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Watts farmers market marks a birthday

July 20, 2009 |  1:01 pm


Los Angeles County soon will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its first farmers market, but for a market in Watts, its second birthday party marked a triumph of collaboration and determination.

The market, in Ted Watkins Memorial Park at 103rd Street and Central Avenue, has doubled the number of its vendors (to 11) and its shoppers (to about 300) in its two years, said manager Ashley Hiestand. On Saturday, farmers sold melons and peaches, corn and tomatoes, among many choices.

The market is supported by Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente and other organizations. A Kaiser van sometimes shuttles shoppers between their apartments and the market.


To mark its anniversary, the market had a celebration that included not only mariachi music and face painting, but also tables set up to provide information about healthful eating and nutrition, parenting and drug abuse.

And a celebrity in the world of connecting farmers markets to health was there to sign cookbooks and talk to shoppers. Preston Maring, a doctor at Kaiser-Permanente in Oakland, opened a market there in 2003. Today, Kaiser facilities have 35 markets; and hundreds of markets are open in hospitals around the country, Maring said.

Plans for the Watts market started when the South Health Center, a county agency, approached SEE-LA, or Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, which runs other markets, including the one in Hollywood, Hiestand said.

The market has benefited from a collaboration by many agencies and organizations, said Maxine Liggins, a county public health doctor whose jurisdiction includes some of the county’s poorest and richest neighborhoods.

In many neighborhoods, she said, there’s a grocery store for every 6,000 to 10,000 residents. In Watts, it’s three for 150,000 people. “There’s not really even a gym. We tell people we want them to get healthy and we don’t even have a gym,” she said.

But because the market is in a low-income neighborhood, it can be harder to recruit farmers to come and to persuade people that’s it worthwhile to spend a little more for food than they might have to at a discount store.

Maring noted that farmers markets can be inaccessible too, if “you live six or eight blocks away, you’re 80 years old with a bad hip and no car. How are you going to get your things home?”

Market organizations, he said, are talking with churches and other community organizations to find ways to get produce to people. SEE-LA’s chief executive, Pompea Smith, noted that the market has seen a 59% increase in the use of food stamps and WIC coupons in the last year.

-- Mary MacVean

(Photos of the Watts farmers market courtesy of SEE-LA.)