A Tuesday walk down University Avenue is no longer just a monotonous commute to and from class.
The farmers market, which was previously located at Shrine Place, offers more than 12 vendors who sell different types of food, clothing and accessories.
Vendors offer a large selection of already-prepared meals such as Peruvian cuisine, crêpes and quesadillas, tamales, other Latin American food and sloppy Joes. Other kiosks sold diverse snack foods like peanuts, popcorn, fresh fruit and Mediterranean munchies such as tabouli, hummus, olives and pickled vegetables. Every food vendor allowed pedestrians to try free samples, and it was well worth the 30 seconds to stop by and try something.
That’s how the fruit vendor got me.
I stopped to try a strawberry, and he explained that his father grows the produce and he, the operator, sells it. His father uses natural methods rather than pesticides on the food, which was a plus. And most importantly, the price was right. A bundle of strawberries sold for $2, whereas Ralph’s sells a box for $1.50.
“Most of [the prices are] pretty comparable,” said Raul Arteaga, one of the fruit vendors. “There are obviously stores sometimes that have specials and things like that that we can’t compete with. However, everything here is picked fresh, daily.”
The vendor’s amicability, charm and price convinced me to buy some of the delicious fruit.
In addition to the food quality, the vendors were friendly.
Jed Lorenzen, the operator of Hot Sloppy’s, said he prepares and sells Sloppy Joes from an original 1955 family recipe from Iowa.
“It’s not your common food such as you might see around here that you see everywhere,” said Lorenzen. “It’s a sloppy Joe that you haven’t had since you’ve been a kid, and now it’s here for you again.”
Another attribute that proved the market’s charm was the vendors’ sincerity and desire for their customers to truly enjoy their food. For example, after trying a spicy green olive from a Mediterranean snack kiosk, I was won over by its combination of flavors and kick of spicy jalapeño seeds. I bought a bundle and ate most of the container within minutes. I returned to tell the vendor how wonderful and unique his product was, and he gave me a container of spicy green olives for free. He obviously cared that I enjoyed the product he provided.
Before I saw the market for myself, I assumed the vendors would try to rip me off or sell me sub-par quality products; I figured they would assume it didn’t matter because I’m a student and wouldn’t know the difference. However, it was just the opposite. I did not feel like I was being taken advantage of, and I was surprised to see most of the food, snacks and clothes were of good to excellent quality. And the prices were appropriate to meet students’ needs.
Students are not the only people who benefit from the market’s new location. At the Shrine, vendors said they found it difficult to lure students there, and the rent was exorbitant.
Now, the vendors are benefiting from constant foot traffic up and down University Avenue, and they only have to pay 10 percent of their daily earnings.
“So if you don’t make anything, you don’t pay anything,” said Chase Mosley, the owner of Spend jewelry, clothing and accessories. We have a lot more foot traffic here, whereas before it was difficult to get students to come from walkway to the Shrine.”
As great as the farmers market is, the strip of kiosks is not without its hassles.
Midday, the area often becomes crowded because pedestrians and bikers are making their way to and from class. A bit of advice — don’t go between noon and 1 p.m. It gets too crowded. Shoot for the morning or late afternoon to miss the traffic.
Even so, Tuesday’s farmers market is a delight for students, and because of the vast assortment of booths, students have the opportunity to try something new every week. The variety of food choices allows for students to dine somewhere other than The Lot or Café 84, and because it only comes to campus once a week, it should be utilized by every student. With such a convenient location, students have no excuse to miss out, and if they aren’t hungry, they can always shop at the several clothing and accessory boutiques.
Fortunately for students, the market adds to the much-needed off-campus entertainment life around USC.
Danielle Nisimov is a sophomore majoring in public relations. Her column “On the SCene” runs Thursdays.