Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Reason I am LA Farm Girl

It has been so long since I have posted anything on this blog, I don't think people are even reading it anymore. Life seems to get in the way of my own blog, or actually other people's work does; specifically writing for other people does. That, and teaching gardening workshops and classes, and working in the hospital learning garden, and of course, there's volunteering.

I have often been asked: why are you LA Farm Girl?  How did that happen? Especially from people who knew me when I was younger, in school, or in a different profession, and recall that I was never a "farmer" or even a gardener.

And, I always try to give a simple yet complete answer, but like most things in my life, there was no simple path that led me here and really no short way to explain it. As most of my friends and family know, just 21 days before our wedding, my husband broke his hip on his bicycle and I started working part time to help him heal up quicker.

Considering that I was miserable at my job, but trying very hard to get the most bang for my buck and use that MPA, once I went part-time, I never went back, and soon, it turned into a permanent thing and I eventually quit my "real" job to focus on writing.

Having no plan, or even a remote idea where or how to make a go as a full time writer, I completely floundred and found myself with no work and no income and went through many very lean years. 

During these lean years, along came the chance for me to not only make some more money, but for me to find my place in the world, only I did not know this at the time. It came in the form of one of the most wonderful women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, Ms. Mary Lou Weiss, the Market Manager at the Torrance Certified Farmers' Market, who sadly, passed away on Saturday. It is my sadness at losing her that compels me to write this now.

I had known Mary Lou for a long time. I met her while I was working for the City as an analyst. But, I got to know her better as each Tuesday I started to shop at the farmers' market to save us some money, while I struggled to find a way to make more.

During this time I did everything from tutoring ESL students to merchandising jobs including sorting out and displaying cards for Hallmark, and seeds for (gasp) Burpee seeds (now I know better).
The awesome Mary Lou Weiss
One day, Mary Lou asked me if I would like to help her out and become her Market Assistant on Saturdays since at the time she didn't have one. I of course jumped at the chance and took the job. Once again, without thinking or planning (do you see a pattern here), I soon found I was in over my head. I am not a 5 a.m. girl; I am not a 6 a.m. girl; I am barely a 7 a.m. girl. But alas, in order to do the job you have to be there every Saturday by 6 a.m.

Needless to say, I did not last long as the Saturday Assistant, but,  I did find a deeper connection to both the market, and our farmers, and that was Mary Lou. I heard their stories first hand, but mostly I heard them from Mary Lou who told me how hard they worked to get themselves to the market and that without farmers' markets our farmers couldn't survive. I saw how when they had personal problems, or needed assistance, she made sure they had it. 

She had such a love for our farmers and for the farmer's market, taking care of them is what kept her going, year after year, in spite of struggle after struggle against over regulation, greed, and a complete lack of concern by those who only saw our market as a cash cow to be exploited, and a general apathy towards our farmers by most of the public. She both advocated for them, and worked to educate the public on how important our family farmers are. She said that it's simple, we can help and support them by shopping from them.

She never got angry at me for not doing the Assistant job and instead encouraged me to be involved as a volunteer. I told her I wanted to write a newsletter for her and tell the stories of our farmers. I was completely unreliable and sporadic at how often I would do one, but once again, she never got angry and always greeted me with a smile and the familiar: "hey Jude, how's it going?"

She was one of the few people in my life who never seemed to be mad at me for overcomitting because she was the same way. Like mine, her intentions were always good, and she had a hard time saying no, and sometimes things fell through the cracks, but she always did the important things that needed to be done.

Her love for both her farmers and her friends was unconditional. That doesn't mean she didn't let you know if you'd done something wrong, or that she was angry about something, but, once she got it out, she moved on and was always there for you, without question. She "rescued" so many other people, gave them jobs helping at the market, and if there was some way to help you, she did it.

It was her love for our farmers that changed my life. It was infectious.  It made me want to do something to help even though I wasn't sure how. So, I did what I am doing now, what I always do when I need to do something, I write about it. Once I started, I couldn't stop writing about them and talking about them. Now, 13 years later, I still am. It was because of her that I found my life's passion and I don't think I ever got the chance to thank her for that.

Now I feel such sorrow that I can't share this passion with her anymore. When my first book came out about our farm history and our farmers today, she was my biggest cheerleader, letting me have book talks and sales at the market.

I will miss you more than I can say, I don't think it has even sunk in yet. I will do my best to keep telling the stories that need to be told. But, I know I cannot tell them the way that you did. I will do my best to make sure that the market you fought so hard for and that you made so successful keeps going in the way that you built it to be, with the same integrity and concern for both our farmers and our environment, even if that means I have to step into the political fray again.

Your beloved market is still going strong. This is from today/Tuesday June 25, 2013