The La Jolla Open Aire Farmers Market celebrates coming into adulthood this week – with the 18th anniversary of its formation on Oct. 23 – and boy has it grown! Starting with 14 vendors to pay for a library and a librarian for La Jolla Elementary School (LJES) in 1998, the Market has since grown to more than 150 vendors. Proceeds pay for programming and personnel at La Jolla Elementary — to the tune of $200,000 a year.
Held every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the LJES campus at 1111 Marine St. (off Pearl and Genter streets) the market will mark its anniversary with a day full of seasonal festivities on Sunday.
“We are going to host a free harvest festival celebration, including a variety of games and dancing for prizes and for fun. We’ll have a few stations for art projects as well. The field will be decorated with hay bales and pumpkins, so it will be an overall festive environment,” said PTA president Colleen Royal. “This year we celebrate the 18th anniversary, which makes us one of the longest running markets in San Diego.”
She added the festival is intended to provide “an overall fun experience” to thank longtime and new patrons.
The market has “grown a little bit every year” said founder Sherry Ahern, and has changed with the times. For example, early on, organizers established a website that culled data from the San Diego Farm Bureau to list what’s in season month to month. As agricultural practices evolved, so did the produce that became available.
“When we first started, you could buy apricots and you could buy plums, now we have a farmer that breeds the two to make a pluot,” Ahern said. “And there are probably 10 varieties of pluots you could buy, from sour to sweet.”
The Market also launched the “Farmer for a Day” program, through which children could assist farmers with unloading their trucks and interact with them to hear about what it takes to become a farmer — from crop selection to agricultural practices and more.
“It’s a lot of work to be a farmer, and shoppers say their produce costs more at the Farmers Market, but this stuff is fresh and these farmers work twice as hard to get the work done, so maybe it’s a little more money, but you get what you pay for,” Ahern said. “It’s important that children have the opportunity to learn that.”
The 92037 market also helped grow would-be brick-and-mortar eateries. Craig Sewall, co-owner of Promiscuous Fork, which has a location in La Jolla and Pacific Beach, said they started as a small stand at the Market.
“We operated under the title Romaine Empire, doing a grilled Caesar salad concept,” Sewall said. “It’s such a great Market, but we were a lunch concept, so we didn’t get busy until later in the day. But from the beginning, it was very laid back with a great mix of people. I went there the other day and am amazed at how much it’s grown.”
Further, Green Door catering has had a stand there for five years, and at the end of this month, will open the Green Door Café. (Read more on this next week!)
But as for what really makes the La Jolla Open Aire Market different, Royal said, “We provide an experience where families can not only pick up fresh produce, but stay and enjoy a meal, listen to music, play on our playground and have an enjoyable Sunday together.”