When it comes to shopping for fresh and healthy foods, many USC students and community members struggle to find healthy, accessible, inexpensive options in University Park Campus and the surrounding neighborhoods of South Los Angeles.
Figueroa Street features numerous fast-food restaurants but lacks grocery stores and healthier options — a problem that the USC Undergraduate Student Government aims to address with a new proposal for a weekly farmers market in the USC Village.
According to Alec Vandenberg, the assistant director of community affairs for USG and a writer for the Daily Trojan, a third of the University Park community faces poverty, and obesity is a growing concern for the children growing up in South Los Angeles. There are currently no local farmers markets in immediate proximity to University Park, and the closest farmers market, the Blue Line Farmers’ Market in Compton, was recently discontinued.
If the proposal works out, the new farmers market will provide fresh, in-season produce from local vendors and farmers. There will also be a strong focus on bringing in vendors who sell healthy, organic fruits and vegetables, not just arts and crafts.
“The focus of the market will be on healthy foods,” said USG director of community affairs Mai Mizuno. “This market is for a larger demographic. It will be a hub for community members.”
USG wants to increase accessibility and affordability for students and members of the local community who want to shop for local groceries and fresh produce.
Although USC currently has the Trojan Farmers Market, a weekly on-campus farmers market held on Wednesdays in McCarthy Quad, Mizuno noted that many students on campus have complained about the lack of fresh, affordable produce.
According to Mizuno, the Trojan Farmers Market, run by USC Hospitality, caters toward students that can afford the crafts and organic products sold by the vendors, but other members of the community are left out.
“The goal is not to replace the current markets that we have,” Mizuno said. “The goal is to supplement it and market it toward a different audience.”
One notable difference is that the new farmers market would be student-run and would not only target USC students, but also residents of the surrounding University Park Campus area. It will be open on Saturdays to make it easier for students and community members to come out and shop.
“We don’t want it to be at a time when parents are working and kids are in school,” Mizuno said.
USG is also working on getting farmers market vendors who accept CALFRESH food vouchers and EBT cards on board.
USG worked with Helen Lee, the manager of multiple California Certified Farmers Markets in the Los Angeles area including the one held weekly on the Health Sciences Campus, in developing the proposal.
Although specialty market Trader Joe’s will be opening its first downtown location at the USC Village in 2017, Vandenberg doesn’t feel that it will be a threat to business. He hopes that holding the market on a Saturday will accommodate not only USC students, but also parents picking up their children at the 32nd Street School next to the USC Village.
“A lot of times, people won’t necessarily take the Metro to a Trader Joe’s, but they will take the Metro to a farmers market,” Vandenberg said. “Oftentimes, it is cheaper, it’s more accessible, you have more options and it’s locally grown.”
Prior to the Trojan Farmers Market becoming a weekly event in 2013, University Park had a local farmers market at the Shrine Auditorium. It was later moved to a space on University Avenue because of steep rental costs from the Shrine, but it was discontinued when the old University Village was torn down.
USG is currently working to partner with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to subsidize the market and offer exclusive discounts to Metro riders through its Destination Discounts program. By showing a Metro TAP Card, Metro riders would be able to receive a 10 percent discount on purchases made at the market.
Metro would also be able to advertise the USC Village farmers market on its website and invite tourists and visitors from other neighboring cities to make a stop at the market.
“The administration has really marketed the [USC] Village as this conduit between USC students and the local community, so we thought that it would be a perfect opportunity to bring a community farmers market and to really hit on that fresh produce,” Mizuno said.
Clarification: The previous headline for this article “USC Village to host farmers market” was misleading. The article has now been updated to reflect that the farmers market is in the proposal process.