The sign as you enter says no bikes, no skateboards, no dogs, and no parrots. No parrots? Jack Sparrow, leave your parrot at home if you are coming to the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market.
On Friday mornings, I roll my vendor-in-a-suitcase up from Hermosa Avenue to Valley Drive and 11th Street for the farmers market. The assembly of a three-dimensional photo gallery from the various parts in that suitcase appears to be some sort of a magic trick or a skill acquired through years of practice creating imaginary structures with only a box of Lego blocks.
I start early setting up my multipiece photo gallery, but I am not alone. Many vendors are ready for business by 10 a.m. At noon, the siren sounds, and the market officially opens. Soon after, the aroma of the caramel corn comes wafting over us as if it might be raining down maple syrup and pancakes at any moment.
Year round, the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market brings seasonal fruits and vegetables—citrus in winter, stone fruit in the fall, and cherries in summer. The seasonal variation in produce is one way that I, as a Midwest transplant, can discriminate between the seasons here in Southern California. Once the oranges and grapefruit are at their best, it is time for Christmas.
One of the unique aspects of the Hermosa Beach Farmers Market is the section on the grass that has always been reserved for crafts. The Hermosa Beach market thus has a distinction among farmers markets for supporting the efforts of artists with diverse passions: jewelry, photography, woven baskets, candles and horticulture. Because of the location near the parking area, these vendors are the ones most likely to greet you as you enter the market.
Many come from different countries—Scotland, Poland, Senegal, the Philippines, Mexico, and perhaps anyone from east of the Mississippi could be considered to be from another country. In my case, I was just living in a different country (Norway) before I landed in Hermosa Beach.
My craft is underwater photography, a sort of sport as well as an art, as it combines scuba diving and photography. I have a slight case of imposter syndrome as an underwater photographer and artist, in part, because I am a scientist by training. This right-brain potential emerged only after an impulsive purchase of a camera and underwater housing three hours before a flight to Fiji. My photographs bring underwater life to the surface, and you begin to better appreciate how life develops.
My immediate neighbor is a young statuesque Polish woman who previously lived in Hawaii. She seems to be born to live in California with her long, naturally blond hair, and her open way of meeting people and casual lifestyle. She creates imaginative jewelry pieces with “aloha,” and collected bits of wire and chain, beads, crystals, rocks, wood, and shells. She also happens to be a professional volleyball player.
Across from us is a man from Senegal with a flawless smile. He speaks at least three languages that I know of. He is cool and relaxed, and easily makes you laugh with smart commentary on life in the USA even though English is not his mother tongue. He brings a small piece of Africa to us every week through his imported colorful baskets and textiles hand-woven by a group of women in Senegal. He shares his profits with these women, so that if you purchase an item from him, you are actually helping women with their own lives back in Africa.
DISCOVERING THE COMMUNITY
The farmers market is generally thought of as a platform to bring the freshest produce directly to the consumer from the farm and for small business owners to introduce unknown products, but it is also a weekly social and community gathering. My own motivation for participating in the market was partly to become familiar with who lives in the community and what happens here. I have discovered that the community is quite diverse: I have remarkably sold photographs of Indonesia even to Indonesians. And because I overheard a conversation at the market about the humpback whales in Redondo Beach, I saw them.
The market is a free activity attended by assisted care adults, many older community members, and grade school classes on field trips. It is a place where anyone might learn something new. If you do not know what Tillandsia is, for example, a woman at the market will tell you. If you want to know where Raja Ampat is, or how to get a design printed onto fabric, you might ask me. If you want to learn how to say hello in about 10 different languages, you can ask any one of several vendors as they come from so many different countries.
All of this free entertainment is also accompanied by music performed by a local singer/guitarist. So the next time you are out on a Friday from noon to 4 p.m. in Hermosa Beach, come by and meet the vendors.
Janice Nigro is a local artist with a Ph.D. in biology. She moved to Hermosa Beach in 2014 after studying human cancer in Europe for several years. She combines scuba diving with travel and photography.