LEIMERT PARK — Four years ago, Olympia Auset was at her wit’s end. She was taking a two-hour round-trip bus ride just to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to eat.
She often wondered why she had to leave her neighborhood near the Los Angeles/Inglewood border to buy healthy food. To her, there had to be a better way.
“I was literally spending two hours round-trip on a bus to go to Trader Joe’s or the food co-op in Santa Monica, to buy healthy food,” Auset said. “It became too time-consuming.”
Tired of literally running all over town to buy food, four years ago Auset came up with the bright idea to start her own mini farmers market and bring fresh, organic food to residents in Leimert Park who were also frustrated with their food choices.
So, in July 2016, Auset, 29, launched SÜPRMARKT, a low-cost, organic pop-up grocer based primarily in South Los Angeles.
“We are a low-cost organic grocery designed to make it easy for people to eat well in a food desert,” Auset said. “I wanted to make it affordable for people to eat well.”
A “food desert” is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or high-quality fresh food.
“If you’re in a two-mile radius where all you can get is fast food and all you see are liquor stores, you’re in a food desert,” said Auset, who studied public relations and sociology at Howard University. “I literally couldn’t eat what was around me. I got frustrated with seeing people I know pass away from preventable diseases at 40 and 50.”
Auset said it wasn’t until she was 22 that she really took hold of the notion that being able to eat good food was synonymous with “real life.”
“People I love were being affected,” she said. “I just wanted to see how I could provide them with good produce. We spend about $1 billion per day in medical costs and lost productivity due to preventable health problems, like heart disease, and people who live in food deserts are more likely to have those diseases.”
Pre-COVID-19, the SÜPRMARKT was open to the public on Saturdays in Leimert Park. People could walk up and pick out their own food. Today, the operation has had to change.
“In order to social distance and to keep everyone safe, now we are pre-order only,” said Auset, who accepts EBT. “We also do pick up and delivery, but only on the weekends.”
Each weekend Auset fills about 100 orders. Due to the volume, she has a set assortment of items she provides. A single box of fresh food is $30. The price is $42 for a couple and $50 for a family.
All pre-orders for pick-up on Saturday must be received by 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. At that time, Auset said someone can request a specific item to be included or deleted from their order.
Every Saturday for the last four years, Auset has been a pop-up vendor in Leimert Park, but she does deliver as far away as Hollywood on the north, Carson to the south, East Los Angeles to the east, and Santa Monica to the west.
The response, she said, has been inspiring.
“The response has been one of gratitude,” Auset said. “When we first started, we didn’t even have a table and our produce wasn’t the best. It was the best we could afford at the time. People were still grateful. Even then we were sold out at the end of the day.”
Auset has a one-for-one program that allows someone to purchase food for themselves and others.
“They can sponsor food for someone else,” Auset said. “We welcome people to apply if they need food. They can reach out to us on Instagram.”
It’s a mystery to Auset why no one else thought of bringing fresh food into the Leimert Park community on a consistent basis.
“I think a big part of why I came up with the idea is that I was experiencing the issue that I set out to solve,” she said. “That’s why no one else had already done something like this in Leimert Park.”
Auset thinks it’s difficult for people to solve solutions they don’t experience.
“I was intimately familiar with how it was to eat healthily,” she said. “The community as a whole needs more founders and creators. We’re always being trained to work for someone else. It’s hard and scary, but I do this because I care.”
Auset sees providing nourishing food to the community as her job.
“I feel like I don’t want to raise a child in an environment where we have to go to another side of town to eat well,” said Auset, who has a nonprofit, called SÜPRSEED, which provides education and experiences for people interested in making long-term changes in their diets. “There are moments the impact of our work hits home. Sometimes I’m caught up in the details. Every once in awhile I’m reminded the fresh food is going to someone’s fridge and changing their lives. I’m very inspired and grateful to do this work.”
A former vegetarian who became a vegan in 2009, Auset, who hosted SÜPRFEST, the first-ever Vegan Festival in Leimert Park in 2019, said she changed her diet because she started to “understand the food system.”
“My potential as a human had a lot to do with the quality of my diet,” she said. “I realized it was a tool of oppression in my community.”
Auset, who gets the food from an organic wholesaler and from local farmers, has her own ideas about why low-income communities are deprived of fresh food.
“It’s by design,” she said. “It makes money for a lot of people. On the one hand, where it’s mostly junk food, it makes money for those conglomerates. On the other level is the illnesses people experience. The pharmaceutical industry gets paid. Somebody is getting paid off of our suffering.
“Food is powerful and the people who have good food can think well and build a better life for themselves. If you’re sick all of the time, you’re more prone to criminal activity and not doing well in school. It’s a form of control.”
In January 2022, Auset will open a brick and mortar location at 3526 Slauson Blvd., which used to house the Mister Wisdom Wheatgrass Farm. To purchase the building, she started a ‘Keep Slauson Fresh’ Indiegogo campaign.
“This will be South Central’s first full-service, organic grocery store,” Auset said. “It will be a subsidized grocery store. We will accept EBT. My goal for the store and for the SUPRMARKT is to end America’s food apartheid one bite at a time.”
By Darlene Donloe