Around the world at the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market
by Janice Nigro
The sign as you enter says no bikes, no skateboards, no dogs, and no parrots. No parrots? Jack Sparrow, leave your parrot at home if you are coming to the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market.
On Friday mornings, I roll my vendor-in-a-suitcase up from Hermosa Avenue to Valley Drive and 11th Street for the farmers market. The assembly of a three-dimensional photo gallery from the various parts in that suitcase appears to be some sort of a magic trick or a skill acquired through years of practice creating imaginary structures with only a box of Lego blocks.
I start early setting up my multi-piece photo gallery, but I am not alone. Many vendors are ready for business by 10:00 AM. At noon, the siren sounds, and the market officially opens. Soon after, the aroma of the carmel corn comes wafting over us as if it might be raining down maple syrup and pancakes at any moment.
Year round, the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market brings seasonal fruits and vegetables-citrus in winter, stone fruit in the fall, and cherries in summer. The seasonal variation in produce is one way that I, as a Midwest transplant, can discriminate between the seasons here in southern California. Once the oranges and grapefruit are at their best, it is time for Christmas.
The aroma of the carmel corn appears to intoxicate customers. I hear them proclaim, “Something smells wonderful,” and watch them leave the market with enormous bags of the freshly prepared snack, like oversized stuffed animals won at the fair. But they are also drawn to the market to indulge in various other catered ethnic and organic food choices. The adults wander by with tamales, Korean barbequed chicken, and stacked plastic cartons of tempha, sipping fresh coconut milk, while the twisted deep fried potato on a stick sells best after 3:00 when the kids are out of school. Business is good for this guy even when it is raining.
One of the unique aspects of the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market is the section on the grass that has always been reserved for crafts. The Hermosa Beach market thus has a distinction among farmers markets for supporting the efforts of actual artists with diverse passions: jewelry, photography, woven baskets, candles, and horticulture. Because of the location near the parking area, these vendors are the ones most likely to greet you as you enter the market.
Although I have yet to see a Jack Sparrow, or any other celebrity passing through, the vendors at least all have their own interesting stories. Many come from different countries-Scotland, Poland, Senegal, the Philippines, Mexico, and perhaps anyone from east of the Mississippi could be considered to be from another country. In my case, I was just living in a different country (Norway) before I landed in Hermosa Beach.
My craft is underwater photography, a sort of sport as well as an art, as it combines scuba diving and photography. I have a slight case of imposter syndrome as an underwater photographer and artist, in part, because I am a scientist by training. This right brain potential emerged only after an impulsive purchase of a camera and underwater housing three hours before a flight to Fiji. My photographs bring especially macro underwater life to the surface, and you begin to better appreciate how life develops. One egg, one sperm and you become either a barely visible shrimp or a whale shark.
My immediate neighbor is a young statuesque Polish woman who previously lived in Hawaii. She seems to be born though to live in California with her long naturally blonde hair, and her open way of meeting people and casual lifestyle. She creates imaginative jewelry pieces with “aloha,” and collected bits of wire and chain, beads, crystals, rocks, wood, and shells. She also happens to be a professional volleyball player. Every week, she surprises me with some new way of combining these different elements. Some of her biggest fans are under the age of 10, but it is generally impossible for customers to pass her by when she welcomes them to the market and enthusiastically invites them to look at her jewelry.
Across from us is a man from Senegal with a flawless smile. He speaks at least three languages that I know of. He is cool and relaxed, and easily makes you laugh with smart commentary on life in the USA even though English is not his mother tongue. He brings a small piece of Africa to us every week through his imported beautiful colorful baskets and textiles hand-woven by a group of women in Senegal. He shares his profits with these women, so that if you purchase an item from him, you are actually helping women with their own lives back in Africa.
While hunger propels customers through the market directly to the most aromatic dishes available, some of the small businesses offer original recipes for organic foods as well. A favorite is “nut butter”. “Nut butter” is vague terminology, as the exceptionally great tasting combinations of cashews, almonds, macadamias, and sometimes bits of dark chocolate and coconut so that you can cheat a bit, can be spread, put into smoothies, or just eaten from a spoon. It is a lot of calories in a tablespoon, but all good ones I am told, and I have witnessed the rapid disappearance of his nut butter even on a poor weather day. Also buried among the ethnic food vendors, is the guy making tempha and other high nutrition low calorie organic food products.
The woman who manages the market, unlike many of us, is a local, a lifetime local who apparently rarely ventures outside of the beach community area. She is the definition of a California girl, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and tanned skin. What you do not know about her, is how much she cares about each of us and remembers what is happening in our lives from week to week. She always has some pertinent business advice for us crafts vendors. In her case, it is a family affair as her high school sweetheart husband is along to help manage and create atmosphere. If you are under the age of five, he might make you a stemmed flower from pink and green balloons.
The farmers market is generally thought of as a platform to bring the freshest produce directly to the consumer from the farm and for small business owners to introduce unknown products, but it is also a weekly social and community gathering. My own motivation for participation in the market was partly as a strategy to become familiar with who lives in the community and what happens here. I have discovered that the community is quite diverse, as I have remarkably sold photographs of Indonesia even to Indonesians. And because I overheard a conversation at the market about the humpback whales in Redondo Beach, I saw them.
The market is a free activity attended by assisted care adults, many older community members, and grade school classes on field trips. It is a place where anyone might learn something new. If you do not know what Tillandsia is, for example, a woman at the market will tell you. If you want to know where Raja Ampat is, or how to get a design printed onto fabric, you might ask me. If you want to learn how to say hello in about ten different languages, you can ask any one of several vendors as they come from so many different countries.
And well if none of that motivates you to come out, maybe you want to just be a part of the fashion parade of sparkling shoes, tutus of all colors with matching scooters and helmets, hammerhead shark costumes, or good old bell bottoms and platform shoes.
All of this free entertainment is also accompanied by music performed by a local singer/guitarist. So the next time you are out on a Friday from 12 to 4PM in Hermosa Beach, come by and support the local farmers market. Meet the vendors and show some appreciation for their participation in the market!
©2016 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com
Edited version published online and in print at the Daily Breeze Monday March 7, 2016: http://www.dailybreeze.com/lifestyle/20160306/hermosa-beach-farmers-market-a-microcosm-of-community-sans-parrots
Guest essayist at the Beach Reporter. Edited version published online at the Beach Reporter Wednesday March 9, 2016: http://tbrnews.com/news/hermosa-beach-farmers-market-a-microcosm-of-community-sans-parrots/article_71615eb2-e491-11e5-9de4-37d90cccb567.html