On a rainy day in December, LB Fresh lead a group of adventurous Long Beach good food community members on an excursion to a smorgasborg of Los Angeles good food community organizations and urban ag sites.
We kicked off our journey at the Bixby Knolls Thursday Farmers’ Market where we said “Hi” to friendly faces including Harbor Area Farmers Markets’ Market Manager Kelli Johnson and Colossus Bread baker Kristin Delfs as well as the good people at Gaytan Family Farms, Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales and the cute couple at the kettle corn booth.
Our Long Beach contingent — which included Lee White from the NLB Victory Garden, Aliye Aydin from A Good Carrot, Ryan Smolar from LB Fresh and Sheila G from Adventures to Dreams set off for our first stop at the Village Market Place Food Hub, a “beyond organic” produce market, incubator culinary kitchen, cafe, and developing urban farm in South LA.
The Village Market Place is a project of Community Services Unlimited and we met with their Associate Director, Heather Fenney, who told us CSU Inc. was established as the non-profit arm of LA’s Black Panther Party to run their community services like free breakfast programs. They’ve continued to use food as a tool to regenerate community with weekly pop-up farmstands, food-growing classes and youth vocational training which culminated into the opening of the Village Market Place Food Hub in September 2018.
“The evolution of this space was very organic,” explains Fenney, “we were hosting farmstand pop-ups which precipitated a CSA, garden classes which turned into cooking parties, which turned into catering gigs which turned into us opening the cafe and developing our commercial kitchen to service our value-added local products which we also rent for small, local food business incubation.”
The Village Market Place is an impressive mix of food empowering programs all under one roof. They have an office dedicated to getting community members signed-up with CalFresh for food benefits and then offer 50% off produce in their “beyond organic” market to EBT cardholders through a grant they received from the USDA.
The VMP has partnerships with local farms so the food really is good for you and good for the Earth, they have dried herbs from their gardens, honey produced in Long Beach by Honey Pacifica, cool civil rights history and Black Panther memorabila upstairs, an active community programming schedule and a cafe and meeting rooms on-site.
There’s even a stationary bio-diesel/solar-powered bus serving as anannex office adjacent to a budding organic garden with latticed growing beds on wheels kicking-off the unique character of the space the community wanted.
What’s most exciting about the Village Market Place is the synergy of social enterprises and community opportunity all under one roof and in tight relation through the power of food. Even though CSU Inc. is new to their South LA building and some aspects of the site are still being developed, you can see the potential, the energy and the opportunity of a one-stop-shop for overcoming so many barriers to good food access. After visiting the Village Market Place, we left re-inspired by efforts for hubs like the Long Beach Grocery Co-Op, the Long Beach Community Table, MADE by Millworks, the NLB Victory Garden & Historic Fire Station, The Growing Experience: An Urban Farm, Farm Lot 59, Feel Good Salsa’s shared-kitchen project as concentrated catalysts for local food and economic development right here in Long Beach. We recommend more Long Beach trips to this gem to learn about how CSU is bringing the community to the table to share good food far-and-wide in South LA.
Photos by Ryan Smolar and Madeleine Spencer. Story by Ryan Smolar.
Village Market Place
6569 South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90044
VMP & SoulFul Café Hours:
Tuesday – Friday: 9:00am – 7:00pm
Saturday – Sunday: 10:00am – 6:00pm