It’s 9 a.m. and temperatures have already reached the high 80s. The Pasadena High School parking lot is overflowing with cars and on the upper end of the lot, bustling crowds and over 60 local vendors fill the largest farmers’ market in the San Gabriel Valley: the Pasadena Farmers’ Market.
Many vendors advertise the same slogan on their banners: “We grow what we sell.” This is a key aspect that the market prides itself on and also what attracts dozens of people every hour. Fresh produce and other goods are picked and made within days of the market, sometimes even the morning of.
Because of mass production and industrialized food, it has become increasingly difficult for local farmers and artisans to make a healthy profit off their trades. Competing supermarket chains provide cheaper and quicker alternatives to organically-grown produce, which competes with small businesses, especially those whose livelihoods revolve around places like farmers’ markets.
For Muñoz Farms, this is the only way that it can sell its produce. Owners Jesús Muñoz and Dolores Gama participate in several different farmers’ markets around Southern California.They initially signed up to be a part of the Pasadena Farmers’ Market about 20 years ago but had to wait on a list for 10 years until they were approved.
“We started with my mom,” said Gama. “I want to continue [her work], but I can only try for two or three more years. It takes a lot of hard work and money.”
They grow a variety of produce on their farms in Riverside, Bakersfield, and Temecula.
Potatoes, mushrooms, shallots, eggs, and citrus were on display in their booth along with fresh-cut samples. Muñoz Farms also sells an assortment of avocados, but the recent fires in Temecula prevented their truck from exiting the area last Saturday.
A notable observation from Maryanne Yaeger, a regular with her husband for the past 20 years, is that the food here is no match for what sits at the supermarket.
“There’s better quality here,” said Yaeger. “You really can’t beat the freshness. You can buy things here that you can’t get at the supermarket because they don’t travel well.”
One of the vendors she comes for is J & P West Coast Seafood Inc. They provide over 50 types of fish and shellfish. Additionally, other items such as live Maine Lobster can be special ordered in advance.
In addition to Pasadena, West Coast Seafood distributes to six other farmers’ markets around Los Angeles and nearby beaches. The business also has a store location in Simi Valley open Thursday through Sunday.
The reason why locally-grown food is different from what one would normally find at a supermarket is because all vendors must be certified by the California State Direct Marketing Program. This allows them to sell produce of all grades.
“In the grocery store, everything is the same shape and size. It’s uniform. But the stuff here has to be field-grown,” said manager of the Pasadena Certified Farmers’ Markets, Gretchen Sterling. “There has to be the big and beautiful along with the tree-scarred, blemished, and misshapen. The blemished fruit isn’t any different than what you’d find in the store.”
Commercially-grown produce is also picked in its early stages of development before the fruit has a chance to absorb nutrients and ripen—to withstand long travel periods. As a result, food that’s grown commercially is nutritionally void.
Aside from the health benefits, Anne LaForti, a local, comes for the camaraderie that develops after interacting with the vendors. LaForti is a Chicago native who appreciates the seasonal variety of food that she couldn’t get back home.
“I like that I can talk to the farmers,” said LaForti. “I have a lot of interest in regenerative agriculture and soil health, so I feel like my money is going directly to the farmers who are doing the right thing.”
The Pasadena Farmers’ Market has two locations. It can be found every Tuesday in Villa Parke or every Saturday at Victory Park, both of which are open from 8:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m., rain or shine.
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