LADERA HEIGHTS — Neighborhood farmers markets are enjoying a surge in popularity and the residents of Ladera Heights are getting in on the trend.
Every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., residents are able to get a farm box full of fresh fruits and vegetables through the new Ladera Heights Farmers Market, sponsored by the Ladera Heights Civic Association.
Calling itself a “new kind of market,” the Ladera Heights Farmers Market, a fundraiser for the association, is a collective of local vendors offering fresh, locally grown, pre-packaged foods for local pick up. It all takes place in the driveway of a home on La Cienega Boulevard.
Residents can pre-order and pre-pay for their farm box of produce online and then simply walk up, or drive up, give their name and walk or drive away with their healthy box of goodies.
During the farmers market, there is a cool neighborhood vibe happening as a steady stream of mask-wearing residents who are happy to see each other cheerfully say “hello” as they pick up their farm box and offer light banter before going on their way.
The idea of a full-fledged farmers market grew out of the smaller Ladera Heights Community-Supported Agriculture program, which connected producers with consumers directly without a go-between. When the switch from the mini-market to a farmers market took place, the Ladera Heights Civic Association took the market online to laderfarmersmarket.com. Orders could then be given in advance.
“The concept of the farmers market came before the pandemic,” said Ran Craycraft, marketing chair and board member of the Ladera Heights Civic Association. “The association did a survey and that’s when we learned the residents wanted a farmer’s market in the area. Everyone kept asking. We were unsure at first, and then the pandemic hit. People were not comfortable with going to regular grocery stores anymore.”
Craycraft said many of the residents, who feel good about supporting local farmers, would rather buy produce straight from the farm to minimize contact with others while also supporting their community.
“With social distancing rules in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we wanted our neighbors to feel comfortable so we brought the farm box to them,” said Craycraft, who has lived in the area for four years. “We came up with a new way for our neighbors to safely purchase food from local vendors with minimal exposure to others. We even have curbside pickup.”
“The association can also deliver to someone’s house,” said David Oliver, president of the Ladera Heights Civic Association. “The fun part is that people can make different recipes with the ingredients they receive and post it on our page.”
Craycraft, who by day owns a creative custom software company called Wildebeest, said when the pandemic hit, the association found out that the farms that were taking food straight to restaurants, no longer had outlets due to the shutdown.
“We were very conscious about how to present the farmer’s market,” Craycraft said. “So we decided to use the farm box concept. Residents don’t touch the produce. In fact, you don’t even get to pick what’s in it.”
The farm boxes, which have dietary preferences, support California farmers and include 12 weekly-rotating veggies, fruits, and herbs from Coachella Valley-based farms.
The farmers market operates by having residents prepay each week to get one of two different size boxes of produce. Pre-orders must be made by 8 a.m. Wednesday mornings. The market is open to members of the public, who can also pre-pay or use credit or debit cards. No cash changes hands.
Within 15 minutes of opening one Thursday, most of the pre-orders had been picked up and there were only a couple of walk-up boxes available for purchase.
Residents pay two different prices for produce that comes in a $30 box that serves two or three people and a family-size box that sells for $60.
Donations are welcome. Anyone can donate food by pre-ordering and then donating a vegan or vegetarian farm box for $25. All donations will be delivered to the LAX Food Pantry on Friday mornings.
Association members are able to sell their wares during the farmer’s market.
In addition to a farm box, locals can also buy baked goods like chocolate chip cookies made in Ladera Heights by Chocolate and the Chip owner Lola, a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles whose cookies, which are sold around the city, are so popular they were snapped up within an hour.
At a recent farmers market, personal chefs Claudio and Byron Sagastume, who normally provide upscale catering, sold their sourdough bread for $8 per loaf and gave away pieces of their chocolate banana bread. The sourdough bread comes in several flavors including garlic parmesan, poppyseed, sesame seed, bagel, Italian herb, onion and plain.
“We love what we do,” said Claudio Sagastume, an executive sous chef at NeueHouse. “Because the pandemic stopped our business, we had to figure out a way to keep ourselves busy and to keep doing what we love to do.”
Aimee Carlisle picked up a box of produce for her mother, Sylvia Carlisle, who lives in the neighborhood. It was her first time at the farmer’s market.
“I think this is a great idea,” said Carlisle, a public defender for Los Angeles County. “It’s a great way to support local residents.”
Pam Elkins is a retired analyst at the Department of Justice. She heard about the farmers market from her neighbor.
“I saw the box of produce she had,” said Elkins, who has lived in Ladera Heights for 23 years. “Her box looked good. She told me I should purchase a box myself, so here I am. It’s the first time we’ve had something like this in Ladera. I think it’s wonderful. I’ll be back.”