Amelia Saltsman, author of ‘The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook,’ leads monthly teaching tours
By Michael Aushenker
Farmers markets provide four great values for communities: healthy eating, ecological sustainability and support for both small farms and the local economy.
Such are the tenets of Amelia Saltsman’s decades-long mission to spread awareness of the virtues of farmers markets, as articulated in her 2007 book “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes and Stories from the Market and Farm.”
As a hands-on companion to the book, Saltsman leads monthly 90-minute educational tours of her local Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, one of the largest in the nation. Her next tour happens Wednesday.
“My goal is to empower and help people become confident shoppers. It’s not just about admiring fruits and vegetables. A good balanced farmers market will have much more — poultry, eggs, cheeses and flowers grown by farmers who also grow fruits and vegetables. Those flowers aren’t just for beauty, [they’re by-products of] a sustainable farming practice,” Saltsman said.
A longtime advocate of farmers markets and family farms, Saltsman has written about food for publications including Bon Appétit and the Los Angeles Times, is a frequent guest on KCRW’s “Good Food with Evan Kleiman” and is a contributing editor to the annual food-lovers’ guide “Eat: Los Angeles.”
She also serves on the California Certified Farmers’ Markets Advisory Committee and the state’s Direct Marketing Task Force.
“We take a lot of things for granted. A good farmers market is a tremendous opportunity to a small family farmer. It’s the difference between surviving and not surviving,” Saltsman said.
Saltsman began her crusade when she started shopping at Santa Monica’s market 30 years ago after moving to town.
“I’ve watched it grow. … One of the reasons it is such a strong market is it’s a city-run market with tremendous support from the city,” she said, adding that “not all farmers markets are created equal.”
While Saltsman singles out Mar Vista’s Sunday and Venice’s Friday morning markets as demonstrative of farmers markets done right, she believes the Pacific Palisades and Brentwood markets, for example, could use some work.
“Playa Vista is a developing market. I have hopes for that one,” she said.
Saltsman said strong farmers markets are rarely products of overnight success — the Mar Vista market took several years to evolve — and that patience among vendors and customers alike are key to the success of budding markets, such as Marina del Rey’s.
Also, “a good farmers market needs at least 80% farmers,” she said.
“Typically, when you shop directly from a farmer, you’re getting the freshest ingredients because they’re being picked within a day of coming to market. The shelf life is longer. In most instances, farmers choose a lifestyle that is not easy because they’re passionate about growing for flavor.”
Saltsman said she often fights the perception that farmers market produce is too expensive.
“That’s a kind of myth that I really want to bust,” she said. “Are there things that are expensive? Sure, but it reflects the true cost of growing that food. Quality food is not subsidized.”
If everyone did even a small amount of their shopping at farmers markets, said Saltsman, the physical and economic health of the nation would be far better off.
“You make good personal choices, you make a difference in the local economy and you also help sustain the land. You’re protecting biodiversity, flavor, choice. If everyone changed just 10% of their shopping habits, we would have a much more robust economy,” she said.
Saltsman’s next tour runs from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, starting from the manager’s booth near the corner of Arizona Avenue and 2nd Street. Tickets are $45, or $65 including a signed book. RSVP at ameliasaltsman.com.