Inside a College Farmers' Market
USC students examine nuts at the farmers' market.
(Credit: Kendall Robertson)

A quick stop at the USC Trojan Farmer’s Market on Wednesday afternoons can easily turn in to a full-fledged adventure as students, faculty and staff taste fresh, local foods, toy with handmade wares, and interact with engaging vendors. Providing convenient access to healthy, local foods, the farmers’ market offers its shoppers a plethora of exciting, new eating options.

The radiant California sun reflects off the pristine, white tents that have engulfed McCarthy quad, an area usually reserved for tanning and games of Frisbee. This farmers’ market is a welcome change of pace, bringing those at USC a unique and enjoyable shopping experience.

Almost five years ago, a similar sight could be found outside in Alumni Park where USC hosted its first farmers’ market. Much to the dismay of students and faculty, USC Hospitality closed the market due to the difficulties of managing the event: procuring the fruits and vegetables from vendors, arranging food sales from venues on campus, and so on.

According to Erika Chesley, the Associate Director of Sales and Marketing for USC Hospitality, the school has been seeking to re-instate this tradition of a Trojan farmers’ market ever since.

Partnering with California Certified Farmers’ Market Inc. (CCFM) and Raw Inspiration, USC is now able to host weekly farmers’ markets for students, faculty and staff.  Though USC Hospitality manages over 30 eateries on campus, their areas of expertise do not include farmers’ markets, says Chesley.

The partnerships with CCFM and Raw Inspiration allow for the management of the market and its vendors to be put in the hands of the experts. CCFM identifies which farmers and non-farmers to bring on to campus, helping with not only the selection of vendors, but their activities on campus as well.

Dennis Horton, the Market Manager under Raw Inspiration, coordinates with the vendors: collecting rental fees, making sure vendors are following USC’s standards and regulations, the health department and fire department as well. Under Horton’s supervision, the appearance and flow of the market is both aesthetically pleasing and in compliance with all safety and health regulations.

The market itself is composed of two rows: the agricultural row and the non-agricultural row.  On the agricultural side, one can find stands dealing in fresh fruits and vegetables.  Vendors such as Berumen Boyz Farm and Ayala Farms can be easily spotted by their diverse array of tantalizing produce. Both vendors have been coming to the Trojan Farmers’ Market since its re-introduction to campus in August of last year.  The father and son duo, Jose and Adrian Berumen, travel each week from Huntington Beach with their organic produce. 

Tanya Ayala and Lupe Hernandez, representing Ayala Farms, make a trip to the market each week from Oxnard, bringing with them colorful and delicious vegetables that would tempt any student to skip their trip to the nearby EVK dining hall.

These local farmers and vendors have been fairly successful at USC. Considering these vendors are not big businesses, the main reason driving these vendors to return to the campus would be the success they experienced last semester selling their goods at this farmers’ market. 

When asked about the current state of Ayala Farms, Hernandez revealed that sales had fallen since last fall. Other vendors, however, seemed to be doing very well for themselves on the quad. 

Celebrated “hummus expert,” Arcis Chafai had a never-ending stream of students at his stand for Mom’s Products. This family business attracted students with free samples and Chafai’s own wit and humor. “She wants to try to habenero…” he said skeptically, “Do you have medical insurance?”

Other vendors such as Baker’s Best also seem to draw a large crowd. Each Wednesday, Zakariya Elkazzaz arrives at his bakery at 7 a.m., bakes his bread, and brings it to the USC campus.  By the end of the day, empty boxes surround him.

Other interesting food options include a vast array of nuts, dried fruits and even vegetable chips. At Fruit Patch, students swarmed its manager, Gallardo. The nuts available range in their level of healthiness, but generally speaking, no oils or butters are used in the making of the delicious treats.

 Another interesting stand that can be spotted in the quad is Frusion Variations. Omar Edwards, one of the men working the stand that day, debunked the theory false that all chips are unhealthy. Made from vegetables such as beets and purple potatoes, these chips are made from the produce of local farmers and without the use of preservatives. Each bag is a little more than 200 calories, providing an enjoyable snack that won’t leave SoCal residents worrying about its effects on their beach body.  

Beyond its food options, the farmers’ market also sports several stands where handmade jewelry and trinkets can be found. If the idea of taking on L.A. traffic in pursuit of the perfect birthday gift for a friend or roommate feels intimidating, stands such Love Rock Jewelry and ZLY provide the perfect solution.

Marilee Tangen, the owner of Love Rock Jewelry, uses healing stones to create one-of-a-kind pieces that are not only beautiful, but hold meaning. Each stone carries its own energy, according to Tangen, meant to exude feelings of love, happiness and peace.

Another nearby jewelry stand is ZLY. Zina Lee, a fellow Trojan alum and avid jewelry maker, runs it. Lee has been making jewelry for 15 years now, and has frequented the farmers’ market since it began last August.

Each vendor comes from no more than a few hours away. According to Chesley, all of the vendors are relatively local. The farthest distance that she believes any vendor travels to attend the farmers’ market is that from San Diego to Los Angeles.

 Luckily for most students, the distance to attend the farmer’s market is no more than a stroll across campus. Even those Trojans who no longer live on campus expressed their excitement about the market.  Molly First, a senior human biology major, raved about the market, “The farmers’ market is a really amazing opportunity to try a variety of healthy foods and treats on campus. My personal favorites are the tomato basil and garlic hummus, and lemon sorbet that is actually served in a lemon peel.”
With the Trojan Farmers’ Market, USC is able to create a memorable and delightful experience for all those involved. Only time will tell if the market can sustain its current levels of success across future semesters. For now students, faculty and staff alike are able to enjoy all that the market has to offer.