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The Topanga Farmers Market is back. To find it, head for the hills

Stalls and shoppers at the Topanga Farmers Market; behind is the greenery of the Santa Monica Mountains
The Topanga Farmers Market, flanked by the Santa Monica Mountains, is one of L.A.’s most picturesque food markets. It returned last week and runs every Friday.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)
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Last Friday, after having been shut for nearly six years, one of L.A.’s most scenic farmers markets reopened to so much excitement that nearly every food vendor sold out of their goods.

The Santa Monica Mountains provided a striking backdrop to tables heaped with cabbages and carrots and vibrant purple radishes at the Topanga Farmers Market, a weekly event that just made its first appearance under new direction and since closing down in 2018.

Held at the Topanga Community Center’s parking lot, the return of the storied canyon event saw nearly 40 vendors take over the space with beekeeper frames dripping with honey, satchels of heirloom beans, freshly pressed corn tortillas so warm they fogged up their plastic bags, and fragrant rows of loaves of bread. The bustle of vendors, some returning but most new, and customers on its March 1 reopening felt a far cry from the final weeks of the market’s previous run, which ended in large part due to dwindling vendors, according to organizers.

But in early 2023, Topanga residents Kate Kimmel and partner Frederika “Freddi” Swanson saw the promise of the market and sought to revive it.

They emailed the Topanga Community Center, inquiring whether the farmers market could ever return and whether they could aid in the process. Within an hour the former president of the center responded, detailing the past difficulties in maintaining the event. “The vision was different, the community was different,” said Kimmel. “There weren’t enough vendors; there weren’t the anchors of the farms, and the farms are the soul of the farmers market. If you don’t have that soul in place, it won’t be sustainable — and I think that’s what we aim to do.

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“Topanga has a little bit of a different vibe” since 2018, she noted.

Alex Weiser, of Weiser Family Farms, speaking with customers at his stall at the Topanga Farmers Market.
Esteemed vendor Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms, left, is a new face at the Topanga Farmers Market.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Though their backgrounds in the nonprofit sector helped them to organize and raise money, the pair had never produced a farmers market. It took months of research and effort, and they tapped former market overseer Sarah Seelinger to return as the on-site manager each Friday. They conducted a community survey about the return of the market and fielded more than 500 responses, then used the data to inform their plans.

They set out to find a handful of notable farms to serve as the core of the new market’s vendors, ranging from established regional veterans to hyper-local growers based in Topanga Canyon. They began attending farmers markets throughout Southern California — Santa Monica, Ojai, Calabasas and more — investigating what worked at these events and what could effectively translate to Topanga. The last 10 months, Kimmel said, have been spent touring farms, meeting growers and trying to persuade a range of vendors that this new iteration of the Topanga market would be worth the winding trek into the mountains.

At first they feared farms and other stalls wouldn’t want to participate. The first day of the market saw 39 vendors; the wait list for sellers now, Kimmel said, is long. More than a dozen produce, meat and dairy farms have signed on, including some of the region’s most recognizable farms, among them Cuyama Orchards, Weiser Family Farms and Perennial Pastures Ranch.

Many are hyper-local. Eli’s Bee Co. offers Topanga-grown honey and pollen, while Topanga-based, family-owned creamery the Sweet Raw Life sold out of its vegan cheese products around noon. Another local family business, Malibu’s Happy to Be Here, sold its adaptogenic cacao blends. Prepared foods included tamales, acai bowls and dumplings. In the lower lot vendors offered organic candles, sustainable cotton clothing, a rainbow of crystals and other home goods. Most vendors are new, though some of the crowd’s favorites turned out to be some of the most familiar.

The Canyon Bakery is a tranquil gathering place for those who enjoy Patrice Winter’s wild-fermented baking.

Aug. 12, 2021

Returning baker Patrice Winter’s booth was coincidentally placed at the exact position of her stall eight years ago. On Sundays the Topanga resident sells loaves of heirloom-grain bread and artful pastries, quiches and other baked goods at the Canyon Bakery, her to-go window on the premises of the nearby outdoor theater Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. But years before she opened her bakery window, she sold her goods at the Topanga Farmers Market.

“It was amazing because people from eight years ago came back and they were standing in line, right here, and I was standing there going, ‘This is a blast from the past,’” Winter said.

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It only took her 20 minutes to sell out of cinnamon buns, and 35 to run out of bread. She sold the last little olive oil cake half an hour after that. Winter said she’ll be back this week with much more — two to three times the amount of product.

At a small booth near the main entrance to the market, Mark Welborn sold out of nearly all his sorrel, Meyer lemons, purple mizuna, celery, guava, sapote, chard, Cara Cara oranges and bundles of fresh herbs. The longtime gardener and landscaper runs the regenerative farm at Topanga’s own Aquifer Gardens, which plants across 8 nearby acres.

Farmer Mark Welborn of Aquifer Gardens mans his booth at the Topanga Farmers Market.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

“I’m proud to be here and to bring stuff that I’ve grown to the community,” he said. “It’s our first time really stepping out and sharing what we grow and how we grow it.”

Welborn began WWOOFing — or seeking “worldwide opportunities on organic farms” — at the age of 14, studying and working in New Zealand, Greece, Italy and beyond and specializing in biodynamic and regenerative agriculture. He’s brought that experience to Aquifer Gardens, where native plants such as yarrow and hummingbird sage sprout throughout the citrus orchards, while the vegetable plots are companion-planted for more nutrients, with tomatoes next to the celery and herbs.

“It’s been a lot of work getting to this point, but I really feel here at the Topanga Farmers Market I’m finding my home in life, my community,” he said. “So it’s a joy to be here today.”

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Claudia Joshi, left, with an arm around Destiny London at their orange-tented Topanga Curry House stall
Founder Claudia Joshi, left, began Topanga Curry House as a pandemic-spurred pop-up before it became so popular she enlisted her friend Destiny London to help with the operation.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)
Vendor Janet Song holds the last remaining jar of pickled radish at her stall In a Pickle at the Topanga Farmers Market.
Vendor Janet Song of In a Pickle drove from Long Beach to sell her fermented goods and pickle juice at the Topanga Farmers Market.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Kimmel first tasted another canyon vendor, Topanga Curry House, during the pandemic when friends Claudia Joshi and Destiny London delivered homemade curries door to door. Now, they’re also selling prepared curry pastes, dry ayurvedic spice blends and condiments. Their hot sauces and coconut-laced mint chutneys sold out before the end of the day, along with containers of their frozen, from-scratch tikka masala paste. By the close of the market, only a few containers of fragrant, frozen, prepared yellow curry in the near-empty cooler remained.

Sherry Mandell of Tehachapi Grain Project, another new-to-the-market vendor, arrived with paper bags of flour and heirloom-grain tortillas so fresh they were still warm — despite her car breaking down on the way there. (The community, she said, is always there for each other; a chef on the way to shop at the market picked her up en route.)

Janet Song owns seasonal-pickle purveyor In a Pickle, and traveled from Long Beach to be there. She sold her spicy garlic dills and other farmers-market produce in Korean-inspired brine until only a single jar of radish remained. “It’s quite a trek, but it’s worth it,” Song said.

A jar of white pickled radish and a large container of iced brown pickle brine on a green tablecloth
Vendor Janet Song of In a Pickle drove from Long Beach to sell her fermented goods and pickle juice at the Topanga Farmers Market. By the end of the day, all that remained was a single jar of pickled radish and a container of sippable pickle brine.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Kimmel advocates sustainable living and sought to incorporate that ethos into the new market. On reopening day Re_Grocery, a local bulk-grocery chain, offered spices, soaps, candies, spreads, cleaning supplies and other home goods in plastic-free, refillable containers. Waste bins at the event are divided into compost, trash and recycling. For those who forget to bring their own shopping bags, paper bags are available at the information tent.

On April 19 a planned Earth Day event with Homeboy Industries and Suay Sew Shop will demonstrate composting and sustainable clothing practices, respectively.

But Swanson and Kimmel say the new Topanga Farmers Market isn’t simply about living and shopping mindfully in Topanga; they hope that their reimagined event benefits those throughout Los Angeles. The market donates a portion of its vendor proceeds to the nonprofit Süprmarkt, which helps provide food deserts across South L.A. with CSA-style produce boxes and organic meals and, soon, plans to open its own bricks-and-mortar shop. To support it through shopping at one of L.A.’s most bucolic markets, simply take to the hills any Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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