So what is the best farmers market in L.A.? The answer depends on what's most important to you in a market: variety, number of organic vendors, quality of the bakers, sense of community, distance the farms have to travel to get there, available parking, etc. But since October of last year, we've had to throw in a mention of the Altadena Urban Farmers Market (AUFM), which will hold its sixth and possibly last event this Sunday, if it can't navigate a monthly permitting process with Los Angeles County.
The brainchild of Mariposa Creamery owners Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rudicel (also owner of The Press in Claremont), and in partnership with the Arroyo Time Bank, the AUFM is a small but incredibly vibrant underground market, with completely local vendor offerings set on the grounds of the Zane Grey Estate just south of the mountains above Altadena.
Most called it "underground" because, up until recently, they've been running without any official kind of permit, and in order to enter the private estate, you had to sign a release-type membership form: The vendors within were home growers, makers, and in some cases not-fully-official businesses. But it was hardly a secret. Which might be why they inevitably got a call from L.A. County.
After two months of phone calls, meetings, and paperwork, Rudicel and Putnam managed to secure a permit for the May event. "[The county] has been nothing but helpful," said Putnam. "They seemed to get what we were doing and walked us through all the paces of making this okay." As to whether there will be another AUFM after May, neither Rudicel or Putnam know for sure. "This may have been just a really great, but short-lived idea," says Rudicel. "But we're hoping to keep it as a monthly event."
The idea was to create a truly community-centric farmers market that allowed the many home artisanal craftspeople and urban homesteaders in their milieu to sell their products to neighbors and potentially new customers. Coffee is served in cozy brown ceramic mugs (which you are asked to bring back after you've finished strolling the grounds), and samples are offered everywhere.
At past markets, we really enjoyed the dark Jacaranda honey from a local Sierra Madre apiary, the cookbook swap, the seasoned potter at his wheel, the selection of sourdough bread starters, and of course, Mariposa's goats, which turn the troubling 'petting zoo' concept sometimes seen at street fairs and other markets, into a bonafide educational opportunity. In fact, Rudicel plans to teach a cheesemaking class this Sunday as part of the new AUFM Market University, which will be holding classes every 30-minutes on such topics as Beyond the Victory Garden; DIY Cleaners and Toiletries; Artisanal Bread Baking; and The New Craft Pantry: Homemade Condiments and Extracts. Visitors can also expect a plethora of edible heirloom seedlings, homegrown harvests (now that the Pasadena-area quarantine is lifted), really local eggs, and baby goats (not for sale), which were born just a couple of weeks ago.
The Altadena Urban Farmers Market, Sunday, May 29th, 1:00pm - 4:00pm, Zane Grey Estate, 396 E Mariposa Street, Altadena. More information is available at www.facebook.com/AltadenaUrbanFarmersMarket.