Scenes From a Market : Shopping: Volunteer Center opens outdoor Farmers’ Place. Organizers plan the offerings with the community in mind.


With a carrot-breaking ceremony rather than a ribbon cutting, the San Fernando Valley’s Volunteer Center on Saturday kicked off its new weekly farmers market with the aim of raising funds and using fresh produce to promote good nutrition and health to an underserved area.

In addition to the usual array of farm-fresh greens, just-picked berries and vine-ripened tomatoes, Farmers’ Place has a booth devoted to cancer prevention and another set up for free immunizations for children. Also, food unsold at the end of each market day will be donated to a rotating list of nonprofit groups that feed the hungry.

“It is a community service that adds to the quality of life,” said City Councilman Marvin Braude, who broke the carrot to begin the festivities.


“It’s fun, and it brings people together. There’s no reason why Van Nuys shouldn’t have the same opportunities as the other sections of the city.”

But with the Van Nuys community in mind, this market is intentionally different than others in Los Angeles, said Marion Kalb, the director of the Southland Farmers’ Market Assn. Although tomatoes are technically out of season--and therefore not available at other outdoor markets--they were trucked into the Van Nuys market because of heavy demand from the Latino community.

Organizers also made sure that lots of citrus, avocados and bok choy--for the area’s Asian residents--would be available, and took a pass on trendy baby vegetables and pricey organically grown foods that have become popular at other markets but seemed unlikely to sell well here.

People out for a Saturday stroll, those who read advertisements or were referred by friends walked through the parking lot aisle between the booths, sampled items, scoured for their favorites and discussed meal plans for their new purchases.

Lucia Hernandez, 27, of Van Nuys came with her sister and sister-in-law in hopes of finding the types of fresh fruits and vegetables that her family used to regularly buy in Mexico.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Hernandez, already loaded down with eggs, strawberries and nuts when she went to survey the dried fruit. “It’s easier to buy the things” than in a supermarket, she said. “It’s quality, and the price, too, is less.”


Musicians and other entertainers wove through the crowd as the aroma of freshly cut lemons, grapefruit and herbs enticed would-be customers.

A crowd gathered in amazement as a table of elderly Thai women demonstrated traditional flower carvings made from soaps and vegetables.

“We try not to make any profit,” said Nongyao Varanond of Thai Health Information Services in North Hollywood. “This is something for them to enjoy.”

Other customers enjoyed the interaction with the farmers. Oscar and Norma Castallano happened upon the market as they walked down Van Nuys Boulevard and decided to do some shopping.

“I think we need to support our farmers,” Oscar Castallano said. “We also need the fresh things--in the shopping centers sometimes the things have been there too many days.”


Farmers, some who came from as far as Fresno and Bakersfield, were also pleased with a new outlet to sell their products.


Although she had to leave her family farm in Dinuba at 3 a.m. to make it to Van Nuys by 8 a.m., 26-year-old Heidi Peacock said she was glad to be a part of Farmers’ Place.

“It’s a small market, but people are really nice and it’s got a good feel to it,” Peacock said, as she told customers buying dried fruit and nuts to check back with her in a few weeks for peaches and apricots.

Looking around at the people sampling fresh breads and trying flavored honey and tangelos, Kalb said she has high hopes for the market’s prosperity.

“The crowd here is very mixed--families and senior citizens, Latino people and Asian people, and that generally spells success for a market,” Kalb said. “It means that it’s a real community market.”