A liquor store parking lot in South LA isn’t a typical setting for a farmer’s market in this city. But that’s where a new Friday afternoon produce stand set up shop last week. The mini-market, spearheaded by the nonprofit groups Community Coalition and Community Unlimited, will be open Fridays from 3 until 6 p.m. at Century Market, on the corner of Western Avenue and 39th Street. It was created in response to the closure of a Ralphs grocery store at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Western Avenue a few weeks ago. For some in the surrounding King Estates neighborhood, that Ralphs was the only market in walking distance.
“We’re all here together having a fruit stand partly because the big grocery chains have just decided to abandon South LA,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of Community Coalition. “So we’re going to yell at them and bang on their windows about that, but at the same time we’re not going to go hungry.”
Limited access to fresh, affordable foods has been an issue for years in South LA, which has often been referred to as a “food desert.” The Community Coalition cites some startling statistics illustrating the situation: South LA has roughly one grocery store per 6,000 people, compared to one for every 4,000 in West LA. It also has just six farmer’s markets compared to 16 on the Westside, and a much higher concentration of fast food outlets and liquor stores. All of that makes it an effort to stay healthy, said Dane Pascal of Community Unlimited.
“If I walk out my door at King and Normandie, there’s a Taco Bell, a Jack in the Box — just full of fast food,” he said. “This is why this is needed. We have to make healthy eating just as convenient as eating fast food.”
But can a small produce stand that’s only open three hours a week really make a difference in the way people eat?
“Right now it’s a band-aid over our wound of not being able to purchase organic food, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Isaac White, 79. He’s lived in the King Estates neighborhood for more than 50 years. “We need fresh fruits and vegetables just as well as other neighborhoods or anybody else does.”