New SEE-LA Executive Director James Haydu Talks Farmers' Markets and Geoducks

Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles -- more commonly known as SEE-LA -- is the non-profit organization behind seven farmer's markets around town, including the famed Hollywood location, and the Farmer's Kitchen restaurant, KCET Food's partner in the monthly recipe contest. It was founded in 1991, and for the first time since then, the organization has a new captain at the helm.

James Haydu made his name in the food world as director of communications, policy and marketing at Seattle's Pike Place Market, a venue that has seen its share of trying times, and always emerges victorious. His experience should serve him well here in L.A., where the future location of the Hollywood Farmer's Market is still up for debate. We sat down with James to discuss the forward momentum of the organization, as well as his very favorite recipes.

Photo by Shane RedsarWhat's your vision for food culture in L.A.?
The continued proliferation of farmer's markets. SEE-LA is clearly a leader in having been a major part of building the farmer's market experience and movement in Los Angeles. I would hope that the food culture continues to evolve, specifically urban farmer's markets and in neighborhoods that aren't used to having an outlet for fresh and local food.

How can we, as a culture, as a community in Los Angeles take steps towards fostering that kind of food culture?
I'm a big believer in the "it takes a village" philosophy: individuals form a collective.
So, as individuals, getting into the habit, and continuing the habit, of being customers at farmer's markets. The fact that there are so many great farmer's markets available in so many neighborhoods in Los Angeles is such an easy way to have an alternative to going into a grocery store, and to support these local farms. Some of these farmers might come from 200 miles away, but that's what's local to the state, and to the state's economy, and to the farmer's economy, and that's vital.

What's the importance of supporting these farms in an urban setting?
An urban setting is so diverse. Socioeconomically, culturally, food-culturally, and in the past 20 years, during the proliferation of farmer's markets, people are having the ability, and the expanded ability, to make a choice. To walk into a farmer's market or to walk into a grocery store. And the farmer's market is the best alternative if those people are looking for the best food that they can buy from a local source. Wouldn't it be great if it became top of mind, and second nature, to walk into a farmer's market just like people are hardwired to walk into a fast food establishment.

What's your plan for the markets under the SEE-LA umbrella?
I'm really lucky, because the mission of SEE-LA is one hundred percent intact. The markets function the way they were intended to function. There are no big plans afoot to change anything -- nothing needs to be changed about the way the markets run. SEE-LA, just like every not for profit, has its challenges. We're dependent on grant funding. Moving forward, one of the things from a holistic point of view that doesn't have to do with any one market in particular will be the creation and the implementation of a fund development plan that includes some fundraising. We're in seven different locations, as far as markets go. We run a host of different programs under the SEE-LA, including the Good Cooking Program, which brings nutrition and cooking courses to low-income neighborhoods, our Farmer To Classroom program, which brings farmers literally into the classroom to teach kindergarten and elementary students about food and the growing of food. We do a lot already. Right now the idea is to continue to foster our programs, potential for growth is always in the future. We're quite good at what we do, and right now we're satisfied with where we are.

How will SEE-LA continue to nurture the individual personalities of these markets and the relationships between the markets and the farmers?
Happily, SEE-LA's reputation in the farming community is quite good. We have excellent relationships with the producers in Southern California. The challenge is that some neighborhoods aren't used to having the option of a farmer's market. SEE-LA's responsibility is to continue to foster the relationship, and to do the outreach necessary -- and it does take outreach, you just don't put up a farmer's market in any neighborhood and people come. You have to help the customers understand that this option is available. That's the focus, really, it's not so much the farmer's with the customers, it's SEE-LA continuing to evolve in it's mission to give the customers in the neighborhoods we're in these options.

How will your experience at Seattle's Pike Place Market help you in this role?
Anybody who works with farmer's markets or works in food or food policy, if you do it long enough, and you love it, it gets into your bloodstream. You become a Farmer's Market junkie. What you have to realize when you're involved in Farmer's Markets or a public market is that most of the time it's not for profit. What I can do is help SEE-LA embrace and expound on the fact that while we're in the business of providing a community service through farmer's markets, we're also a business, and it takes a lot of people and a lot of resources and a lot of volunteers to run that, and that's something I learned to do quite well at Pike.

What's the most unique thing you've ever seen at a farmer's market?
This is hard! Here's a good one. Right after I moved to Seattle and became part of the Pike Place Market team, one of the venders who sold fish had geoducks [pronounced gooey duck]. Google it.

What you do is you slice it razor thin and you can fry it or cook it, and they're sort of sweet, like abalone, and they're delicious. The times I've had it, once was deep fried, and another time was with garlic and herbs, and a broth. That was one of the most unusual things I've ever seen.

Do you have a favorite food?
I have a couple of favorite recipes, one is what Alice Waters calls The Egg, and I first read about it in her book, In the Green Kitchen. You basically poach an egg, you toast a good piece of French baguette, you put some tomato and garlic in a mortar and pestle, some parsley, some salt, and you let that macerate for awhile. You take the egg out of the water, you put it on the toasted piece of bread, and the vegetables on top of it, and it's just stupidly delicious; I could eat it every day.

The other is a cake called the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake. I read about it in a book by Molly Wizenburg. It's a flourless chocolate cake that is again, just stupidly delicious. I could have The Egg for breakfast every day and then finish the day off with the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake.

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Food writer at KCET.org
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