Bringing the Farm to L.A.

Robert Jacobson: Hi everybody this is Robert Jacobson from GatherGreen and I am with Nick Spano founder of LA City Farm. Good day Nick.Nick Spano: Aye Matey.Robert Jacobson: Thank you, yes, I decided to dress up today in honor of Wednesday, of hump day. I’m not really sure why we have the pirate theme going on but we do. So Nick how are you doing?Nick Spano: I think it’s great. I’m doing fantastic. It’s a great day.

Robert Jacobson: Nick, how did you get involved with running farmer’s markets here in the Los Angeles area? It’s probably not the most typical career path but exciting.

Nick Spano: Yeah, I don’t think anything I’ve done is typical. There’s definitely not one solid through line in anything that I’ve chosen to do with my career. Started off in entertainment for 15 years as an actor, was successful in that and started to invest in real estate in my own business six years ago opening the first solar powered spa and it was through that experience as a business owner and someone who was really engaged in the community that I found farmers markets. Obviously, well, I grew up in Pasadena, in Los Angeles and I come from a big family. I Have eight siblings and so farmers markets were a common part of my childhood. And in 2008 when the economy was really struggling and there was a lot of business owners struggling to stay open I sensed there was a real need to create community. Find a way to get people out together and support each other and one of the ways that I think farmers markets have the potential to do that. And so I started seeking out farmers to start our own farmers market. This was in the Cahuenga Pass  near Universal Studios and that was pretty much it. Six months later I was able to get he confidence of a few local farmers and several other vendors to start our first market. That was met with some resistance from the community in terms of the demand for parking and the kind of traffic it would bring in on a Sunday morning. So we eventually had to move that market which we did. We moved it to a restaurant called Yamashiro on the Hollywood Hills and it was really from that point forward that it kind of took off and became a real popular event. And we have since then been able to participate in developing and managing five other markets. So that’s kind of how it all came together.

Robert Jacobson: And what are those markets, Nick?

Nick Spano: We have Yamashiro, Warner Brothers., Cal State Long Beach where I’m at now, we’re on campus with a small farmers market we do here. We have on in Carson, SouthBay Pavilion. We had one at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park on Saturdays which we just recently closed at the end of 2013 and our newest market which has been a great success so far in the city of San Marino.

Robert Jacobson: Terrific. So I want everybody to go to LACityFarm.com and you can see the markets listed there, there’s a calendar and there’s some good kind of food related blog posts and you know in farmers markets, you touched on something, they’re about a lot more than just bringing healthy food but bringing people together. It seems like farmers markets are a place in Los Angeles where we can socialize, we’re not in our cars, we get to see our friends, our neighbors, our restauranteurs, the people that are providing the food for our local restaurants. Really great quality food that we can bring into our own homes to feed our families.

Nick Spano: Yeah, for us that’s really the main point that we try to drive home whenever we are developing a market. You know I’m not an expert in agriculture. I’m not an expert in organic farming. It’s really about creating a space for all of that to happen. You know San Marino is a very tight knit community, a very wealthy community but strangely enough there’s really no gathering space for everyone to interact and one of the responses we got when we opened the market was how exciting it was to see their neighbors out and I think it’s, so many things today have lost that common interaction with each other. Especially in business, you know? Right now you and I are communicating via webcam, you know? It serves a certain need or demand, at the same time there’s really nothing that can replaced that face to face interaction. It’s important for business to be able to shake the hand of your customer. It’s important for relationships to be able to sit down and talk with each other. But not only that it’s really important in terms of what we eat to have that personal relationship with where our food is coming from and everything today is so disconnected. You have no idea where most of the food that you put in your body is coming from. You have no clue and nowadays we don’t even think to ask. We just consume, consume, consume. I think farmers markets really bring us back to the basics and create a great space for relationships for great relationships with friends, family, and neighbors for a stronger community, but it creates relationships with, you know, entrepreneurs and new businesses that are trying to start out and also it reestablishes the relationship with the farmers where our food comes from.

Robert Jacobson: What message would you maybe shaw with people that aren’t in the Los Angeles area that maybe there isn’t a farmers market yet and maybe somebody wants to start one or or or doing something in terms of community building along with the food. I mean how would you tell people to start if they want to explore this in their own community?

Nick Spano: I think the most basic way to start is to start. That’s the first thing you have to do. I’m not an expert at really anything except for getting things done. You know sometimes I sit on a panel, I sat on a panel at USC and I’m a Bruin so it’s kind of funny to begin with, but, I was at a panel on sustainability and everyone there has a great title as a professional of some kind and I don’t really see myself in that same category, you know? I consider myself a doer and when it comes down to it you can have a lot of great ideas and great intentions but you have, you’re unable to start. Or you don’t know where to start or you’re looking for the perfect place to start. There is no perfect place. There is no perfect path. It’s simply just get out and start doing it and you will figure it out. You’ll find your way and especially with community. You will hit so many hurdles and so many people that don’t agree with maybe the direction that you’re going in and if that’s going to stop you then you won’t ever get anywhere. You kind of have to just, hit the streets, you know? Really start, start working the beat as they say. But, the other thing is if you can find support within the city. That’s a huge help. When we started our first market we got the support of Tom Lebonge our city councilman and that was very helpful especially when we had to move the market. But that was also, there was some challenges there as well because they have to tell it to their constituents and when the constituents weren’t happy with the parking situation they were also the first one to let us know that we couldn’t continue. So, but that relationship was a really important one to establish because it set the tone for our next market. So I think that, and the same thing in San Marino. In San Marino we approached the city manager and a farmers market had been proposed to city council wife in the previous years and had been shot down. So once we went to the city manager and kind of got their blessings with some background on the challenges that farmers market proposal had faced in the past it really allowed us to address some of the concerns of he community and made sure that we did go to city council, we were well prepared and we had the city on our side at that point and we also had the chamber of commerce on our side at that point. So, you know, you taken, whenever you’re trying to take on any community event you really take on the role of a political figure in some ways.

Robert Jacobson: Terrific. So whether, so there’s a little bit of politics involved whether you like it or not in terms of you know, you have to make sure the neighbors are happy, address their concerns, the local politicians, city managements and of course you want to provide a, you want to be a good revenue source for these farmers.

Nick Spano: Absolutely. At the end of the the day it’s a business for these guys and I try to remind everyone of that too that you know, everyone wants to see a market, they love it, they want the farmers to come out. Well for these farmers it’s a job, it’s, they don’t really want to be at the table selling they want to be in the field working. They want to be cultivating crops, that’s what they want to do and so if they’re going to spend three hours that night before loading the trucks and then a three hours to drive in the morning to get to market and then a three hour drive back they better make some money. And it’s our job to make sure that they make money. If they don’t make money they’re not going to come to our markets anymore. So we’re only a good as our last market. If we have a successful market where the farmers know they can, they can make a profit then they’ll keep coming to our markets. And it’s even more challenging with organic. Everyone wants organic but the cost of the product for the organic farmers is much more than your conventional farmer. So, you know, they have to make almost twice as much as the conventional farmer does to be in a market. So, it’s an education for everybody, not just in terms of the food we’re eating and where it’s coming from but really the business, you know, the business of farming.

Robert Jacobson: Thank you very much Nick for sharing. Hopefully that will be a little bit, it’s insightful for me and hopefully everybody else who may be watching this out in cyber land. That’s about all the time we have for today but I want to thank you Nick. Nick Spano from founder of LA City Farm. You can find them at Cal State Long Beach,Warner Brothers. Yamashiro, which is I guess seasonally, is that correct?

Nick Spano: Correct, yeah.

Robert Jacobson: And in San Marino, I think I’m missing one.

Nick Spano: Yeah, in Carson.

Robert Jacobson: Carson.

Nick Spano: SouthBay Pavilion.

Robert Jacobson: So everybody check out LACityFarm.com and GatherGreen.com. You can subscribe here for more hangouts and we appreciate Nick for spending a little time for us on a farmers market day.

Nick Spano: Thanks Robert.

Robert Jacobson: Thank you Nick. Bye!

Nick Spano: Take care.

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About Robert

Entrepreneur, musician, urban yogi
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