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Shopping Highland Park Old LA Farmers' Market

Highland Park Farmers Market

While it may look empty, farmers markets -- like the Tuesday afternoon Highland Park Old L.A. Farmers' Market -- have people spending more than ever for fresh produce and local goods.

While farmers markets have reconfigured layouts and installed new protocols to create safer shopping experiences, these community stalwarts continue to be profitable for farmers and other local small businesses that routinely set up tables and pop-up tents on city streets.

Overall, farmers markets contribute about $9 billion to the U.S. economy every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers markets have steadily been growing in popularity. According to the Farmers Market Coalition, the number of markets in the U.S. has grown from just under 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,600 today.

At first glance, the Highland Park Old L.A. Farmers' Market – held Tuesday afternoons – looks empty. Only a handful of people walk through at the designated entrance near the train station. Some stop to get their SNAP cards activated.

After applying complimentary hand sanitizer, shoppers briskly walk the street. Vendor canopies line one side and barricades near the sidewalk prevent people from accidentally wandering into the market safe zone. Gone are crafters, food trucks and booths that cook hot food on site as well as music and tables where folks at one time gathered to enjoy a quick bite or conversation with friends.

Don’t let the quiet fool you.

“At this market, the pandemic crisis has been really good for businesses and our farmers,” says Market Manager Christopher Nyerges. Shoppers are venturing into the streets to buy fruits, veggies and more because, “they don’t want to go to the indoor supermarkets that are crowded. Here you get produce that’s fresher than anything you’ll get in the supermarket because it was recently picked.”

Overall, the number of people coming to the market may be down, but those who do, make up for it in abundance. “Shoppers are buying more,” explains Nyerges. “It looks like people aren’t here, but they are. There’s no lingering. People get what they want and then go. The farmers are selling more and are happy.”

Curious shoppers stop at a booth where often-overlooked vegetables and greens are on display. “There’s a lot of nutrition and food value here,” says Julie Jessup-Balla as she points to baskets with lamb’s quarter, purslane, cactus pads and New Zealand spinach along with other plants for sale.

Jessup-Balla represents the outreach arm of White Tower Incorporated, a Highland Park nonprofit that encourages city dwellers to thrive in urban areas by a deeper nature and gardening connection. “The people who are coming now to the market seem to be really focused and interested in new things, like new food.”

“I think the pandemic has brought out a lot of people who didn’t previous come the farmers markets,” says Jeremiah Tash, owner of Jarring Foods, a line of fermented products which are brewed in a Lincoln Heights commercial kitchen.

Tash agrees that there is less foot traffic, and that “sales are up. People who are coming through are here to purchase; they’re not just wandering. I’ve seen people using EBT and their unemployment checks. The clientele is shifting here in Highland Park, but it has been evolving even before the pandemic.”

POLL: How have you been getting fresh groceries during the pandemic?

You voted:

Biz Buzz Asks: How’s business these days?

We asked the question of Jeremy Kaplan, owner of READ Books in Eagle Rock.

Jeremy Kaplan from READ Books in Eagle Rock

Grants for small businesses in District 13

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A new grant program for small businesses in City Council District 13 (here's a map) kicked off last week with $1 million of discretionary funding allocated to help pay for bills while Safer at Home orders are in place.

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the City’s Economic Workforce Development Department (EWDD) announced the Emergency Small Business Grant Program which will assist businesses in the district that have at least three and up to 26 employees.

Applications will be accepted starting August 13 at 8 a.m. and ending Monday August 17 at 11:59 p.m.

Acelera Financial is providing technical assistance to answer questions about the application process. Contact them by email or call (213) 410-5099.

No mask? Pay up!

Los Angeles County businesses that aren’t following mask and social distancing rules can now be fined between $100 and $500. As of the first of the month, Los Angeles County health inspectors are ticketing noncompliant L.A. restaurants, bars and other businesses and, can be handed a 30-day permit suspension for multiple offenses.

Since March, LA County’s Public Health Department has received a total of 17,808 complaints.

Californians opting for home couches

About 55 percent of Californians are planning to stay put with no plans to venture outside their homes, notes a recent report from SMARInsights for Visit California, a nonprofit organization that promotes the state’s travel industry. That number is slightly higher than in previous weeks which can reflect how the state’s travel, tourism and ancillary businesses are holding up. The report also reveals that 36 percent of Californians said they are willing to venture out this week if they feel safe while only 9 percent say they are operating on normal mode.  

More work at home, less meeting time

Researchers at Harvard and NYU examined employee productivity in 16 large metropolitan areas across North America, Europe and the Middle East during the lockdowns and discovered some interesting aspects of working at home.

Their findings revealed that workdays expanded by 48.5 minutes and the number of emails sent to colleagues also increased. An intriguing trend is that even though there were more virtual meetings (about 13 percent more) the length of those meetings got about 20 percent shorter.

That’s it for this issue!

Thanks for reading and supporting small businesses We will be back next week with more Biz Buzz.

-- Brenda Rees

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