By Doyoon Kim
Pasadena Weekly Staff Writer
People like learning who grows their food; it’s as simple as that.
That’s the philosophy of Gretchen Sterling, Pasadena Certified Farmers Market’s manager. The event is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year.
Sterling was part of Pasadena’s Neighborhood Improvement Association, which founded the farmers market. She helped get it up and running by working with farmers who wanted to sell their produce to consumers. The market is currently sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department in the city of Pasadena.
Just two years before its opening, new laws were passed that allowed farmers to sell produce directly to the public through certified farmers markets. Previously, it was illegal to sell produce to consumers that did not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for size, grade, packaging and labeling.
“The produce is still perfectly good food, even if there are blemishes, differences in size, or imperfections. It doesn’t look as pretty, but it still is just as healthy with the same vitamins, minerals and nutrition,” Sterling said.
The original goal of the Pasadena Farmers Market was to host a location where smaller neighborhoods could have farmers sell fresh produce to them directly. The Villa Parke market was open Tuesday afternoons and directly supported low-income families, as well as parents to help their children eat healthier.
The Pasadena Farmers Market continues to support this mission through its Cow Fresh Program, a Market Match Program in collaboration with Hunger Action Los Angeles that started five years ago. The $10 vouchers are sent weekly or monthly to low-income families to purchase fresh produce at participating farmers markets.
As the Villa Parke location continued to grow, a second Pasadena Farmers Market location was opened in 1984 at Victory Park on Saturdays as many families were not able to make it Tuesday afternoon at the Villa Parke location.
After more than 40 years of serving the community, the Pasadena Farmers Market has grown enormously. According to Sterling, “It just took off bigger than anyone could have imagined.”
Villa Parke started with 17 farmers and peaked at around 70 in 1985 because there were no other farmers markets open on Tuesday at the time in Los Angeles County. Today, the location continues to sell a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, honey, etc. Victory Park kicked off with 20 farmers and has nearly double that now, along with 17 food artists.
Farmers arrive every week from as far as Fresno to sell their fresh produce to families in Los Angeles County. Farmers markets have continued to be a growing business; there are about 140 in Los Angeles County, and there is always at least one location open during all seven days of the week.
When asked about the longevity and the future of the Pasadena Certified Farmers Market, Sterling said that customers will always have a personal connection to the people who grow their food. She hopes that farmers markets will continue to encourage young people to grow things for themselves and will teach them about the importance of the environment.
She elaborated by saying “agriculture is the backbone of where we came from. We learn new things all the time from our farmers.”