Stephen Gutwillig, executive director of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), talked with the working group in late May about the launch of the Farm Box program that ran for a month between mid-March and mid-April. It is a free, healthy, fresh fruit and vegetable giveaway service for 1,100 families experiencing COVID-19 related financial hardship in South Los Angeles.

All three farmers markets in South Los Angeles closed in response to the pandemic.

“SEE-LA pivoted to food recovery action with very little effort,” he said.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis and necessary “Safer at Home” order, farmer’s markets across the county have been closed. This new program was launched by County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, in partnership with SEE-LA, Cedars-Sinai, UNITE HERE Local 11, Los Angeles Football Club, Banc of California Stadium and Exposition Park.

It allows networks of regional farmers to create the “farm boxes” of healthy food. The boxes include a week’s worth of fresh seasonal produce, including a dozen eggs, 5-7 varieties of vegetables, 10 pounds of oranges, plenty of berries and information about local public nutrition benefit and incentive programs. SEE-LA’s goal was to feed around 1,100 families weekly, every Wednesday, for four weeks.

“All markets south of the 10 are struggling,” Gutwillig said. “All markets north of the 10 are using street permits.”

During the period of the closures, See-LA was concerned on what the implications would be for the South LA community. Also, they were concerned about the implications regarding the family farms in the south LA market, which sit at the intersection of food insecurity and farm insecurity, Gutwillig said.

Funds for the program were redirected from First 5 LA Funding.

There are eight distribution locations, and Gutwillig told the working group this program was not moving intoC the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles. SEE-LA was able to raise $1 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.

“Fresh Food is considered a luxury,” he said. “They have found it very easy to transport and deliver fresh food to those in need as long as you have a little money and a desire to help.”

SEE-LA is the largest operator of nonprofit farmers markets in Southern California, with three markets in South Los Angeles (MLK Outpatient Center, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and Central Ave Market). The Office of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has subsidized the market at the MLK campus since it launched over two years ago.

“SEE-LA is proud to participate in this project supporting families and regional farmers whose livelihoods have both been impacted by COVID-19. We are grateful to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Cedars Sinai for making it possible,” said SEE-LA’s Director of Farmers’ Market Operations Elizabeth Bowman in a press release during the initial announcement. “For nearly 20 years, we have worked to address the cruel disparities in fresh food access in South LA, a public health crisis that has only been deepened by the current pandemic. We’ve partnered with five of these farms – all of whom have lost one or more farmers’ markets in the last few weeks – to provide the produce for this distribution. Ayala, C&L, Castellanos, Don Beto’s, and Divine farms are thankful for the opportunity to continue serving the families of South LA.”

For more information, visit SEE-LA’s website.

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