Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rainy Day Doesn’t Deter Canoga Park Farmer’s Market Vendors

By Michale Hemmingway, Quilt staff

The pouring rain this Saturday didn’t scare off Eileen Holchek of Fillmore, from setting up shop as usual on the corner of Owensmouth and  Wyandotte. “Rain or shine I’m here. I paid good money for this spot. Besides, there’s a short window when my cowpeas are edible - I had to get them to market today. And they don’t do well in moisture - they attract mold like a bastard. Whoops, they’re already turning,” she announces matter-of-factly as she dumps a bushelful into the storm drain. 
Cowpeas, still dry. 

But don’t feel too bad for the owner, operator, and saleslady of Eileen’s Organic Beans & Seeds. 

“Hell, I’m insured against all this - I can write all this off. I’m lucky if I sell two bags of edamame or a pound of pumpkin seeds on the Saturdays when it’s nice out. This rain is a godsend - it’s gotten my entire inventory of sunflower seeds sliiightly damp. Give me a hand, will you?” she asks as she begins to upend a 40-gallon plastic tote, sending roughly sixty pounds of the unhulled, salted black and white snack into the gutter. “The rats around here are going to have a feast tonight!”

Half a block down the street, Danny Garcia of Southwest Turquoise & Gemstones barters with a customer of sorts. 

“What about twelve hundred bucks, and I don’t call the cops or contact your insurance company?” he offers to Mildred McCadden, a West Hills resident, whose beige 2007 Lincoln Town Car has come to rest halfway in Garcia’s booth. The elderly McCadden is visibly shaken. 

“My husband is going to kill me,” she says to no one in particular. “How was I to know that they close off the street here on Saturdays? I didn’t even see the cones,” she nods to one of the mangled plastic barriers under her front driver’s side wheel. This is ridiculous, closing the street like this, not telling anyone. Thank goodness no one was hurt.” 
A piece of jewelry plucked
from the wreckage

“No one was hurt?!” laughs  Garcia, good-naturedly. “I’d say my business is hurt. You plowed into my tables and busted up four of my display cases. Sh_t, there’s half a dozen of my thunderbird earrings stuck in your wiper blades. I can’t even find my sterling silver-plated arrowheads. My dreamcatchers? All ruined. And maybe I twisted my ankle when I had to jump back as you skidded. Trust me lady, you’re getting off easy at twelve hundred bucks. There’s a B of A down the street if you want to get cash. Or I can take a check. I’m the trusting sort.”

Later after McCadden has settled her debt and driven off, Garcia confides he’s never had a more lucrative Saturday. “Thank the mighty cloud spirits for this life-giving rain and the great god of municipal roads for oil-slicked pavement, ha ha!”

This pipe featuring a character from
the Spongebob show is one of many
novelty tobacco items Louis did not
sell today.
Across the street, a young unshaven man in an artificially distressed t-shirt featuring a happy orange and pink fellow from Fraggle Rock packs his wares into his backpack and calls it a day. He’d set up shop under a tattered beach umbrella duct-taped to the leg of a card table a few hours before but admits to only getting a few lookie-loos. 

“Naw, man, I got all these cool pipes and lighters an' sh_t and I didn’t really sell anything - dang.” says Louis, who declines to give his last name. “But this one dude went apesh_t for the Adventure Time bong that I picked up at Venice Beach last year so we traded for it,” he smiles as he pats his front pants pocket with the ziplock top of a baggie sticking out of it. 

“He seems cool and he’s got a bootleg of the f_cking Lego Movie, man - that sh_t’s still in theaters! We’re going to hang out at my place and watch it and I have to show him how to work the bong. It seems pretty straightforward...? But you have to put your finger over Princess Bubblegum’s head while holding your lighter under Finn otherwise you don’t get anything, right?” 

As he uses a box cutter to slice through the duct tape and free the umbrella before folding down the legs of his table, his new friend - a chubby young man in a Baja hoody with the Corona Beer logo silkscreened on the front - walks up with a pizza box, visibly steaming in the afternoon drizzle. “No f_cking way, bro! Pizza! I just live up this alley - come on. Best f_cking day ever, man.”
The bustling Canoga Park Farmers Market       Staff photo.
Nearby, under a black canopy silkscreened with a cartoon chicken and the words “Happy Hen Farms, Moorpark, California” are a young couple in their early 30s.

“Totally organic, free-range. They come from happy, well-adjusted chickens,” laughs Brandon Heinlein as he gestures to the eggs set in recycled egg cartons, many with “Trader Joe’s” crossed off with red marker. “Only eight dollars a dozen,” he says in earnest hopefulness.
Eggs are what's for sale over at the Happy Hen Farms booth.
His wife Emily, bundled in woolen cap, fleece scarf, and flip-top mittens, sits on a milk crate, and bent over a smartphone, smiles and shakes her head in amused annoyance. 

“He had a great job as a developer at Yahoo in Santa Monica. But he quit, sold all his stock and Mr. Gentleman Farmer here bought a place out in the sticks to raise chickens. I had to get up at six this morning. Six. On a Saturday.”

When asked how business has been on this rainy day, Brandon shakes his head and explains it’s not so much about selling eggs, at least for the first couple years, but “becoming a familiar presence here at the Canoga Park Farmer’s Market, so people can get to know us and what our eggs are all about.” 

Emily explains happily that if they hadn’t sold at least three dozen by one p.m., hubby promised to close up shop and take her over to Designer Shoe Warehouse in Northridge for a “mega-shoe spree,” as she calls it.
Like the agoras of ancient times, where entire communities would gather to socialize while buying the week's grain, a fresh jug of foot-annointing oil, a hardy indentured servant, or cuneiform letter seals carved from human bone, friends and neighbors come out in droves to the Canoga Park Farmer's Market, where today's offerings include artisanal bruschetta, organic baby corn, handpainted iPhone cases that just aren't moving on Etsy and cuneiform letter seals carved from human bone. Staff photo.
“You see all these eggs?” she says, looking up from her game of Candy Crush to nod at the stacks of full cartons, “He’s buying me a pair of shoes for every one we didn’t sell. And we didn’t sell squat.”

“I’m fine with that. I’m happy with that," Heinlein, 32, shrugs with a smile. "It’s about becoming a familiar presence here. The sales will come later."

Despite the bad weather - though most would insist because of it - the vendors at the Canoga Park Farmer’s Market found Saturday to be a “splashing” success!

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