LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Twice a week for the past several years, I bring a slice and a half of fruit and nut bread to work as a breakfast snack. After I’ve settled in, I toast the bread at the break area at the back of my office. And without fail, as the scent of toasting fruit and nut bread spreads throughout the room and the adjoining hallways, my co-workers always say two things: “Oh my god Joe, that smells delicious!” and “Where can I get that bread?” I tell them that the bread is from Old Town Baking Company, and you can get it at their booth every Sunday morning at the Alhambra Farmers Market.
If you’ve been to the Alhambra Farmers Market, then you’ve seen the busy Old Town Baking Company booth. It’s the one with as many as 50 different products, including breads, cakes, cookies and other baked goods, all of which come from the family owned and operated Rancho Cucamonga brick and mortar store. The friendly face behind the tables packed with goodies is Sue Galvan, who has been coming to the Alhambra Farmers Market for the past five years.
Galvan brings to the farmers market all the breads that the bakery makes for its store. “I would say, especially here, is the fruit and nut breads and the sourdough bread, the cake is the banana nut. Those are the biggest volume breads,” said Galvan. She sells at least 50 fruit and nut and 35 cranberry walnut breads every Sunday morning. Her healthiest bread is the nine-grain bread that is all grain, and has no white flour or sugar.
Compared to other farmers markets where she sells bakery products, she says that the Alhambra farmers market is especially busy. “[People] come to buy here, they come to get their weekly produce, fruits and vegetables, they come to get their weekly staples. People appreciate the market here in Alhambra,” explained Galvan.
In addition to the Alhambra Farmers Market, Old Town Baking Company, which specializes in sourdough bread, sells its products at more than 30 other farmers markets, ranging from Santa Clarita to Irvine to Riverside. Scotty Williams, the bakery’s sales manager, said Alhambra is one of the top five markets that they attend. He recalled that when Old Town Baking Company first started coming to Alhambra more than 15 years ago, farmers markets were less common. But people are now more aware of what they eat and, as a result, farmers markets have become increasingly popular. “It’s a lifestyle and you know where your food is coming from. It’s peace of mind,” said Williams.
To see where the bread was made, I visited the Rancho Cucamonga store and had a chance to see the baking area at the rear of the retail area, where, by the way, I had one of the very tasty sandwiches that are sold in the store.
I was shown some of the raw bread dough in baking tins before they were placed on trays and baked in the ovens. I had never seen ovens as large as the floor-to-ceiling ovens that lifted and vertically rotated the tall tray holders that held the stacked baking trays. It occurred to me that the rotating oven was a good idea for baking bread, but probably not so much for getting that off-season winter tan.
All of the bread that is sold at the farmers market by Old Town Baking Company is freshly made, is all natural and preservative free and does not use genetically modified organisms (non-GMO). Williams told me that this means their breads are baked on same day they are sold. “Our breads are made on the day of sale, we bake 24/7, 365 days a week,” he said. So the bread that was baked by the 8:00pm-4:00am shift on Saturday night through Sunday morning will come fresh that same morning to the Sunday farmers market. And if you have an urge for Old Town bread and it’s not a Sunday, Sprouts now carries their bread, including the local Alhambra store.
Back at the Farmers Market, I asked Galvan if there were any differences between cultures in buying habits. She said about one half to two thirds of her customers are Asians. The only thing she had heard was that Asians don’t like sourdough bread, but has found that they like sourdough as much as everyone else.
She has noticed that sometimes there can be a language barrier, but everyone at the farmers market is very friendly and open and customers often help each other with translation and recommendations. This helpful attitude was apparent as I was interviewing Sue. We had briefly stopped talking while she helped a customer. As I was waiting at the side of the booth, I saw a woman approach another woman who was examining the bakery’s products and ask in Mandarin Chinese for an opinion of the bread.
Galvan said that three quarters of her Sunday customers, like Li Wong, are regulars who come every week. Wong, from Rosemead, told me she has been coming to the Alhambra Farmers Market every Sunday for the past five or six years to buy two loaves of the popular fruit and nut bread for lunch each week as well as buying her vegetables. This trip included a third loaf that her co-worker asked her to purchase, which was the exception. “I bring the bread to work, and most of my co-workers want to eat it, but don’t want to buy it,” laughed Wong.
Since the farmers market relocated to the current location, Galvan has been even busier. With the newly built residences on Main Street in addition to the residents already living in the surrounding area, she feels the farmers market is convenient for many Alhambrans. Other farmers markets can be located in areas with fewer residents, making it more difficult for customers to reach.
Also, she thinks that people are getting tired of shopping at grocery stores, want something different and to feel like they are part of a community. “Everything got too commercialized, it [farmers markets] was something new for people and they discovered everything is much fresher here,” she said. “And some people come just to visit and it’s the highlight of their week. They can get out and do something with their family and walk around.”
Said Galvan, “People are so friendly, if they’re not buying, they will still wave and say hi. Alhambra is a wonderful place to have a farmers market.”