Santa Monica Farmers Market 1981How long is 30 years? Take a look at this 1981 photo of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. It’s hard to remember that this industry leader drawing 20, e 000 shoppers a week once consisted of some cardboard boxes on a few tables. Next week, in conjunction with, the market celebrates 30 remarkable years with a multi-day Good Food Festival & Conference that explores every facet of food from policy to pleasure.

What does 30 years produce? A giant, ongoing incubator. Decades of weekly face time for farmers, cooks, writers, and market management to learn from one another in ways no class, conference, or books could teach.

Thirty years allows the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market to become a big voice for small family farms and an example to developing markets and growers that a reputation and huge following can be built on quality ingredients alone.

2007 - Santa Monica Farmers' Market Oh those ingredients. We’ve gone from red rose potatoes to fingerlings and from “shipping melons” to fragant Cavaillons. (Truth be told, sometimes I long for humble russet “bakers” or iceberg lettuce brilliantly grown and therefore sweet.) We’ve learned to use every part of the plant through all its life cycle: green garlic and scapes, the flowers of plants gone to seed, and dates in all stages of ripeness.

Other parts of garlic you can use in cooking We’ve gone beyond simply enjoying extraordinary flavors to understanding they reflect good farming practices and healthy soil. We’ve moved from adding sprouting broccoli to our children’s repertoire to figuring out how to get fresh vegetables into school lunch programs. Yes! The Los Angeles Unified School District is looking into sourcing from local growers (See Mary MacVean’s story).

Three decades have redefined how many of us shop and eat. Certainly the farmers’ market has been life-changing for many, including me. To this day, my very favorite teaching moments are at the market, helping everyday cooks make the connection between small-farmed foods and real-life meals.

Amelia Saltsman demonstrates at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market To kick off the 30th anniversary festivities, I’ve organized a day of cooking with farmers and friends at the market, where culinary and farming inspiration happen week after amazing week. Please join farmers Mike Cirone, Marcie Jimenez, and Jerry Rutiz, and chef Suzanne Goin, pastry chef Roxana Jullapat, butchers Lindy & Grundy, and me at 10 a.m on Wednesday, September 14.

Santa Monica Farmers' Market And on Wednesday evening: a screening of the moving new documentary about child migrant workers, The Harvest/La Cosecha. Thursday evening: the Opening Symposium (that I’m honored to be part of) and Art Reception of the recently rediscoverd WPA-produced paintings of 1930s local farms and farmers. Friday evening: Localicious, a farmer-chef food gala. And that’s just a taste (more details at right).