By Charlie Schmidlin
Following its successful opening last July, the DTLA Historic Core Farmers Market has steadily grown into a weekly Sunday staple for many residents nearby. However, for the vendors selling fruits, vegetables, honey, and flowers for the market opening at 9am, their workday begins much closer to the pitch-black darkness of Saturday night.
“I get here at 7:00am, but I help my parents as well,” says Liset Garcia, the 23-year-old vendor for Fresno County’s GB Farms, one of ten to fifteen present every week at the Historic Core Market. “They wake up at 3:30 in the morning, and for them it’s pretty much a 24-hour shift on Sundays.”
On a chilly, fog-ridden morning, I meet Liset on 5th St. between Broadway and Spring at her stall—one white canopy, with the maroon pick-up truck that she uses to port her family’s produce over parked behind it. As we arrange her selection of seedless grapes, radishes, sweet limes, and raisins on the table in front, she explains exactly why her parents, Froylan and Carmen Garcia, keep such extended shifts on Sundays.
“It’s the day we work the hardest for markets—we get everything ready, making sure we have all the equipment,” she said. “They go off to a market in Wilmington at 4:30am and have a space for four canopies, so it’s way bigger than what we do here. They take vegetables, fruit, raisins, eggs, honey—all of that. Here, it’s doable with just one person.”
The Garcias reside on a 20-acre farming property in Reedley, CA for their family of four (Liset also has a younger brother, Kevin), and also own several off-site acres of other owners where they keep up more crops. Prior to life near Fresno, they stayed in LA by USC and Huntington Park, while still driving up to the Valley and picking crops from farmers. However, in the late-‘80s, Froylan and Carmen wanted to start selling their own product, and finally a farm was bought 10 years ago. The entire business stays within the family—something that Liset says her parents want to keep, even with all of its difficulties.
“They have to do it all on their own, just because sometimes there’s not a lot of people that want to work for you. They feel they can handle it with just family members though, so it’s always stayed within it.” Using her uncles and their families, Liset says four families make up the farm’s total operations, with at least three markets for each unit in a variety of locations: Compton, Watts, Rancho Cucamonga, Asuza, Wilmington.
Even Liset’s brother helps out when he gets a chance. “When Kevin gets back from school on the weekdays, my dad will pull him out to the fields and have him help. Any help that he can get—as minimal as it seems—is nice, so my brother does get involved. We have a fruit stand too, so he’ll take care of that.”
Around 8:30am, the fog starts to clear on 5th St., and most of the vendors finish up arranging their stalls and wander over to talk with others. Liset arranges her fruit in a very specific way—one that mixes aesthetics (the color of the fruit) with practicality (she places tiny vines of grapes on her side of the counter to complete customers’ weighted orders). She explains the intense, detailed preparation that her family has to go through for the Concord and Autumn Royal grapes to be ready. “Each variety needs a different kind of care, since they all start to sprout at different times of the year,” she says. “We did plant them with the intention of having them in a sequential order, just so that we’re still able to come to the markets and sell them. Maybe one grape will be running out of season before another—we keep all of that in mind.”
She adds, “For example, right now with the citrus, we have a lot of sweet lime, tangerines, and it becomes a little hard with the weather, just because it drops so much at night. You have to be alert if there’s a frost warning, just make sure that your water doesn’t go out into the streets. And because they prepare the fruit a day or two prior to us coming, so it’s as fresh as you can get it, [my parents] do end up having to put in the orders until they can’t do it anymore.”
The stray grapes that fall off the vine or are left over go into a large bin, which the Garcia’s will later turn into raisins to be sold at market. “We just let them sit out in the sun during the hot part of the day, all summer long. We do everything by hand; we don’t have machines or anything so we just sit out and pick them off the stem. The only thing we do add is olive oil, but that’s only so they don’t stick together.”
GB Farms is hoping to branch out into different produce they can bring to the Historic Core Market, as Liset says they just grew apple trees and are hoping for results next year. In the past, they’ve grown “watermelons, strawberries, onions, tomatoes, and pickles”, but grapes have proven to continually show their worth.
“With the other fruits and vegetables, you have to re-plant them year, and it’s not just something stable that you have,” she says. “The grapes—once you have that vine, it’s going to last you years. Same with peach trees, persimmons, they’ll last you a long time, so your hard work is worth it at the end. Grapes always have a great value in the market; that’s why we also invested in apples, because we see that a lot of people like them, and you have to think what’s worth your time and investment.”
For the meantime though, Liset—who works full time as part of an FQHC Outreach and Community Development Team and goes to school for a health interpreter certificate—is happy to carve out her Sunday to help her family. School and work really take up most of my time, and it’s the weekends where I really get to get involved more in the farmer’s market setting and also with the family business.”
GB Farms is located at 8358 S. Alta Ave., Reedley, Fresno County, CA. You can visit their stall during the Historic Core Farmers Market on 5th and Spring every Sunday from 9am to 1pm.