Farmers’ Market, a culture of fab food and products, friends, and familiarity that brings people back

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It’s obviously not Cheers, but on a bustling Saturday, Farmers’ Market is a place where everyone knows your name, or it seems so, as I hear shoppers greeting their friends and favorite vendors. I guess if you see the same people every week, there’s a certain camaraderie and comfort. And that’s not even taking into account the comfort of knowing there’ll always be an extraordinary quality and variety of products filling every space.

The Ballesteros Group has just recently become a co-sponsor (joining Mamas OC Food Services) of the market, and their grocery bag giveaway this last Saturday warranted a special visit and some information gathering. They are hoping to bring in more visitors via social media and word of mouth.

Michi Ward, manager of the market for the past five years, says, “Everyone is so friendly. The booths are all family run. Vendors are either owners or family members of the owners.” Ward has been in farming (Yasutomi) since 1995 and her brother still farms.

(L-R) The Ballesteros Family: JJ, Christian, Andrea, Cruz

And I soon find out just how friendly everyone is, vendors and patrons alike. As the Ballesteros hand out the grocery bags, a shopper takes advantage of the giveaway. Steve Quarles, a local, has his boys in tow. He says, “We come here once a month, and the first places we hit are the honey stix stand, the juice place, and the Empanada vendor.” It appears that everyone has their favorite spots to hit. Bart Zandbergen says, “I’ve been coming every Saturday for a long time. I go to the Greek yogurt vendor, green juice, the orchid lady, and the almond guy.”

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Realtor thinks so highly of Laguna Beach, he made a 12-minute film about it

LAGUNA BEACH On Tuesday night, friends and co-workers Stephanie Garvey and Helena Noonan were among nearly 300 who crowded the second floor of Skyloft, one of the town’s newest and most popular night spots, to check out the screening of the film “Everything Laguna Beach.”

J.J. Ballesteros, a local Realtor who moved to Laguna from Trabuco Canyon three years ago, said he made the 12-minute film to showcase Laguna’s iconic character and one-of-a-kind charm — everything from the beaches and rooftop bars to the restaurants, art galleries and music venues.

It includes music by Nick Hernandez and Common Sense and is narrated by Jason Freddy and Tyler Russell from Laguna’s only FM radio station KX 93.5.

“We wanted to tell a story that depicts the feel of Laguna in a way the people who lived here would be proud of,” Ballesteros said.

Garvey, 31, and Noonan, 48, both from Laguna Niguel, spotted the film’s trailer on Facebook and weren’t about to miss out.

Garvey, who moved to Orange County from Portland, became fascinated with Laguna Beach when she and her family stopped off at Main Beach for the first time after arriving in Orange County.

“We decided we had to live near here,” she said before watching the film. “Now we go to Shaw’s Cove almost every week.”

Both Garvey and Noonan loved the film. Noonan yelled when she saw a shot of Watermarc Restaurant on Coast Highway.

“It has the best burgers in town,” she said. “And I love Victoria Beach. It just has a cool vibe. I love the restaurants like Broadway and art galleries like Dawson Cole.”

The screening included a silent auction that with individual contributions raised $11,000 for four non-profits, among them SchoolPower, which raises money for programs at the schools; Friendship Shelter, which puts homeless into transitional housing; the Food Pantry, which feeds 300 families each week and Project O, a group that works to make children stewards of the ocean environment.

Ballesteros said he was inspired to make the film after reading stories in local papers about the city’s residents, businesses, neighborhoods and beaches. The film was self-funded and was his first foray into filmmaking, he said.

“There are many great causes that do so much,” he said. “I read that some of the shops were going out of business and wondered how this could happen.”

Ballesteros worked with John Barrett, 23, a local filmmaker who used drone footage and camera images to show off some of Laguna’s most unique places.

“One of my best moves I made early on was hiring the right director and filmmaker John Barrett,” Ballesteros said. “John was born and raised in Laguna Beach. When I shared my vision of the project he got it immediately and was just as excited as I was.”

Among some of the film’s highlights are sweeping views of Laguna’s coastline, a yoga class at Heisler Park and mountain bikers barreling down steep, world-class bike trails in the surrounding open space.

There are images of surfers, stand-up paddlers, a fluking gray whale and artists showing off their crafts at the Festival of Arts. The film shows Laguna from 80 feet deep in the ocean to 800-feet high in the air.

Those images may be among the last drone footage taken in Laguna. The city is working on a ordinance to establish relevant rules for the use of drones citywide. Residents have complained about noisy drones flying low on beaches, hovering near windows of hillside homes and cruising through backyards and over pools.

The city is proposing that hobbyist drone pilots get permits annually to fly in the city, but with restrictions at certain areas such as Heisler Park and Bird Rock, off Main Beach. For FAA-licensed pilots such as Barrett, there would be no need for permits. They would be asked to comply with certain rules such as keeping specific distances from wildlife, land and the ocean.

Barrett, who acknowledges there is a problem with irresponsible use, is on a committee of drone pilots working with the city to look at restrictions.

“Mostly there is a problem because there are no clear-cut rules where people should and shouldn’t fly,” he said.

Ballesteros promoted the screening locally and on social media to people who showed an interest in Laguna Beach. Of the nearly 300 that showed up, Ballesteros estimated at least half were drawn by social media.

“We had more than 300,000 social media impressions and interactions, mostly with people within 20 miles of Laguna Beach,” he said.

Ballesteros wants the film to be about new discovery for those who don’t know the town and for those who do.

“People have choices on where to live, travel or visit,” he said. “I hope they realize how unique and special Laguna really is. For the people who are lucky enough to call it home, some of them may take it for granted. This video will help remind them as well they live in one of the best cities in the world.”

The film can be viewed at and will be released internationally, Ballesteros said.

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