Z: Most of the farmers' markets we have visited bear the name of the community where they are located. Looking at a map of Los Angeles, we could find no mention of Harambee. Obviously, it was not a location, but, instead, a word representing something else.
R: We found out soon enough as we parked the car on Crenshaw Boulevard at Slauson. The market is next to a bank on the southeast corner of the intersection in a parking lot adjacent to a brick building that was formerly a fire station. Market manager Jabari Jumaane had the answer. Harambee in Swahili means "let's pull together."
Z: And they are pulling together. Jabari's group, AFIBA, sponsors the farmers' market and a host of other activities that occur at the former fire station.
R: AFIBA stands for the African Firefighters in Benevolent Association that has developed a number of programs held at this location. In addition to the farmers' market held each Saturday, there is a West African Dance Class and a Mandingo Drum group on that same day.
Z: Evening classes include the Community Artists' Guild that focuses on film and TV acting and Nuba Wrestling, a martial arts activity of African origin. On Friday evenings people in the neighborhood are invited to Talking Drum, a community forum.
R: I was impressed with the summer activities for young people that featured an acting camp for ages 8 to 13, the Culinary Arts Summer Camp for teenagers 14 to 18, and Switch to Health Day.
Z: The Switch to Health Day was a summer program designed to "reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke by African Americans." The activity, incorporated into the Harambee Farmers Market that day, endeavored to enroll people into Switch to Health, a six-week fitness program designed to make participants tobacco free.
R: Like so many of the markets, Harambee is interested in promoting a healthy lifestyle in the community. The market and AFIBA both celebrated their third anniversary this year. AFIBA is an organization of approximately 30 firefighters who have joined together to work on projects of benefit to the community. Jabari informed us that he was a rookie firefighter when this station was in operation years ago.
Z: It's remarkable to see firefighters turn an old fire station into a valued community resource. I was impressed with Jabari who seemed to be everywhere that day--moving furniture, checking the bathrooms, supervising the farmers' market, and talking to us. He seemed like a dynamo with unlimited energy.
R: That's because he's a vegetarian. He's been a vegetarian for 20 years. I guess that may be one reason why he was interested in bringing a farmers' market to the community.
Z: That Saturday the market featured the crops of two farmers, Will and Marcella Robinson of Fresno and Jose Arreola of Oxnard. Though there were only two, they managed to provide a diverse choice of fruits and vegetables.
R: The Robinsons grow 101 items on their 70 acres, but much of the acreage is planted with grapes, about 40 acres. That day Marcella was not with him, but she sent her yam muffins, some of which are made with sugar, the others with maple syrup. Looking at our Vegetarians in Paradise T-shirts, Will remarked, "My wife is a vegetarian."
Z: Three varieties of grapes were displayed on their tables: Thompson seedless, crimson, and Black Beauties. Will was quick to tell us that the raisins were dried from grapes grown on his farm. Other fruits available were peaches, nectarines, Santa Rosa plums, Pink Lady apples, Anjou pears, watermelons, cantaloupes, and Fuyu persimmons.
R: Both of us looked at the persimmons cautiously because they didn't have that bright orange color. Noticing our hesitation, Will offered us samples. We were sold. The Fuyus had to come home with us.
Z: The Robinsons offered some small red and green tomatoes as well as the beefsteak variety. Their vegetables included string beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, okra, eggplant, red potatoes, mustard greens, zucchini, onions, yams, yellow crookneck squash, and a box filled with chili peppers of various colors, shapes, and sizes.
R: For me the high spot in produce was something we had not encountered in any of the farmers' markets we had visited during the last five years: fresh beans. We had never experienced fresh pinto beans, crowder peas, black-eyed peas, and purple hull beans; so we purchased a sampling of each. Shelling was quite a project that afternoon, but the effort was worth it. The beans were a tasty complement to our dinner that evening.
Z: They also offered speckled butter beans, whippoorwills, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas dried in one-pound packages. It was difficult to pass up the whippoorwills and the speckled butter beans, both fresh and dried. Another temptation on the table was the pickled okra. Marcella was obviously busy in her kitchen pickling and canning.
R: What we didn't encounter at the Robinsons, we found at the Arreola tables. They had a good selection of vegetables that included red and green cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, green beans, beets, spinach, tomatoes, parsley, kale, chard, cilantro, and radishes. They offered romaine and red leaf lettuce as well as bell peppers in three colors: red, green, and yellow.
Z: I was impressed with their celery; it looked quite beautiful. So were their spinach and red leaf lettuce that found their way into our shopping bags.
R: The market features a musical group each week. Scheduled that day was Ladee Dread, but the performers must have entertained after we departed. The non-agricultural vendors featured a melange of jewelry, clothes, hats, toe rings, ankle bracelets, greeting cards, dried flower arrangements, and soaps and scents. Standing out from the others was Medina, a doll artist.
Z: Medina had a unique talent of creating dolls from recycled materials such as toilet paper rolls, plastic water bottles, and chopsticks. She showed us samples of these as well as dolls made from palm fronds. Many of her creations use ethnic techniques of wrapping with pieces of cloth and yarn as well as other materials. Medina shares her expertise in doll making classes.
R: We briefly watched Debra Michelle massaging one of the patrons before we moved on to look at the wares of Hanif Riley. It was difficult not to notice his striking head covering that was a skillfully handmade Fulani hat from Mali. Hanif calls himself Uncommon Sense Jewelry Designs. Along with shell necklaces, he featured decorated African drums and other instruments.
Z: Our last stop was at Body Spirits by "V." V, or Vera to her friends and family, was selling gifts from the heart. Those gifts were aromatherapy products, essential oils, massage oils, candles, perfumes, bath salts, body gels and lotions, and shampoos and conditioners. In our conversation we told her about our VIP web magazine. A few days later we received this note:
Hello Mr. and Mrs. Allen,
It was a pleasure to meet you last weekend during your visit to Harambee Farmer's Market on Crenshaw/Slauson. The warmth presence of your smile and teamwork brought me a radiant glow. Not only did you share information in reference to other farmers' markets, you brought a cloud of zest with you. Please stop by again whenever you get a chance, with your beautiful smiles and T-shirts. What a wonderful website! I can't wait to visit your site again.
Harambee Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed November 2003