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Saturday Farmers Market Trail: Monterey Park, East L.A., and Burbank

March 6, 2010

I love you, Pasadena. And on Sundays? You, Hollywood, always have me at hello. But there was a time, just a few years ago, when I was a little less loyal. I wandered the markets of L.A., not looking for anything more than a new view. It’s been a while. So today I’m hitting the market trail to see what’s what in the Saturday market jungle.

There are over 40 farmers markets scheduled for Saturday between Thousand Oaks in the west, all the way to Laguna in the south, and as far east as Riverside. Obviously I can’t hit them all in a day.  My selection criteria? Had to be a market I’ve never been to before, which eliminated about a dozen off the Saturday list. Also, it had to be within a reasonable distance to the homestead – I have a lot going on today and can’t invest in a trek out to Calabasas or Irvine…yet. And they had to be markets that are community-driven. And what I mean by that is that they are markets that fit the community and the community fits them and they dance and chat and talk and connect.

The South Pasadena Market on a still sunny summer evening.

In the decade since I first established my market obsessions in Baltimore, I’ve visited probably 50 markets, give or take a dozen, both here in LA and around the world. A market doesn’t have to be big and bustling to be a slice of community building heaven – I’m looking at you, Honoka’a – I still dream about the aroma coming from a pile of ginger that could have been considered an island in the Hawaii chain. But I digress…

Hollywood Farmers Market
The Hollywood Market on a cold, Sunday morning.

A market should fit snugly into the rhythms of its neighborhood, neither intruding nor hiding away. Just there, like an aunt you like to visit because she has a great orange tree and a good biscuit hand. It’s a hard, and admittedly very subjective balance to achieve, especially when so many cities are told by so many consultants that in order to have a good image, a good quality of life, a well-thought-of city, perceived or otherwise, you have to have a market.  Some grow and morph into little slices of community heaven because they’re given the support and care they need from both the local government and the people that live there.

Some? Well, some are not those things.  Some aren’t really certified California markets, or don’t have much in the way of variety, or are more flea market than farmers, or are facades for larger corporate interests, or are just plain eye sores. No one of these things alone is a total deal killer for me.  Flea markets do have their place and even the smallest of markets – Claremont’s winter markets come to mind – have a warmth and selection that count them among the bigger players when it comes to quality and just plain friendliness.

The three markets I’m visiting today –  Monterey Park, East L.A., and Burbank – are reputed gems of their respective neighborhoods and all for different reasons.  Pictures later. Off to gear up.

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