The Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market is the big daddy of the four. Chefs and restaurateurs load up pallet trucks with produce. Foodies arrive early, lurking before the official opening time to snag the choicest items. The Saturday market may be smaller, with a more casual clientele, but it has charms all its own, including products and vendors unavailable during the week.
At Frog’s Bakery, for example, regulars queue impatiently for glistening pastries and golden loaves of bread, sometimes obscuring their unassuming neighbor, Fisherman’s Daughter.
Presiding over his Spartan stand, owner Patrick Ashby sells only one item – flash frozen salmon filets – the harvest of a lifelong love affair with the ocean. Ashby grew up in the Palisades, surfing and taking fishing trips with his dad to Mexico.
“I’ve always been kind of an outdoors guy.”
He was a student at U.C. Santa Barbara when a friend convinced him to go fishing in Alaska. It turned out to be grueling.
“I wanted to get out of there right away. Mentally it’s just challenging ’cause you’re being told to go to bed at two in the afternoon when it’s rough – rough meaning heavy fishing — so you can rotate guys.”
But the money was good enough that Ashby decided he could stand it two months a year. He’s been going ever since.
Even with considerable expenses — travel to Alaska, a round-the-clock crew, not to mention the $500,000 permit fee — Ashby hasn’t raised his prices in years. The firm, delicate filets cost $21.50 per pound, a bargain given the quality.
“Wild caught is just simply plucked from the ocean. Farmed fish comes from the ocean as well but it’s the same as a caged chicken or a caged cow. They can’t exercise and move around like every living thing should, they’re fed things that aren’t of their normal diet and there’s so much genetic manipulation.”
Ashby’s salmon comes from Bristol Bay in the Bering Sea and is managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and their team of biologists.
“[It’s] a year-round job for them. There are nine large river systems. All the salmon know which river they need to go into and each biologist is assigned one of the rivers. It’s so sustainable and so managed that nothing can really go wrong.”
Salmon fishing put Ashby’s kids through USC, but they aren’t involved in the business or, as one might assume, the reason for its name.
One night after he’d been fishing a few years, Ashby went to a party still sporting the seasonal facial hair he lets grow while he’s on the boat. When he explained this to the woman he was flirting with, she told him that her father, a Croatian immigrant, had been fishing in Alaska since the 1960s. It turned out he and Ashby worked in the same fishery.
“She is the Fisherman’s Daughter,” Ashby said of the woman he later married, “and it was her idea to sell at the Market.”
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.