Family, Fresh Food and a Sense of Community

On a 1979 Saturday morning in Gardena, four stands filled with fresh food delivered from independent California farms comprised the very first Los Angeles County Farmers' Market.

And now, on every Wednesday morning in Santa Monica, one of the most famous of the 300 statewide farmers' markets overflows with shoppers who enjoy tasting and purchasing the fresh varieties of produce from an old-fashioned medium.

Indeed, the quality fruits, vegetables, cheeses, nuts, spices, james, pastries and flowers sold under the countless, white canopies at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market all bear the savory taste and aroma of a natural product which surprises many who have spent their valuabletime consuming commercial, chemically injected produce.

It's no surprise that several Los Angeles residents will travel to Santa Monica to enjoy the ocean air and perhaps bite into a sweet "Autumn Lady Yellow Peach" from Antelope Valley. And the farmers, many of whom have represented their family's business at the SMFM every week for years, have their own stories to tell.

David Schack, father of one of the founders of "Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery" and vendor at the SMFM for 13 years, flaunts his "award-winning goat cheese": its seven first-place prizes from the L.A. County Fair and its various other California State Fair awards. Schack's family owns a farm of 450 goats which produces flawless and savory cheese, which they represent at numerous farmers' markets in California. "My son got a career and died in 1999," Schack said, "but he asked us to keep selling this cheese. That's the reason we're here, I'm not a farmer."

Matthew Moessner, another vendor of homemade pastries and jams at the SMFM, said of his products: "my family, my mother, my grandmother all make [them] homemade out of the natural produce of our farm," adding that "we've been [selling] right here in this spot for 30 years."

Many of the vendors who have been involved in the SMFM for years, like Moessner, recall the day in mid-July, 2003, when an elderly resident of Santa Monica drove his Buick Le Sabre westbound through the blocked-off market, killing 10 people and injuring 63 in a matter of ten seconds. The controversy remains over whether this event was an accident, a sign of blatant negligence on part of the driver, or intentional. Regardless, the catastrophe gained national attention, and then-Santa Monica Police Chief called it "the single most horrific, devastating scene of tragedy I've ever witnessed in 30 years of law enforcement."

Even today, many of the farmers reminisce about their own reactions and observations as they stand at the same scene five years later. "I saw the canopies fly up into the air," said Schack, "and the [vendor] next to me shouted 'kill those bastards!' He thought there were terrorists."

Since this tragedy along the fourblock strip on Arizona Ave., which has left a permanent mark on the lives of the driver, the witnesses, and the families of the victims, the number of police cars and badge-ornamented uniforms standing along both ends of the market has inevitably increased, as has the shoppers' sense of security. A look at this week's activity shows that the shopping has returned to normal. And Arizona and 2nd St. at 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays isn't the only place and time that Santa Monica residents and chefs can buy top-of-the-line food for a reasonable price. The other Santa Monica Farmers' Markets are as follows: Saturdays at Arizona Ave. and 3rd St. at 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m., 2200 Virginia Ave. at the same time, and Sundays at 2640 Main St. at 9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.