Los Angeles Times

Newport farmers market adding activities

The Newport Beach Farmers' Market in Lido Marina Village is adding free cooking demonstrations, activities for children, raffle prizes and additional vendors in mid-October, according to a market organizer.

Le Pain Quotidien in Fashion Island has partnered with the market to bring the all-new Chef-to-Farmer Series.

The weekly cooking demonstrations will highlight select produce with simple recipes created from ingredients straight from the local vendors, said market Manager Elle Mari.

"We want to be a resource that's there for the community," she said. "The community just needs to come out and take advantage of it."

The cooking demos are aimed at drawing in crowds, but the real hope is that the new series will help transform the one-time visitor into a weekly shopper, Mari said.

Which is where education provided by Jonathan Eng, head baker for Le Pain Quotidien who is helping lead the new collaboration, comes into play.

"Most people have a preconceived notion when they look at a tomato of what they want to do with that tomato," he said.

But, if you can show a new recipe and give a few ideas, that person will have more reasons to cook with tomatoes — thus, buying more and providing much-needed business to the local farmer, Eng said.

"One of my reasons for doing this is to improve the state of the market," Eng said. "If I can commit to buying two cases of, say, raspberries a week, then that relieves some of the pressure from the farmer."

Small family-operated farms don't produce quantities of produce large enough to stock grocery store chains, so they rely on farmers markets, such as those run by nonprofit Sprouts of Promise, which runs the Newport Beach Farmers' Market on Sundays and Costa Mesa's SoCo Farmers' Market on Saturdays, Mari said.

While many of the market's former vendors have been forced to look for greener pastures, Gaytan Family Farm has operated a stall every Sunday since the market's opening.

"Without farmers markets, we'd go out of business," said Maricela Gaytan, whose family owns the Mira Loma-based farm. "It's what we rely on."

Gaytan farms provides a myriad of produce — including broccoli, onions, cauliflower and seasonal berries — to 15 markets across the region, she said.

The crops brought to the markets are never more than about a day old, Gaytan said.

"What's sold at a grocery store doesn't taste the same as what we pick and sell," she said.

It's this quality of product and the relationship between shopper and vendor that makes farmers markets so valuable to a community, Mari said.

In addition to farmers and ranchers, the market also partners with vendors, which supply other products such as hummus, olive oil, handmade soaps and lotions, Mari said.

"If we're forced to close, not only will the local economy suffer, but the consumer misses out on having more healthy options for themselves," Mari said.

It's an old story for Lido Marina Village, which was once bustling with foot traffic flowing between restaurants, art galleries and boutiques.

"Having a farmers market on the street has probably doubled my business during those hours — it's phenomenal," said Dan Schmenk, owner of Lido Village Books. "I want it to stay for selfish reasons, of course, but I know that there are also those people who enjoy the market and come because of its village atmosphere."

Part of the charm of the area, which can be seen in the farmers market, is that small town, everyone-knows-everyone attitude, Schmenk said.

However, it's not enough to draw in new faces. Lido Village Books and other longtime businesses survive because of a loyal client base built over decades, Schmenk said.

"It's very sad to see people close up and leave, especially after you've made friends with them," Schmenk said. "What this area needs is an anchor, something to draw people into the Lido Marina area."

That's something that Mari has tried very hard for the market to become, but it is difficult with the market operating one day a week.

"For the rest of the week, if you're not drawn to the area, you're probably not going to come there on Sundays too," Mari said. "I know Lido locals shop with us, and at least on Sundays, we're creating some life that wouldn't be there otherwise."


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If You Go

What: Newport Beach Farmers' Market

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays

Where: 3400 Via Oporto, Lido Marina Village

Parking: Free at parking structure between Via Lido and Via Oporto with validation from the market information booth

Information: http://www.newportbeachfm.com

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