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Santa Barbara’s Farmers Market

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Santa Barbara’s Farmers Market

Anytime we drive from Orange County to the Central Coast where my father in law lives, we love to stop in the beautiful Santa Barbara. We like to break up the trip strolling around State Street, getting a hot tea and enjoying the beautiful stores of this pretty town, that still reflects the original urban structure of the Spanish mission founded here at the end of the 1700’s.

The historic downtown area called “El Pueblo Viejo district”, still showcases many traces of Santa Barbara’s missionary imprint: red-tile roofs, decorative ironwork, and whitewashed walls are beautiful examples of the city’s historic heritage. And, for a European visitor, they are for sure a breath of fresh air in the overwhelming modernity of Southern California, where “old” means the 1960’s.

This last trip we were lucky to stop in Santa Barbara on a Tuesday afternoon, right while the farmer’s market was taking place!

Two entire blocks of the main promenade were closed off to the traffic and filled with colorful fruit and produce stands, honey and nut sellers and home bakers surrounded by a few players who kept the atmosphere even livelier with their music.

As much as I love getting fresh, local produce directly from the farmers, I always get a little upset about the crazy prices that everything has. Of course, it’s for sure money well spent. But the fact that the prices are so high (for 3 small, I repeat “small”, bunches of lettuce I spent $6!) and that the farmers markets are considered a trendy event contribute to keeping fresh produce markets an exclusive shopping experience, only reserved to people that can afford it.

In Italy, fresh produce markets are ubiquitous and very frequent, but yet they are considered nothing but a fancy event.
They’re simply part of every person’s daily life. The prices are very affordable and anybody, from the 80 year old lady that bikes there to large families of 5 that live on one salary only, can afford to shop from the farmers.

Sometimes farmers markets are actually considered the cheap shopping option, as even older people who don’t have a car and live in small villages can afford to go buy food without needing a lift to the closest grocery store.

The market in Santa Barbara got me thinking about this issue and a big question mark arose: “Why don’t you see any of the typical families that shop at Walmart buying their groceries here?”

This is for sure one those things from Italy that I wish was more universal: having access to fresh and local produce is a right of every human being and it should naturally be at the base of anybody’s diet.
But when a bunch of lettuce cost $6 and a box of frozen lasagna cost $1, the message we send out to the world is quite the opposite.
And mass-produced food mistakenly becomes the staple.

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Ambra Torelli
Born and raised in Italy, Ambra visited over 20 countries and now she divides her time in between Italy and the US, where her husband is from and where she moved in 2011 work as university professor of Italian Literature. She writes about food, travel and things that inspire her! more about ambra

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  • valerie aronson May 5, 2016 9:22 pm

    Could not agree more. And thinking if there was more of a focus on even a small patch of dirt, say that in your front yard, or even a barrel, to be a place to plant. Teaching and sharing, we can make a difference.

  • ambra May 6, 2016 4:34 pm

    Valerie, thank you so much for your feedback!
    I agree with what you say: growing our own produce would be the most ideal outcome! It would make us feel more connected to our planet and in tune with the seasonality of nature.

  • Irene May 6, 2016 4:36 pm

    When i was a child,in Greece where i live,before the international companies of supermarkets enter,when we had our local supermarkets and small grocery stores,i remember the farmer market was full of local people who had some small piece of land and were selling their products,not classified as organic,but since they had the original plants and were feeding their animals the traditional way,their products were organic anyway.Prices comparing to a low salary were affordable,market was the place old and poor people used to shop,young and wealthy people were shopping from the grocery and supermarket,their products were same like market’s,more expensive, but they were opened until night(market was opened only during mornings)and this suited best the working people.Once Lidl,Carefoure and so on came in greece,local supermarkets had to stay alive,i guess they had to buy all their products from some big source including the vegetables/eggs/fish/meat.Add to this the laws europe took measures that made farmers to destroy their cultures because a)the money they could take if culture was destroyed were more than if culture was sold b)europe gave them all the ideas to spray and use seeds that were not the traditional.Current situation,organic food costs 3-4 times more than what the old traditional food used to cost so its not affordable for a family.Only single or sick people buy them,my major amount of income goes to food and cant buy all organic.Our organic prices are a little higher than the ones you show on the pics and average salary in greece now is 800-1000e.

    • ambra May 8, 2016 3:07 am

      Irene, thank you so much for sharing your story!
      What you described seems a lot like what Italy used to be!
      When I was little I remember my grandpa driving his tractor in the villages around mine selling the watermelons he had grown in his fields…
      Of course now supermarket chains are killing some of the smallest shops, but lukily outdoor markets are still predominant and still very affordable. Hopefully this great tradition won’t change. Having access to fresh and local produce is a fundamental right of every human being and it’s comforting to go back to Italy and see that it keeps on being like that.

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