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Farmers' Market Had Long Road to City Hall

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Friday, September 04, 2009, at 02:54PM
Mayor at the Market Ed Fuentes

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and CD9's Jan Perry thank the pioneer farmers who help began the food movement. "When you think of it, what is more important than the food we put on our table?" he said.

City officials, celebrity chefs, foodie media, and a Pulitzer Prize winning food critic gathered at City Hall on Thursday to celebrate 30 years of certified Farmers' Markets in Los Angeles County.

Their press conference was held on the building's south lawn, amidst the hustle and bustle of the Arts District / Little Tokyo Farmers Market at City Hall.

Given L.A.'s often confused relationship with geography, it may be that most in attendance didn't notice the oddity of the market's moniker, but that name tells a story of a nomadic market that struggled before finding its place.

The only independently-run farmers' market in Downtown began when Susan Hutchinson approached the Los Angeles River Artists and Business Association (LARABA) looking for a way to help offset the lack of grocery options in the Arts District. Little Tokyo was added to the name to welcome the enclave from the other side of the Alameda curtain.

With additional funding by the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council –– and later local developers –– the Arts District / Little Tokyo Farmers' Market opened on Traction, East 3rd, and Hewitt in July of 2005. 500 people showed on that Saturday morning, but attendance began to dwindle each week.

When parking spaces were lost to development, the market began to crash. The late Joel Bloom secured Little Tokyo's Weller Court and with the shift in geography, the market started to be known as the Little Tokyo / Arts District Farmers Market.

Still, the Saturday market had trouble growing and farmers began to drift away again. A attendance jolt came when the market was moved to Tuesdays in October 2006, catching the Civic Center lunch crowds.

Then local store owners protested, and felt the market was less farmers' produce and more food court. Even as farmers looked to return, there was no room left, so the market followed the lunch crowd to the Civic Center where it could expand.

While City Hall's South Lawn was at the top of the list, it was deemed unavailable due to a number of reasons. So things were set to move the market to the Los Angeles Mall, where the market would be placed around the Triforium––until mall operators petitioned to keep the nomadic food court away.

Councilwoman Jan Perry stepped in to secure the South Lawn, and the market reopened on Thursday, July 19th, 2007. It's been held there on Thursdays ever since.

So why is it not the City Hall Farmers' Market? The mysterious forces at work inside the building preferred the market not bear the City Hall name.

Today, the market's full name is "Arts District / Little Tokyo Farmers Market at City Hall."

Whatever one calls it, though, the market had a busy day Thursday as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilwoman Jan Perry and Angeli chef-owner and host of the radio show "Good Food" Evan Kleiman announced plans to partner with Occidental College and the L.A. Conservation Corps to create a city food policy task force.

Some of L.A.'s best-known chefs signed an oath to support local farmers and use the local food shed; Jonathan Gold announced that Mia Lehrer & Associates in Los Angeles were the winners of the Redesign Your Farmers' Market contest held by GOOD, The Architect’s Newspaper, The Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, CO Architects, and The Los Angeles Good Food Network; and the early pioneers of LA County's Farmers' Markets were introduced.

Susan Hutchinson didn't join yesterday's press conference. She was busy running the market, and stood still only for a few minutes when asked to join a photo op with the Mayor and local farmers. She then worked her way back to the booth, where the table had a canvas banner handpainted with Arts District / Little Tokyo Farmers Market––a holdover from the market's first days back on Traction and Hewitt.

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