Strawberry Sundays

The Chavez family shares their wares at Encino Farmers Market

Carlos Chaves places brocoli on the C. Chavez farm stand at the Encino Farmers Market in Van Nuys, Calif., on April 4, 2020. Photo by Katya Castillo.
Carlos Chaves places brocoli on the C. Chavez farm stand at the Encino Farmers Market in Van Nuys, Calif., on April 4, 2020. Photo by Katya Castillo.

On a cool breezy Sunday, rays from the sun gently shone upon a table of farm grown fruits and veggies. 

Carlos Chavez and his father stood behind their produce, grown from their family-owned farm off the Central Coast. 

Lush leafy greens, lettuce, spinach and kale picked fresh from the farm glistened in the morning sun. Cases of big deep red Albion strawberries were sold on a first-come, first-serve basis to a steady stream of customers. 

This peaceful moment was one of many that day at the Encino Farmers Market, where for 27 years, it has set itself apart by giving back to charity. The market is open to the public every Sunday from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. 

Chavez is a second-generation California farmer who has been helping operate his family-owned Chavez Farm since he was a child. Being around farmers markets most of his life, over the years Chavez has developed meaningful relationships with many of his regular customers at Encino Farmers Market.

“I keep in contact with them, and I’ve seen people’s children grow up,” Chavez said. “It’s pretty cool. They’ve also seen me grow up since I was 10 years old. They know everything about me, like relationships, when I’m getting married, everything. It’s crazy.” 

The farm is run by Chavez’s father and uncles with the help of their children and a couple of workers in Santa Maria, an area known for growing strawberries.

“My uncles and my dad just got together and bought one big piece of land,” he said. “They each have a section, and whatever they need [for the market] they just grab and sell.”

When Chavez’s father and uncles emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, they realized that they wanted to farm. 

“When my dad moved here, he was working, just washing dishes at a restaurant, and one of my uncles was the first one to start in the farming business,” Chavez said. “Before my family owned their land, they used to rent land from someone else and they grew their crops from there.”

Going to market

The Encino Farmers Market has been able to thrive, in part, because of longtime customers such as Charlene Gray. She has been shopping at the market since it first opened. 

“I come here for food, real live food,” Gray said. “I get a lot of my fruits, veggies and herbs from here. I have relationships with all these people. When my son was a little baby and my daughter was in a stroller, I was shopping here. Now my son shops here.”

There are more than 700 farmers markets in California, 92 of them are in Los Angeles County alone, according to the California Farmers Market Association.

Chavez Farm is one of more than 50 vendors and farms that sell goods at Encino Farmers Market. The market was founded and is operated by ONEgeneration, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the community. 

Every dollar spent at Encino Farmers Market provides income to small local businesses, such as Chavez Farm, or it goes to ONEgeneration’s many charitable endeavors, according to Carole Gallegos, the manager of the Encino Farmers Market and a member of ONEgeneration.

“The money we raise here goes to feed 500-600 mostly homebound seniors per day, and to all our other programs,” Gallegos said. “I’d like people to know where the money they are spending goes to. When you support this market, you are supporting seniors, supporting your own community.”

During the pandemic, the Encino Farmers Market and ONEgeneration have been donating up to 50 boxes of excess food from the market to Food Forward, a local food bank.

The farmers market philosophy is built on supporting the community, which is important to Chavez. His favorite part about his Sundays are the personal bonds he makes.

“What I like most is just talking to people,” Chavez said. “A lot of people have different journeys, and you get an insight on a bunch of different people’s lives. They become almost like family.”