Tierra Del Sol Farmers Market Brings Together Diverse Community in Bucolic Setting

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SUNLAND — Luis Jimenez plucked a fresh carrot bunch from the produce vendor’s bin and flashed an incandescent smile.

“I feel like I’m working on a farm,” Jimenez said as he surveyed the farmers market on the wooded grounds of Tierra del Sol’s rustic Sunland campus, the heart of an organization that serves nearly 700 adults with developmental disabilities.

On Saturday mornings Jimenez, 23 of Pacoima and four adult colleagues, all with special needs, mix with farmers and other vendors from throughout Southern California to create a haven where shoppers can buy fresh produce and specialty foods like French pastries, Mediterranean pizzas and organic veggie tacos and handmade crafts by artisans who prove art knows no disabilities.

Tierra’s farmers market, open since last June, transcends the nomadic outdoor markets hosted at shopping malls and other venues.

“Here we can be part of the community,” says Martin Barrera, 29, of North Hills, a Tierra client who serves coffee to shoppers. “We get to know each other, and the shoppers can see we can help just like anyone else.”

And Barrera and Jimenez and their Tierra co-workers, which also include Neil Natividad, 22, of La Crescenta, Rocio Gutierrez, 41, of Pacoima and Jessica Guevara, 27, of Sun Valley, get paid for helping.

“It’s awesome to get a paycheck,” Barrera smiles. “I feel like my world is coming together again.”

Stationed by the children’s bounce house, Natividad echoed that sentiment. “I’m enjoying it. Here we learn to be independent, we’re given responsibility, and we can show that people with disabilities can make a difference. And, to be honest, the food also is really good, especially the chips and salsa.”

A cornucopia of tantalizing foods from pastries to fresh fish, sausages, pita and hummus, “soulfully sweet” organic juices and salads and Italian ices satisfy the appetites of shoppers browsing for farm fresh vegetables and eggs, flowers, honey, candles, Baltic amber jewelry, Bamboo eyewear, and more. Handmade woolen goods and ceramics crafted by Tierra’s clients make ideal holiday gifts and include ceramic snowmen and ornaments.

The farmers trek to Sunland from as far away as San Luis Obispo though there also are local vendors from Shadows Hills like Sparky Thorton of Soulfully Sweet, who revels in blending coconut, pomegranates, greens, herbs and spices to feed body and soul. A portion of all vendor sales benefits Tierra del Sol, which has been serving the community for almost 50 years.

Sometimes there is music, face painting and a bounce house for children, and Tierra will open up The Animal Experience where young and old can mingle with goats, chickens and rabbits and greet Toyman, a beloved miniature horse.

It all adds to the festive milieu, which takes place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“This is about as good a setting as it can get,” said Kemp Fritts of Shadow Hills, who loves shopping at farmers markets.

“There’s a good selection,” added Lisa Stultz of Northridge. “And I like being supportive.”

On a recent fall Saturday, French Bakery executive chef Laurent Soulier stood behind a mound of fresh baked baguettes and pastries and gazed wistfully at the tranquil grounds, smiling at Luis cleaning tables nearby.

“Of all the farmers markets, this is my favorite,” he said. “It’s the most wonderful.”

Article Written By: Marc Littman, Tierra Parent and BOD Member

Tierra del Sol Farmers Market

Where: 9919 Sunland Boulevard, Sunland, CA 91040
(Free parking on site or at nearby Shadow Hills Presbyterian Church, 10158 Johanna Avenue, Sunland, CA 91040)

When: Every Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Note: the market will be open through the December holiday shopping season).

For more information on Tierra del Sol’s Farmers Market, including vendor opportunities, contact Luke Crowley: (818) 257-6600 or lcrowley@tierradelsol.org  or visit www.sunlandfarmersmarket.com

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