You may know Laura Avery’s voice from her weekly farmers market reports for KCRW’s “Good Food,” and you’ve probably walked right by her if you shop at the Wednesday Santa Monica market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean. But very few of us who visit any of the four farmers’ markets she oversees in Santa Monica know what she looks like, even though this September she’ll have been the city’s famers market supervisor for 36 years. Sitting across from Avery at Curious Palate on the dining deck of Santa Monica Place, it’s easy to see why she’s kept at it so long.
“I love getting to hang out with farmers and hear what they have to say,” says Avery. “Find out how their week went, what they are growing. I like being a part of what they do. Like I can ask, ‘When are Santa Rosa plums coming?’ if I want to make jam. I’m not a big cook, but having all those ingredients around inspires me to experiment with something new, like making jam or sauerkraut.”
Not only is Avery the farmers’ and consumers’ biggest advocate, she’s also a walking encyclopedia of farmers market knowledge. She knows how certified famers markets came into existence, and what organizations initially opposed them. She can tell you how many farmers showed up on the very first day of business in Santa Monica — July 15, 1981 — and why the Main Street market is the only one of the four that allows retail shops to set up stalls. She knows why there’s an 80% cherry crop drop this year, and which farmers are being affected.
About 900,000 shoppers visit the four combined markets each year. Supervising all of them is a huge job for one woman. But this wasn’t always the case. Avery started her job in September 1982, working 10 to 12 hours a week: six at the Wednesday market and between four and six hours calling farmers during the week to ask if they were coming back the next one. The very first market in 1981 had 23 farmers, and by the end of the year, that number grew to 45. Ten years after the first Wednesday market, a second market opened on Saturday, then the Virginia Avenue Park market in 1992, and finally the Main Street Market in 1995. The markets have continued to grow and are now home to 140 seasonal or year-round farmers and 25 prepared food vendors.
From adventurous home cooks to star chefs building seasonal menus through special relationships with farmers, the markets have become an essential community gathering place around a shared belief in fresh, nutritious food. This past year about 1,000 Santa Monica public schools students took market tours to meet a farmer, learn about produce and bring home something good to eat.
“I think of myself as being in the right place at the right time,” Avery says. “I grew with my job organically.”
— Jessica Koslow