Fresh and friendly
Sept./Oct. 2013 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Kate Campbell
Photos courtesy of A.F. Gilmore Company
Iconic market at 3rd and Fairfax has remained a star attraction in L.A. for nearly 80 years.
Shoppers admire a locally grown strawberry.
Part fresh produce market, part culinary carnival, the Los Angeles Farmers Market—nearly 80 years in operation—remains the city's enduring heartbeat. It's a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, smells and tastes that together form what has been called L.A.'s best grocery store.
The millions of shoppers who flock each year to the open-air market at 3rd and Fairfax find a connection to L.A. history that harks back to its reign as the nation's top farm county, a position it held into the 1950s.
Future movie icon Marilyn Monroe serves as the market's first Cheesecake Queen.
Founded in 1934, the market formed when local farmers were invited to park on the once-vacant dairy land where it sits today and sell fresh produce out of the back of their trucks. Soon, permanent stalls were built for the farmers and a local woman, Blanche Magee, who began selling them sandwiches. The idea morphed into an on-site restaurant called Magee's Kitchen, where folks then and now line up for mouthwatering roast beef, corned beef, turkey and ham platters.
"Several things account for the market's continuing appeal to shoppers," said David Hamlin, market spokesman and author of "Los Angeles's Original Farmers Market," a pictorial history of this world-famous destination. "First, it's authentic. While the market constantly changes, it remains the same: connected to its agricultural roots."
Market co-founder Roger Dahlhjelm visits with a young ice cream customer.
Hamlin said he thinks this ability is particularly valued in Los Angeles, a city perpetually under construction and growing.
"Nearly all the market's grocery stalls, shops and restaurants are family-owned, usually with two and three generations working behind the counters," he said. "There's a genuine sense of pride and friendliness."
Another thing that draws visitors, he said, is the comfortable atmosphere. Regulars meet for coffee or lunch—rearranging outdoor tables and chairs, as if they were at home, to accommodate anyone who shows up.
Hollywood starlets purchase Richardson Ranch tomatoes.
"The market is a relatively inexpensive place to eat extraordinarily good food," Hamlin said. "That also is part of its success."
Located next to large TV studios, the market is a popular location for shooting TV programs and movie scenes, which Hamlin said occurs about twice a month, making it widely recognized as one of the city's best places to stargaze.
Child star Shirley Temple pretends to take orders from adoring fans.
And each fall (usually in late October), the Los Angeles Farmers Market celebrates harvest with a family-friendly festival. In addition to crafts and entertainment, visitors can enjoy live music and special acts just for children. Fall Festival is so popular, families often plan months ahead to attend.
For more about the market's rich history, current culinary adventures and upcoming events, visit www.farmersmarketla.com.