I am just going to say it…. I have a problem, a big one, with the beautiful and innovative farmers’ market that just opened up in my neighborhood a little over two weeks ago. I bounded to the market with so much excitement its first day, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t love it.
First, let me sing its praises. Location, location, location. This market’s setting is one of the best I have seen in the Los Angeles area. Nestled in a small parking lot between a large community garden and an open grassy area lined with large trees, it is really beautiful. One can enjoy farmers’ market treats in the shade of the trees while the little ones run to their hearts’ content. The market vendors are exclusively organic sellers and many of them are (sub)urban farmers, some selling at market for the first time (with the help of the organizer). Read this Los Angeles Times article for more on that. I love that some of the vendors are as local as they come, but this, in turn also contributes to the problem I have with this market. It is a complicated issue.
So, let’s go back to location. Altadena is an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County with a population just shy of 43,000 people. The north east section of Altadena is home to very large, manicured estates. There is a lot of wealth in east Altadena, as well as many middle income families. West Altadena is of very mixed income, middle class and working class families live side by side. The Altadena Farmers’ Market is located in west Altadena.
This is why I can’t love this market.
I feel the intent of a farmers’ market should be to make local, fresh produce accessible to people living in urban/suburban areas. They provide shoppers with more variety, and possibly a wider choice of organic fruits and vegetables. I have been to the market twice (it has only been open for two weeks). I spotted artichokes for $4 a piece, and a dozen eggs for $7.50. Of the prepared items, tiny containers of goat cheese for $6, pickles for $8, and loaves of bread for $5. I am in no way criticizing the farmers and producers that come to the market with these prices. I am sure they are not getting rich, and may only be barely covering their costs or making a profit. These are farmers of a very small scale that don’t have access to the subsidies of industrialized agriculture.
But, as I walked through the market that very first day, it was glaringly clear that this market, by the nature of the prices, excludes a large portion of Altadena residents (including myself, to some extent). I think, generally, farmers’ markets can be more expensive than some grocery chains, but this one is way more expensive.
I know that a large part of the struggle for food justice and sustainable eating will have to be done on the policy side. Changing government policy to support sustainable farming methods would help these farmers sell their produce for less. Supporting local farms and (sub)urban farms is also part of the solution. But, true food justice will come when everyone has access to fresh, sustainably grown food that comes from farms that embrace fair labor practices. While we work toward that I think that we have to be vigilant in creating balance and not create spaces that only those in the upper economic sectors have access to.
Will I go back to this market? Yes. I may go from time to time to get a couple of items or enjoy some ice cream. I will have to stick to other nearby farmers’ markets to do the bulk of my shopping. I cannot embrace the Altadena Farmers’ Market whole-heartedly, nor can I afford to. I would love to open up a dialogue, to hear your thoughts about these issues. Please leave a comment, if you are so inclined.