Farmers markets bring live music, custom crafts to Northeast LA nightlife

A shopper stops by the Valdivia Farms booth to browse for fruits and vegetables at the South Pasadena Farmers Market in Pasadena, CA. Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Alden Hinden-Stevenson/The Occidental

Southern California is home to 229 farmers markets, three of which are within a five-mile radius of Occidental College: Echo Park Farmers MarketHighland Park Farmers Market and South Pasadena Farmers Market. Each of these markets operates one day a week, bringing together not only produce sellers, but a variety of other vendors who sell clothes, flowers and much more.

The Echo Park Farmers Market is open every Friday from 3–7:30 p.m. and was established in 2006 by the Sustainable Economic Enterprise of Los Angeles. The market itself is not extremely large, but it hosts a wide variety of vendors. Their products range from fresh produce, locally-grown honey and succulents to coffee, peanuts and handmade soap. In addition to the vendors, this location had three live music performers stationed at different areas of the market.

Jasmine, who sells local honey from Aunt Willie’s Apiary, said she has been selling at farmers markets for six years. She said farmers markets offer customers higher-quality produce alongside the opportunity to support small, independent businesses. Jasmine said she enjoys selling honey due to its natural qualities as a plant-based sugar, which boasts multiple health benefits and will never go bad.

The market’s hot food vendors, such as Delicious Fish Tacos LemusMe Gusta Gourmet and Komeme Vegetariano, were grouped in the same area. Arranged in a square formation, they surrounded a seating area filled with people enjoying the various cuisines offered.

Interspersed within the food vendor sections were vendors such as Jorge Villegas, who sells custom handmade jewelry. He wrapped copper around several different types of stone, such as black obsidian. At one point, he further customized a necklace in the moment, switching out the chain to satisfy a customer’s special request.

The Highland Park Farmers Market is open every Tuesday from 3–8 p.m. and is located right next to the Highland Park Metro Gold Line station. This market contained a smaller pool of vendors compared to the Echo Park market, but offered a greater variety of products: produce, jewelry, clothing and art vendors. The market also had a dedicated eating area, filled during the evening with families and children.

Jeremiah Tash, whose business Jarring sells kombucha and sauerkraut, started going to farmers markets in January and currently sells at five different markets in Los Angeles. He said these local markets offer small businesses a good entry point into the surrounding communities, allowing them to build substantial assets. Sometimes, other sellers come through these markets and taste-test Jarring’s products, which provides valuable contacts and organically builds brand visibility, according to Tash. He said customers who incorporate the markets into their routines trust what they are buying and the businesses behind them.

A vendor displays her dates at the South Pasadena Farmers Market in Pasadena, CA. Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Alden Hinden-Stevenson/The Occidental

The South Pasadena Farmers Market is open every Thursday from 4–8 p.m. and is also located next to South Pasadena Metro Gold Line station. Out of the three markets, this was the largest and busiest. There were four different sections, with vendors ranging from the traditional fresh produce, honey and drink varieties to hot and cold food stands. The majority of people at the market were families with young children, many of whom were gathered around the live music performers.

Carole Gallegos, market manager, said she attributes the market’s popularity to the wide variety of different products offered by the vendors, who are certified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Unlike typical farmers markets, the South Pasadena market only sells food items and does not feature clothing, jewelry and art vendors as Echo Park and Highland Park do. Gallegos also said the space provides a safe and productive community meeting place for families with children.

A vendor stands behind his fruit at a booth at the South Pasadena Farmers Market in Pasadena, CA. Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Alden Hinden-Stevenson/The Occidental

Gallegos began managing farmers markets 16 years ago, starting at Studio City. She has managed the South Pasadena market for over six years. The market manager job is full-time, as managers are the liaison for customers, vendors and the city. Gallegos said the job is unique as she is able to work outside and meet hundreds of people, increasing her involvement in the community and ultimately making it a rewarding experience.