up about all of the stuff you missed three days earlier...

                                1. re: omotosando

                                  You might not need to buy produce from every farmer, but it is nice to have lots of selection. A variety of farmers means you get many types of each produce. Not everyone sells the same tomatoes, strawberries, etc. I think the Wed. market proves that vegetables and fruits are not a commodity -- peaches are different, persimmons are different, carrots are different, etc. It all depends on where they are grown, how they are grown, and what varietal was planted. For example, I was obviously familiar with carrots before I ever went to the Wed FM, but I never knew that there were so many flavors, colors, textures, sizes, etc. available. And this all changes by season, which is a great way to eat because it ensures there is variety in the diet.

                                  1. re: omotosando

                                    It has become a social function for alot of folks from various parts of entertainment and media. As one of my friends in this industry described it, "they consider it neutral ground to just gas off, but most don't know how to turn it off..." Aside from this craziness, either day is a great way to go, but if you are to choose one over the other, go Wednesday. This gives you the advantage to plan for the weekend. Aside from certain highly-perishables, alot of what's offered there will keep if stored properly.

                                2. re: glutton

                                  This information is not accurate. First of all, being a Certified Farmers Market has nothing to do with being certified organic. (Check out the Santa Monica Farmers Market website for more information on what it means to be a Certified Farmers Market). Also, it is simply not true that most Farmers' Markets are run by the same organization. For instance, the Santa Monica Farrmer's Markets are run by the City of Santa Monica. None of the four Santa Monica Farmers Markets are considered 'organic' or 'not organic'. (Many years ago the Saturday Downtown Market was called the Organic Market because the majority of the farmers were certified organic. That was just a name, not a certification. It still has a large number of certified organic growers). Each Market has a variety of farmers. Some of these farmers are certfied organic, and those that are have a flag hanging from their booth that says certified organic at each Santa Monica Market. Also, many farmers farm competely without pesticides but choose not to become certified organic because of the cost and paperwork involved. While most of the growers at the Santa Monica Farmers' Markets fall into these two categories, a farmer does not have to be organic to participate in the Santa Monica Markets. You can ask individual farmers about their particular growing practices. Also, Laura Avery is the supervisor of the Santa Monica Farmers Markets and the Wednesday Market Manager but she is not the Manager of the Downtown Saturday Market.

                          2. The Wednesday market wins hands down. It is the largest and best market in Southern California. The Sunday Hollywood FM is the largest and best weekend market. Go early for best selection. It is much larger with a larger organic selection than BH.

                            1. The gal from "Mom's" is at the El Segundo Thursday's FM as well ( quite a small market with very small produce selection ) Howeer her Feta is great. Last week I bought a tub laced with Zatar spice and it was very tasty..