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Navigating LA's Desert Heat + Food Deserts
Colorful array of city activities: food truck, cyclist, vintage car, barber, girl in quinceanera dress; 6th street bridge in the background with purple gradient overlay
(Dan Carino
/
LAist)
Episode 4
11:09
Navigating LA's Desert Heat + Food Deserts
It's hot, Los Angles. We hear how people dealt. Plus, Chinatown is a food desert. The neighborhood is home to a lot of low income seniors and there is no local grocer that serves them. The new LA River Farmers' Market that opened up in nearby the LA State Historic Park hopes to fill some of the void.

Brian De Los Santos 

Are you feeling the heat LA?

 

Newscaster Clip 

Residents being warned to stay indoors. Protect young children, the elderly and pets as temperatures soar into the triple digits.

 

Jeff 

My name is Jeff. I live in Koreatown, very old building built in the 1930's. I'm not supposed to have air conditioning button. My building manager gave me a little nod and a wink, that you know, if they don't know that I have air conditioning, then there's nothing that they can do.

 

Ebony

My name is Ebony. I live in Leimert Park. This weekend I just spent most of my time indoors, keeping the blackout curtains-peak just enough for my plants-to you know, have some sunlight. We did go out at one point, I saw the movie theaters have three dollar tickets. Bought our little $3 tickets and a giant soda. (laughter) And we watched Beef.

 

Deirdre

My name is Deirdre Bologna, I live in Porter Ranch. We were melting yesterday. It was brutal. We decided to get out of the valley, get to the beach, cool off. The dogs get to go. There's a nice little ice cream shop that gives them some pup-cups with whipped cream and bacon. So they're looking forward to their favorite.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's just a taste of how people across LA County were handling the record temperatures over Labor Day weekend. An American Housing Survey found that roughly 3 million Angelenos don't have AC. I've only got a window unit, so it doesn't really do much. And I am not sitting in that heat, y'all. I went to the gym during the hot peak hours because all my besties were out of town, so I couldn't use their pool. (music)

 

Brian De Los Santos 

From LAist studios. This is How to LA, aiming to better connect you with this city every episode. LA officials did manage to keep a bunch of cooling centers and five swimming pools open on Labor Day. But we know these heat waves are going to keep coming at us and LA needs some systemic changes to help us navigate it. For more solutions people are working on check out our newsletter@LAist.com/HowtoLA. We'll definitely be coming back to this topic too. But now we want to address another issue. Food deserts.

 

Ching-wen

Oh see some chocolate chip?

 

Unknown

That's more like it!

 

Ching-wen

It's a banana expresso, it has cocoa nibs a little bit espresso powder...

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Okay, we're back at the farmers' market. (farmers market sounds) This time we're at Chinatown's New LA River Market. It's held every Thursday afternoon at the south end of the LA State Historic Park.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

I love soft, like melt-in-your-mouth type feeling. What's the other one I should get?

 

Ching-wen

Chocolate Lava Cake.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Yeah. That.

 

Ching-wen

You want a bag?

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Yeah.

 

Ching-wen

All right. Thank you!

 

Elise Dang

The goal of the farmers market is to fill that gap of missing a full service grocery store.

 

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo

If there is a farmers' market in Highland Park, in Echo Park, there's no reason why we also can't have a farmers market.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Last time we talked about farmer's markets we talked about how they're cheaper and fresher than nearby supermarkets. But Chinatown has no nearby supermarkets. It's a food desert. Their last grocery store shut its doors in 2019. So now that the farmers' market has been in operation for a few months, we're gonna go meet some of the people who made it possible, and check in to see how things are going. Is it helping the community?

 

Elise Dang

My name is Elise de I'm the market manager at the LA River Farmers Market at La State Historic Park.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Elise grew up nearby. Their family has a small business, just a few blocks away.

 

Elise Dang

A little Buddhist worship supply store on Broadway. They sell kitchen supplies to to supplement their sales.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Chinatown look pretty different when Elise was a kid. There's been so many new developments over the years, including this park where the market takes place. Aside from the market, it's been the site of all sorts of big events like LA Pride, concerts, other tournaments. Elise in their family wondered if all these changes over the years were a sign that their neighborhood was squeezing them out.

 

Elise Dang

It's pretty obvious, like how Chinatown looks but it's a very rapidly gentrifying area, buildings slowly being demolished and replaced with luxury apartments. So, like getting involved with this farmers' market. I did not want to be one of the gentrifiers.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Elise says that they work closely with the park and other community leaders to make the farmers' market as accessible as possible.

 

Elise Dang

Since the last full service grocery store here in Chinatown Ai Hoa closed. A lot of the elders buy from the street vendors on Broadway, but you can't use your EBT card.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

A lot of Chinatown's historic residents are low income. They have some of the most EBT users of any neighborhood in LA. Now, residents can use EBT benefits at the farmers' market.

 

Kerry Situ

Our community member, especially those of older age have to travel out of the community to buy their grocery. That's very inconvenient for them.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's Kerry Situ.

 

Kerry Situ

Director of Programs from Chinatown Service Center Social Services Unit.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Chinatown Service Center has been working with the community here for over 50 years. Now they're at the market, offering translation support and helping seniors sign up for benefits.

 

 

Kerry Situ

For instance, for this market, they provide market match. For $10 of CalFresh you've spent here, they match you for $10.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That market match is jumping to $15 later this month. Kerry's goal is for those kinds of programs to make the market even more accessible for seniors. Cos guys, like we've been saying farmers' markets are great for everyone. It's cheaper, fresher, and this one's even as cute ass park.

 

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo

We are all deserving of having good things in our community.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, she worked with a state senator to raise $250,000 to launch the market.

 

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo

If there is a farmers market that's already existing and Highland Park and Eagle Rock and Echo park-there's absolutely no reason why we also can't have a farmers market in Chinatown.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

SEE-LA, the market operator says those funds are enough to keep them running for about five years. It pays for things like signage, translation and people like Elise who run the market.

 

Elise Dang

This is the vendor that I wanted to introduce you to-Gu Grocery, the mom of the daughter who runs the business, she does our CalFresh enrollment on site sometimes.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Elise walked us through the market all the way to a booth at the north end.

 

Elise Dang

This is the owner Jess here.

 

Jess Wang

She's my mom, Peggy.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Jess Wang and her mom, Peggy are selling Taiwanese comfort food.

 

Jess Wang

Mostly sweet treats, but we're also making savory items like tea eggs using ingredients from Taiwan, local ingredients in California...

 

Peggy

Wherever I can help her, I just come-anytime. She's my first priority. So I just go along with her.

 

 

Jess Wang

Being at the LA River Farmers' Market, having that connection to Chinatown and really wanting to preserve the heritage is really special to us.

 

Ching-wen

I mean, I feel like right here is kind of in the middle of Chinatown.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Jess and her mom aren't the only multi-generation to who love this market. A few tents over-

 

Ching-wen

The chocolate sauce is kind of like molded and frozen, so you get crispy part outside and the gooeyness inside.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

And then let me get the cheese cake.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Remember that chocolate lava cake cookie from the top of the episode?

 

Ching-wen

My name is Ching-wen we're at the LA Chinatown Farmers' Market.

 

May (Ching-wen’s mom)

My name is May and..

 

Ching-wen

Mud cookie

 

May (Ching-wen’s mom)

-mud cookie.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That cookie hit the spot. They had so many different types. And obviously I had to take a couple of home because duh- (whispers) I love desserts.

 

Ching-wen

It's all made in a home kitchen. Just me and my mom. Yeah, I couldn't do without her.

 

May (Ching-wen’s mom)

(Speaking in Chinese)

 

Ching-wen

She loves it. She loves meeting tons of new people. And she gets to help me, and she gets to be outdoors.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

There's so many great vendors like Gu Grocery and Mud Cookie. There's a coffee stand, a pupuseria, and of course fresh fruits and veggies. But it's worth noting, there's one big thing that's still missing.

 

Elizabeth Bowman

We don't yet have an Asian specialty produce vendor, which is very, very important for us to serve the community since we're right here in Chinatown.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's Elizabeth Bowman.

 

Elizabeth Bowman

Director of Farmers' Market Operations and Co-Interim Executive Director at SEE-LA.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Elizabeth says most of the farms that grow Asian produce are in Northern California. And she says it's hard to convince small family farms make the trek on a weekday

 

Elizabeth Bowman

Are we serving the community in the way that they asked to be? You know, within our ability, like if every Asian specialty produce vendor turns us down, you know, might just have to start to farm ourselves.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

But Kerry from the Chinatown Service Center says it's important to remember this market is still young.

 

Kerry Situ

This market started in early May. It's like a baby, we need time to fill this market. So in our center, we are helping to spread the word to the community so they can come here to enjoy the fresh air. While they're getting the nutritional foods.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Kerry is also working with management at local apartments to charter a van to help bring seniors to the market. And remember, this farmers market isn't the only solution to Chinatown's food desert.

 

Elise Dang

Ideally, a brick and mortar store that's open seven days a week with regular hours is the solution to solving this food desert issue here in Chinatown.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

That's Elise again.

 

Elise Dang

We don't really see the farmers market as like a solution to the issue, more of like an option that people can go to, until there is a full service grocery store here in Chinatown.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

If you want to check out the LA River Farmers' Market in Chinatown, it's every Thursday from around 3:30 to 7pm at the LA State Historic Park. If you take the gold line, it's about a 30 second walk from the Chinatown station. Okay pues, it's time to eat our cookies for dessert. This is How to LA, new episodes drop every week, Tuesday through Thursday, wherever you get your podcasts. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting a private corporation funded by the American people. Stay cute people. See you tomorrow.