By Tracey Edwards
Every Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., rain or shine, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Farmers Market provides some of the freshest fruits and vegetables, and tastiest healthy foods in the city. Whether a person is purchasing produce or ordering lunch from the food court, this weekly event puts an emphasis on having a healthy diet while eating great tasting food.
“As a resident, I’m happy that the farmers market is a regular fixture in this community, because I’m able to access such prime produce,” said Marie-Alise de Marco, manager of the famers market.
The farmers market has been around since 2005, when it was in Leimert Park. Now on the promenade at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, it features about 14 famers and vendors who carry organic fruits and vegetables. The goal of the market, which is sponsored by Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, is to enrich the health and overall quality of life for the communities in which it serves.
Much of the produce at the market is grown with the health of the consumer in mind.
“When a vendor says that it’s fresh, it’s because it’s from their farm,” de Marco said. “It’s not going through a warehouse, it’s not going through a middleman. It’s a direct sale.
“Our famers are amazing. We’ve got not only certified organic famers, but we also have olive oil that is from a 100-year-old olive grove from Butte County, which is in the northern tip of California. They make olives that are cured over 365 days. When you get olives at the super market, those are usually done in 24 hours with a lye solution. But (the olive oil at the farmers’ market) are put in a salt bath in oak barrels for a year. And you get these amazing mellow tasting olives.”
The vendors are from California, and de Marco makes trips to their farms to ensure that the quality of the product is what is advertised.
“We will see the fruits and vegetables being picked out that will go to the market that week, so they’re not sitting somewhere waxed to preserve their freshness,” she said.
The food court at the market features Caribbean, Cajun, and Latin foods which has both meat and vegan options.
“The food court has healthy and local prepared foods with an emphasis on delicious,” de Marco said. “They’re not just healthy, but they’re really really good. You can be a meat eater and try their vegan option and not miss a thing. We also have a vendor that offers amazing sandwich wraps and salads that are just drool worthy, and they are very healthy. And we have some of the best po’ boy sandwiches that I have ever had.”
While a lot of the vendors come from central and northern California, some of them are from the Los Angeles area as well. According to de Marco, this city used to be a gigantic agricultural hub for the United States. One of the vendors at the market, who is from Los Angeles, sells naturally made honey.
One new addition to the market is a meat and egg vendor who has Angus beef from cattle that is pastured on grass land as well as pastured chickens and cage free eggs. Their products are certified organic.
The farmers market has become a staple in the community, and it is bringing health awareness to an area that needs it.
“We see a lot of the kids growing up before our very own eyes,” de Marco said. “What I love is when we ask the kids what’s their favorite fruit, and what’s their favorite vegetable. And it’s so great what they’ll say. When they’re new to the market, they’ll say strawberry. And then you’ll see the same kid a few months later, and they’ll say that they like broccoli. Parents will buy to what their children eat, so you’ll see a whole family’s heath profile go up because of what the children are eating.”
While de Marco is not totally against eating an occasional piece of junk food (she admitted to recently eating a Dodger Dog), she’s merely managing an environment that gives residents a healthy choice.
“I live here, but I’ve lived all over Los Angeles,” she said. “I’ve lived in other parts of L.A. where you had your fast-food places, but you also had options. Whether it was a super market, or a farmers market, or a health food restaurant, or a vegetarian restaurant. The thing is choice, and lack of choice is the issue. And lack of access is the issue. As long as we have a healthy choice, I’m happy for our people. People will educate themselves, and as people change the way they eat, they will begin to pay attention to the way they feel. And if you know that you get heartburn and you don’t feel well, you’re probably not going to be eating as many hotdogs anymore.”
With the high rates of preventable diseases, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, etc., de Marco uses the food at the market to avoid certain types of illnesses.
“It’s not that I won’t eat conventionally grown, non-organic fruits and vegetables, but I search for the organic stuff because I’m willing to pay for it. I’m willing to put my money there instead of putting my money into medical bills. I figure food is my medicine.”
Besides health, there are other benefits to shopping at the farmers’ market, such as finding produce that is not at the typical grocery store.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen persimmons at a Ralphs,” de Marco said. “I could be wrong but I don’t think I’ve ever seen persimmons there. I don’t think Ralphs carries figs. We have figs right now.”
The market can also be cost effective for many people, as there is an incentive program. Vendors accept Cal Fresh EBT. There is a grant from the USDA to offer an additional $10 for fruit and vegetable purchases, which encourages people to eat healthier. There is also a program for families with young children. L.A. First 5 also offers a $10 incentive. Parents can also bring WIC checks for more discounts toward fruits and vegetables.
The market provides a community friendly environment, as many of the vendors personally know a lot of their customers. There is also a face painting station for children, and a D.J. playing family friendly music.