La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market: 21 years and still going strong
Where can you find fresh produce from local growers, crafts from area artisans, live music and delicious gourmet food for breakfast and lunch — all in one place?
Just head to 7335 Girard Ave. in La Jolla, at the corner of Girard Avenue and Genter Street on Sundays for the La Jolla Open Aire Market, open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market has become a tradition for so many, but most who attend probably don’t know how it started. That little-known fact is what sets it apart from all other farmers markets in San Diego: It was started as a fundraiser for La Jolla Elementary School 21 years ago.
Back in 1996, parent Sherry Ahern had two children attending the school and had a vision to change what passed for the school library at the time — a rack of books lined up in the back of the auditorium. Her vision became a reality two years later with help from the school board, school foundation, school district and many community groups. The market opened with 14 farmers and one artisan. Today, more than 150 vendors grace the school grounds with their wares and the venue has become a gathering place.
The shopping experience is divided into three distinct areas. First, there’s the certified farmers section, which sells produce from area farms. Then there’s the gourmet food court, with a variety of offerings for breakfast and lunch. The third area is for artists and offers jewelry, photography, clothing and a range of handcrafted items.
Market Manager Julie MacDonald says the emporium is active year-round with not only families from the school and other locals, but a healthy amount of tourists as well: “The local hotels tell people about us. We’re also very busy during the holiday season, when a lot of people come to buy gifts.”
The market prides itself on supporting local businesses and often launching new ones that go on to make it big. “They’ll start with a booth here and then go on to open a <FZ,1,0,20>brick-and-mortar store,” MacDonald explained. “For example, Empanada Kitchen just opened their second brick-and- mortar. Or some vendors will find themselves at Whole Foods. We’ve seen a couple of our vendors on Shark Tank, so that’s really exciting. Baba Foods started with us, and now their products are sold at Costco.”
The market also books live entertainment, and the waiting list to perform is long. “We try to give a lot of new bands an opportunity,” MacDonald said. The music adds to the festive vibe, with many visitors opting to picnic on the lawn with family and friends after buying a meal. The elementary school campus has a grass field and two playgrounds for families to enjoy.
Vendor George Petrou has sold his own brand of olive oil here since the start. Petrou says he used to be a Hollywood designer for big stars such as Sophia Loren before he started making his extra virgin, unfiltered olive oil, which he refers to as “medicine.”
He points to the quote from Hippocrates (the Father of Medicine) printed on the bottle’s label: “Let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine.”
Khosrow Behzadi sells tablecloths and other items from Provence, France. He said he used to have a brick-and-mortar shop for eight years, but now sells exclusively at farmers markets. “La Jolla Open Aire Market is my favorite because I started here 18 years ago. The managers are wonderful and work really well with the market vendors. And a lot of people know me and come just for me — tourists and locals alike. They buy before, they come again.”
Danny Rodriguez is a certified organic-produce vendor at the market, and he’s had a booth here since the beginning, too. Rodriguez said he attends 20 farmers markets every week.
Vendor Sarah Nee, who owns Lotus World Foods, employs high-school and middle-school students to work in her booth. Hugh Gannon is a senior at La Jolla High and has been working there for four months. “I’ve learned a lot of food prep, disinfection and just how to make everything,” he told the Light. “We have a kelp noodle salad today, nori rolls, and our smoothies and soups. It’s a lot of fun and I can make some of this stuff at home, so it gives me experience there, too.”
According to MacDonald (whose children also attended La Jolla Elementary), all market proceeds still go to the school. “It’s just an amazing school and what we do benefits all the students — funding the art, music, technology and library departments, and having extra teachers to keep the class sizes small. My heart is at this school, so that’s one of the reasons I do this.”
• IF YOU GO: La Jolla Open Aire Market is held Sundays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at 7335 Girard Ave. in La Jolla, at the corner of Girard Avenue and Genter Street. There is street parking along Girard Avenue. All dogs must remain outside the market due to health regulations. For information on becoming a vendor, contact Julie MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 454-1699. lajollamarket.com
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