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Market Value: A Stroll Through Inglewood's Farmer's Market

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Inglewood has a farmer's market.

That sounds modest, I know. Locally produced food and goods is a phenomena that's moved in recent years from suburban-elite to fairly ubiquitous. But farmer's markets are always more than that. They're street affairs that affirm the livability of the street where they happen, the livability of a whole area. They speak to security and community, and to the all-important presence of leisure time. Being able to browse a farmer's market in the middle of the day to shop for fresh produce and homemade hummus and crackers is a luxury that's something beyond money.

The Inglewood market is small at this point, not exactly luxurious--a dozen or so booths along Market Street, our old downtown's main drag. It's also somewhat temporary: the Social Justice Learning Institute is running it while the city takes bids for a permanent operator. It's a trial run. For now, the market happens every third Thursday of the month through the end of the year, on Market between Manchester and Nutwood Avenues. I confess that I'm happy to see something being staged on Market Street, a street that for all its potential has been woefully neglected for generations now. The farmer's market that obvious: against the bright optimism of the displays of homemade baked goods and woven African baskets are drab storefronts that look much as they did decades ago. It's frustrating, because Inglewood actually has one of the bigger small-town downtowns in this part of the county, bigger than El Segundo's or Torrance's or Culver City's. But it's anemic. Despite the presence of a fantastic vegan soul-food joint called "Stuff I Eat" and other spots of note, this downtown simply hasn't evolved into a destination. It has not kept up with the times. Overall, Market still has the feel of a casualty of the 70s, when indoor malls first started replacing outdoor downtowns as shopping centers of choice.

Downtown Inglewood, 1975 | Inglewood Public Library, via Calisphere
Downtown Inglewood, 1975 | Inglewood Public Library, via Calisphere

Our local reps, alas, have never thought small enough. Over the years they've looked to big-box retailers and the whole Forum/Hollywood Park/casino nexus to carry the city, put it on the map of L.A.'s future. Even now our mayor is salivating about the cluster of developments coming online at Hollywood Park, which has been razed to accommodate retail, housing and a football stadium, to name but a few things. All of those things may happen, they may not. But I firmly believe that a city has to be alive at the grassroots in order to be alive--the Forum, etc. are at the top of the tree, not the bottom. A successful farmer's market speaks to a solid civic foundation that has little to do with the bigger amenities that in a way could be anywhere. Take Beverly Hills--it doesn't have any big sports or entertainment venues, yet it prospers. Of course it's a vastly different population than Inglewood with a different tax base. But the point is that all it's ever needed to be is Beverly Hills. Inglewood can be that self-assured, and a farmer's market can help with that more than a billion-dollar football stadium can.

Rendering for new Inglewood NFL stadium | HKS Architects
Rendering for new Inglewood NFL stadium | HKS Architects

A farmer's market also feels in tune with residents and what they want, and need. Wandering the small but cozy market last week made me feel catered to. I'm an Inglewood resident more demographically common than assumed--an educated person working at home. I have leisure time by choice. On the other hand, I'm working class: I never work enough jobs, so I do struggle in a fashion. I am persistently underemployed, though this may be the lot of all writers these days. But I do have enough discretionary income and middle-class inclination to buy boutique hummus, as do many of my neighbors on the block who have longed for a Trader Joe's as long as I've lived here. We still don't have a TJ's, but a farmers market is in that spirit. It's a step in the right direction.

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The market's presence will no doubt hearten the young couple I met recently that was looking to buy the house next door to me. The house is smallish but meticulously renovated, all gleaming wood floors and sleek new appliances, the pride of mid-century modern updated to 2015. The husband, who is white and from the Midwest, told me he thought Inglewood is a gem in the rough, L.A.'s best-kept housing secret. All that development around the Forum--the football stadium, condos, retail, etc.--is really going to put this city on the map, he said confidingly. In his mind there's a good possibility Inglewood will gentrify.

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In Inglewood's underutilized downtown, the farmers market draws locals every month and reinvigorates its civic life in personable ways that large projects cannot I Photo by Myca T | Yelp
 

I bit my tongue on that one. He was a very nice guy, but a white, potential new neighbor predicting gentrification to a longtime black resident almost qualifies as a micro-aggression. I should have answered that we don't need gentrification because we now have a farmer's market. Not only is there boutique hummus for sale, there is boutique olive oil (I bought two bottles infused with peach and orange--lovely) and handmade soaps and jewelry, in addition to the woven African baskets and homemade cobblers. I've been to bigger and more comprehensive farmer's markets in Larchmont and other places, but I like the cultural specificity of Inglewood's. It feels like home. There was also a stage featuring a singer playing jazz and blues guitar, a man who turned out to be my neighbor who lives around the corner; I know Paul is a musician but I'd never seen him in action. In the middle of a blues song he greeted me by name from the stage, sounding very pleased; I waved back. You don't get any more grassroots than that.

I would say at this point that the farmer's market, though it has a ways to go--more blocks to go--has much promise. It speaks to a kind of self-assurance about the Inglewood good life (yes, there is such a thing) that I need to browse regularly to remember that the city has much to offer and always has. I will be back, for that reason and also because the two lovely bottles of olive oils are already almost half gone. There are actually some things you can't get at Trader Joe's.

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