Whether stocking up on vegetables for the week, or picking up dinner for that evening, the South Pasadena Farmer’s Market has what you’re looking for.
By: Brandon Lomenzo Black, Images: Carol Gallegos and Meg Aldrich
Underneath a sapphire-blue sky one Thursday evening in South Pasadena, along Meridian Avenue and El Centro Street, the beloved weekly Farmers’ Market bursts with activity.
The smoky and flavorful scent from Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ wafts towards the crackling of caramel-flavored kettle corn being prepared the old fashion way. Peruvian cuisine is fired up by The Happy Inka while the line at Carmela Ice Cream doesn’t cease to get any shorter despite the cold, December temperature outside. These seductive aromas compliment the cascade of colorful produce that beckons both shoppers and curious onlookers. If California agriculture-growing regions were deemed a United Nations of sorts, the farmers’ market would be its General Assembly.
The South Pasadena Farmers’ Market is certified by the State of California Department of Food and Agriculture as an organic farmers’ market. The market, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in July, counts more than 35 organic farmers on its roster whose crops (including flowers, plants, and succulents) are grown throughout the Golden State.
From Santa Maria to Riverside, Chico to Paso Robles, and Fresno to San Diego County, these agriculture ambassadors sell everything from leafy greens, seasonal fruits and vegetables, poultry, farm-fresh eggs, and grass-fed beef to sunflowers, roses, orchids and chrysanthemums.
Barring a national holiday or thunder and lightning, the market is open year-round. The market has basically three types of customers, explains Laurie Wheeler, president and CEO of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. The chamber sponsors the market which is under contract by the City of South Pasadena; It also pays a fee to the city to rent the property.
“We have the pure produce shoppers who only walk up and down El Centro and go to the farmers on Meridian. They’re there to get their produce for the week. We have some customers who get off the [Metro Gold Line] and get chicken to have that night or in the next couple of days. They’re getting the prepared foods. And then there’s those who do a little bit of everything. They’ll have dinner in the park, they’ll get their produce and some prepared foods,” says Wheeler.
“You have to be a people person to do this job because you’re dealing with customers, vendors, the agriculture department, the health department, and city officials,” says Carole Gallegos. Gallegos has managed the market for the last seven years as a contractor on behalf of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
Even before Gallegos took the reins in 2012, the South Pasadena Farmers’ Market has been the recipient of its fair share of awards and recognition by the likes of LA Weekly, CBS Los Angeles and The Pasadena Star-News.
For Gallegos and Wheeler, there is a larger challenge beyond ensuring the weekly availability of certified organic, California-grown produce.
“How do we capitalize on what we have here and let people know about it?” Wheeler explains to me about the challenge the chamber faces as it seeks to draw more visitation and business from those coming to the market throughout the quaint city. “We’re a hidden gem and a tiny town,” says Wheeler.
Unlike other farmers’ market destinations which have a cache of attractions—for instance, Santa Monica has the Pacific Ocean as its backstep, plus boutique shopping and restaurants close by—South Pasadena doesn’t have as strong an associated draw as compared to its peers elsewhere in Los Angeles.
What South Pasadena does have is an identity unto its own. Its quintessential small-town appeal and beautifully preserved architecture deliver a feeling of nostalgia that could easily be illustrated by Norman Rockwell. The city’s award-winning, farmers’ market paints a picture Rockwell would have loved.