Rain and Shine: Interview with Lora Davis Co-Creator of the Wellington Sq. Farmers Market

 Following the 6th anniversary in March of the Wellington Sq. Farmers market, (located in the Smyrna Church Parking lot on Washington west of Crenshaw),  TNN sat down with co-creator Lora Davis to find out what it takes to start and sustain a local farmers market and what it's value is to farmers and residents alike. 
TNN:  Lora thanks for meeting with us. You co-manage the Wellington Square Farmers Market with Kathy Lewis. Tell us what motivated both of you to start it. 

Apr17Lora2abcLora:  My youngest daughter was graduating from high school and going to college in Boston. I was empty nesting, and Kathy and I decided that I needed a project. I wanted to open a farmers market, and she was on the board of another farmers market and offered to help me in getting started. 

We approached the Smyrna Seventh Day Adventist Church, where the market is held, and talked to Pastor Kelly who has since passed away. The new pastor is Marva Barry and she has been incredibly supportive. They were gracious, and grateful, and wanted to host the market.  Then we got funding from Kaiser, to start, and that was six years ago. The market opened March of 2010. 

When we started the market, farmers markets, certified farmers markets are required to be sponsored by a nonprofit, or one of the farmers, one of the vendors. We were not a nonprofit when we started, but Smyrna Church was and they sponsored us as a nonprofit.

TNN:  Are there struggles that come with running a smaller market in a neighborhood where…..Dianne always called it a drive-through neighborhood. It's not a destination neighborhood. People don't drive to our part of town to do much.

Lora:   One of our goals has always been to provide an assortment of affordable produce and goods that would also represent the diversity of our community. The difficulty has been in getting some of the high-end mushroom vendors, the flower vendors, to take a chance, or to take the time to come and be at our market, because it is so small. Because of the number of shoppers that we bring in, it's been difficult to basically grow. That was the case from the beginning, and it's still the case.

What we have been able to offer the farmers that do come, is consistency and that has been the saving grace for our market. There's a large regular customer base and they've developed trust in the produce and the vendors. I think that's one way we've overcome our limited size. 

TNN:  Let's talk about the farmers.  I go to the market regularly, so I'm familiar with Andre, and Manuel, and especially Angelo's Organic Farms. The egg sellers, Tony, and Jose, and Mike?   We buy fresh pasture range eggs from them every week. They're all very friendly, and a pleasure to be around. Is there anything that you would want market-goers to know about the folks that have stayed? 

Lora: I think for Angelo's Farms, Andreas, the guy that sells the eggs, was just starting out as a vendor for farmers markets when we first met, when our market first opened. He's one of the original farmers that came to our market, and he was growing in an organic method, but he was not certified organic. There's a couple of other savvy gardeners that come to the market as well, and they developed such a soft spot for Angelo's Farms, because they knew that he was trying to make a go out of being an American small farmer, growing organic. They did a lot of forgiving of the super short carrots that came in, and some of the funny looking produce that he would bring, because he would just bring anything that he grew. That was six years ago, and the stuff that comes from his farm now is almost pristine, and he has his organic status. We're really lucky with the few farmers that we have, to have somebody who is recognized as being a California organic grower. 

We meet the Department of Agriculture on an annual basis and I think it was two years ago, they reported that they're required to do spot checks at farms, to determine that people are growing in an organic way. Tony was one of only six farmers at that year that were found to be legitimately growing in an organic way. We really see him as our very success story. He's always shared with us that he, too, has a soft spot for us and said he would never leave our market. As long as he's growing, he will always stay. He, too, feels loyal to our market, and loyal to our customer base, because we've just been the best to him. He likes our customers the most. He always has, out of all the markets that he goes to. We have this agreement that we'll stick it out as long as the other one does, basically. We've had various different farmers that have had to leave, but one we lost last year was an Asian farmer from Bakersfield 

TNN: What happened to them? Their fruit was fantastic.

Lora:  They left for personal reasons but when they left she said she was so sorry, that she loved us like family, and that she didn't want to leave us in the lurch without a citrus grower. She actually found, she actually recommended another citrus grower that she had met at another market, that she trusted, and said that they would treat us right. That's the citrus grower that we have now.  We're a small market, but Kathy and I have always treated our farmers like the champions that they are, that they come to our market on a Sunday, and they're here consistently, they haven't thrown in the towel on our market due to our fluctuating customer base. They've been loyal. We treat them like the treasures that they are.

We bring coffee for them, and when there's not a food vendor that they can buy food from, we try to make sure they have something to eat. I've cooked pots of chili for them on cold days, and brought in hot apple cider for them on cold days, and we make sure that they're comfortable. They work the hardest. They get there earlier than anyone else. Each of them are driving at least an hour to get to our market. They set up. It takes them an hour. I don't know if you can imagine how heavy citrus and apples are, but they're ridiculously heavy. You get a bag of apples, that's like one bag of apples. She's got 50 bags of apples. It's a hard job. All of them just really work hard.

Even though our market is smaller, if they were going to a bigger market, then their farm would be sending out more people to work that, their booth, and they would still be splitting the money, and still probably making individually about the same. It's just a really hard job that can be very volatile, that on a rainy day, it's slower on Superbowl Sunday, it's going to be really slow. As the weather gets cooler, they'll have less produce, but they'll be in our market every Sunday, rain or shine.

I think that that's really been one of the keys to our continuation of the market, is that it's just this respect that Kathy and I have for what they do, and the commitment that they show for our market. They reciprocate by coming. Sometimes they say to us, "Kathy, you know I didn't want to come today, but I thought about you guys."  

We've been here six years and watched kids grow up. We've seen pregnant ladies, then the new babies, and seen those kids walk and talk.

TNN:  Speaking of kids, I love Chelsea Mabels stall.  She does these cute little micro-mini cooking demos, with the little kids. My daughter joined in, and I thought that was really nice. She used to sell her homemade spice blends, but then got a grant to do the kids cooking project. 

Lora:  The grant that she received was from the West Adams Neighborhood Council. She could receive one because of our Healthy Community Project. 

TNN:   What is the Healthy Community Project?

Lora:   We knew that there would be a time when we needed to become a nonprofit, because we weren't able to apply for any sort of federal or city government grants. Those agencies, those government agencies won't donate money to a fiscal agent that is a church. There's no, that whole separation between church and state. We have survived on donations, initially from Kaiser, and then from Saint Elmo's Village. We've always gotten direct donations but our budget couldn't be met without X number of donations every year.

So we applied for our nonprofit status about three years ago, and we waited. It was just the worst time. The IRS got overrun with nonprofit applications. There were Tea Party people that were using nonprofits as fundraisers, and nonprofit organizations can't directly be involved in politics.  So we hit it at exactly the wrong time, and we were stalled for like two years without a response. Two years of waiting then we were denied. We put all this money out to give to the government, to apply for the application, and then when they finally assigned an agent to us, they just raked us over, a very nitpicky kind of situation, we had to hire a lawyer, so that we could get responses.

We were out those lawyer fees, and then after all of that, we were denied. They just said, "No. We're not giving this to you." We were pretty disappointed at that time. Just by fluke, I was looking through TIME Magazine, and found out that the IRS was creating a new, easy form to apply for 501C3s. I thought, "Wow." Literally, and it started in July of 2014, and we got our application together, with the help of our accountant this time. We got the application in before the end of 2014, and so at the beginning of 2015, we actually became a nonprofit, or we created a nonprofit organization called The Healthy Community Project. That is now the organization that sponsors the farmers market.

TNN: Who are some of your vendors.

Apr17Loraa
 Lora:  Angelo's farms that sells organic fresh eggs and produce including potatoes, onions, beets, citrus and berries.  Castellano farms sells traditionally grown produce (not certified organic) like asparagus, radishes, avocados and a wide assortment of leafy greens.  Each of these vendors set's up 3 canopies full of produce, you can find what you need for the week.  Mom's specialty foods sells a wide assortment of Middle Eastern spreads, appetizers, pita and pita chips.  The Market bakery which sells French baguettes, wholesome breads and pastries.  Thai BBQ which sells Thai style grilled chicken, salads and brown rice.  Assorted craft vendors that sell handmade candles, soaps and  art. 

TNN: Well thank you so much for sharing the behind the scenes reality of keeping this local treasure alive and providing a place for local farmers to connect with our community and the community to connect with each other. 

Share

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

News Category

Today575
Yesterday443
Week2176
Month7886
All500763

Currently are 20 guests and no members online


Kubik-Rubik Joomla! Extensions

About Us

Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

Contact Us

Author
Dianne V. Lawrence
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.