Browsing for fresh oranges and corn at the neighborhood farmers’ market, a staple of South L.A. living for many, is fast becoming a memory in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many local businesses are shutting their doors under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order that took effect Thursday. South L.A. farmers’ markets are facing closures leaving residents with few options to find affordable organic produce.
To combat the effects of living in a food desert, many South L.A. residents depend on weekly farmers' markets for affordable and fresh produce, while farmers' and vendors depend on the sales from the markets for their livelihoods.
The West Adams Farmers' Market was one of the few South L.A. markets open to the public this past weekend.
“We fought like crazy to stay open. Everyone was either trying to close us down or assumed we were closed,” West Adams farmers' Market said in a statement to Annenberg Media. “The easy thing would have been to close but because we were open, lots of extra food made it to local plates.”
While farmers' markets are considered “essential” and allowed to stay open during the shelter-in-place order, many have chosen to shut down for the safety of their workers and shoppers or because they were unable to function under new sanitary guidelines.
SEE-LA, a non-profit organization that operates six different farmers’ markets around the Los Angeles area, was forced to shut down their Central Ave, Crenshaw, and MLK Campus markets in South L.A. markets when state county health officials closed their sites, SEE- LA posted in a statement to Instagram. After working to re-open the sites, Central Ave. host site will reopen and the market is expected to return tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“If you live in South LA, you have fewer options for fresh, healthy food than Angelenos living above the 10 freeway,” SEE-LA said in the same post. The closures of our South LA markets deepen historic, race-based inequities that will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.”
SEE-LA markets in Hollywood, Atwater Village and Echo Park remain open. The organization plans to announce a strategy in the next week on how they will distribute services and offer fresh options to their South L.A. customers.
“We are turning to a farm box model where we raise money to buy fresh produce directly from the family farms that are disadvantaged by the closure of our markets to donate directly to families in South Los Angeles,” Stephen Gutwillig, Executive Director of SEE-LA told Annenberg Media. “ The already bad access issues have deteriorated substantially with empty store shelves in many neighborhoods and the closure of our weekly markets.
To comply with local policy, SEE-LA markets posted their new community guidelines encouraging shoppers to do things like “shop efficiently and with a plan,” “maintain a safe distance” and “wash your produce before consuming.”
Other local food vendors are changing their practices to help their community adjust to this new normal. Founded in 2016, With Love Market & Cafe was inspired by a dream of making healthy food and resources accessible to an under-resourced community.
“Everything is open for right now,” founder Andrew McDowell told Annenberg Media. “We’re asking our neighbors what they can’t find and trying to find ways to source it whether that be retail packaging or in food service size and then we repackage it in smaller containers.”
We’ve been repackaging lots of flour and sugar and beans,” as that is what residents seem to be short of, says McDowell.
To keep its doors open, the cafe records“the temperature of all of our food service workers before they start their shift. And then we record that temperature down on a slip of paper along with a confirmation that our employees are wearing gloves when preparing food or drink. We just send that paper along with each of our orders for extra peace of mind.”
Residents looking for farmers’ markets that are open in their area can click here to explore markets in the L.A. area by zip code or city.