The Playa Vista Farmers’ Market reopens for foot traffic with IRL dragon fruit and heirloom tomatoes

Story by Shanee Edwards | Photos by Luis Chavez

Westsiders love their local farmers markets. A Saturday morning stroll through colorful flats of fresh vegetables, sampling exotic fruit and artisan bites from food stands while a live band croons, is a valued weekend treat — especially when the weather is warm and sunny.

But ever since late March the walkable community of Playa Vista has been denied such pleasures. Due to various city and state stay-at-home orders, Playa Vistans have had to adjust to online ordering and contactless, drive-thru pick ups of produce and other offerings.

Finally, on Saturday, Aug. 1, with temps hitting 80 degrees, the Playa Vista Farmers’ Market reopened for foot traffic – with a lot of safety protocols in place as required by the LA County health department. These protocols include mandatory masks, no sampling, queuing to enter the market, “no-touch” purchasing, and an 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. “Senior Hour” for customers over 65 and those with sensitive immune systems. Absent are the vendors preparing hot food along with live entertainers and the clown who makes balloon animals.

Playa Vista Farmers’ Market operator Mark Anderson, known by locals as “Farmer Mark,” was thrilled to be back in the community. But don’t think Farmer Mark has spent the time off baking sourdough bread and watching “Tiger King.”

“It’s been very, very hectic,” says Farmer Mark. “We’ve had to pivot and adjust with the closing of this market. We had farmers and food vendors dependent on this for their livelihood, so we set up an online, drive-thru, contactless delivery market and that’s a whole different animal than a live farmers market in terms of e-commerce, packaging and delivering,” he says.

Farmer Mark only learned from Playa Vista Community Services that he could reopen the market the previous Monday, getting the paperwork that Wednesday.

As stressful as switching to online sales has been, Farmer Mark never considered abandoning the Playa Vista Farmers’ Market. “My passion is to support the local food movement, especially the local farmers. I felt honored and grateful to find this solution, even if it was a temporary solution, to generate some sales because crops in the field keep growing no matter what is going on in the COVID war,” he says.

Pedro Gallardo, owner of Pedro’s Organic Ranch in Fallbrook, California has been selling his exotic fruits like cherimoya, dragon fruit and loquats at the Playa Vista Farmers’ Market for the last four years. When the pandemic hit, he was lucky enough to sell his produce at other farmers markets. “I wasn’t really affected, but the people here were affected. They need food to eat. Now we’re back and we hope to stay here,” he says.

For Mynor Ixco of Cambria’s Stepladder Ranch and Creamery, famous for their small batch goat cheese, things were crazy when the pandemic first broke out. “There was a mad rush on the farmers markets. People were buying lots of cheese,” says Ixco.

But Stepladder Ranch continued to provide its cheese to the Playa Vista community online and also have a presence at Farmer Mark’s other farmers markets.

“I’ve been doing the Costa Mesa Farmers Market, so I’ve been able to spread the cheese love to Orange County!” Ixco says with a laugh.

Luke Lokhorst of Oma’s Puffers, makers of the delicious mini Dutch pancakes, is happy to be back at the market, even if they don’t yet have a permit for cooking the cakes on-site. Instead, he’s selling the cakes pre-packaged. Lokhorst says the pandemic has been a very difficult time for the business that’s “based on making the food fresh. LA isn’t handing out any permits for that. That’s why you don’t see any other vendors here making food.” Lokhorst says it could be next year before the county renews those permits.

In the meantime Farmer Mark insists shopping at a farmers market is the safest way to buy food. “It’s open-air, plenty of space and ventilation. And it’s the least amount of food handling you’ll find,” he says.

The Playa Vista Farmers’ Market takes place Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a special “Senior Hour” from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at 12775 Millennium Drive, The Runway Playa Vista.