Paul Palodichuk, general manager of the Coachella Valley Certified Farmers’ Markets, along with his wife, Giacomina Marie; Community Liaison, Megan Goehring; and Assistant Manager, Armando Zepeda in Coachella are committed to making healthy food choices available to all. Going Organic recently took a visit to the market and met with Paul and some of the valley’s most hard-working farmers.
GO: What motivated you to open the Palm Springs Market, and other Markets, in the Coachella Valley?
PAUL: We saw a great need for farm fresh, local, and if possible, organic produce and farm products; and also a gathering place for the community. We are from Oregon, and we were working side by side with organic farmers and grape growers there. We shopped at our local Farmers’ Market and knew how vitality important a CFM is to a community. The other Markets came about through community outreach from other communities, asking us to bring a Farmers’ Market to their city.
GO: How is the Market supported?
PAUL: Mostly through public donations, fundraising, sponsorships, local and regional grants, partnerships, and stall fees from the farmers and vendors.
GO: What part has the Palm Springs Cultural Center (PSCC, 501c3) played in establishing the Farmers’ Markets?
PAUL: In order to have a certified Farmers’ Market it must be sponsored by a non-profit, municipality, or a farmer. The PSCC contacted us and asked if we would be willing to start a certified Farmers’ Market, here in Palm Springs— and we accepted the challenge. The PSCC contracted me to run, and organize, the CFMs. Culture can be defined many ways—through arts, film, live performance; and then, of course, there is the culture of food. Without the belief and trust placed in us by the board of the PSCC, and especially by its founders, Rozene and Ric Supple, the CFMs would still just be an idea floating around in the ethers—their outreach in the community is very important.
GO: What are the requirements for farmers and vendors, to participate in the Market?
PAUL: To have a farm stall you must be a certified Farm with the California State agriculture department. We do not have crafts or prepared food booths; except for our value added, local vendors’, fresh baked, artisan bread and organic, roasted coffee, etc.
GO: What have you learned in working with the farmers?
PAUL: They are truly hard workers and dedicated to selling the best products to their customers. It’s a lot of work to be a farmer for market. There has to be an element of love in their labor—think about it, crops to be picked within 24 hours, up at 3 am, driving from the farm, setting up, selling, smiling, engaging, tearing down, packing up and home by 5 pm—if they are fortunate. Many of them have markets throughout the week. We have seen the family base as a very important element to successful, small farms. The farmers are great teachers and educators, just ask them!
GO: Do all farmers participate at every Market?
PAUL: No, we have a few different farmers at each Market. But we do have regular farmers that come to all the Markets.
GO: How does a customer know which produce and products are organic or pesticide-free?
PAUL: The farmer will have it posted if they are certified organic; and must have their certificate with them to show a customer, if asked. This coming season, we are implementing a new rule: the farmers must post what, and how, they grow their crops; and what they may be using on them, if anything.
GO: What steps do you take to insure Market quality?
PAUL: We inspect the farms to make sure they are exactly what they say they are; and the market managers review the farmers every two months. We keep in close contact with the CDFA on any updates needed to ensure clean product; and receive a quarterly report on farms that are in violation of CDFA rules, and follow-up accordingly.
GO: How are things progressing now?
PAUL: We are always looking for, and recruiting new farms; and implementing more educational projects at the Markets. Our newest CFM, in front of City Hall in the City of Coachella, is a culturally relevant Market which helps some of the undeserved residents in the Eastern end of the Coachella Valley. The concept of the Market is to have farmers grow crops that are more specific to the cooking traditions of the population being served.
This Market is a joint effort with help from many organizations, such as, the California Endowment, Rabobank, the City of Coachella and Wholesome Wave. Also working closely with us is Kaiser Permanente, HEALNnet, and Building Healthy Communities Eastern Coachella Valley. We are very grateful for our grantors and partners.
Community involvement, cooking and nutritional information demos, a kid’s fun area, exercise programs and neighborhood health and sustainability partners, are all part of this new Market. At the Markets we accept WIC Farmer’s Market checks, EBT, CalFresh, and Senior Market checks.
A major goal of ours is to level the food-growing and eating field, for all. What this means is that every person in the U.S. should have the money, or the funding available, to make healthy food choices. Healthy food choices shouldn’t be a luxury, unhealthy food should. We are all only as healthy as our next meal!