This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Urban planning grad student helps farmers market take root

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Graduate student Diana Ionescu and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the market's grand opening in September.
As if being a graduate student for the past two years in urban and regional planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs weren't challenge enough, Diana Ionescu has also spent this time creating a farmer’s market in her neighborhood of Palms from the ground up.
 
"You would think that because farmer’s markets are so popular and that they’re a one-stop shop," said Ionescu, who has lived in Palms since 2007, "that there would be a good guide to starting one."
 
Not so. Working with the Motor Avenue Improvement Association of business owners and residents to create the long hoped-for market — a venue that would help promote the Motor Avenue area as a walkable, friendly neighborhood —  Ionescu explored, experimented and cut through so much government red tape that she sometimes wondered if the effort was worth it.
 
But when the Motor Avenue Farmers Market finally opened on Sept. 30, with 25-year-old Ionescu as its first market manager, it all seemed worth it — even the hard parts. "It definitely taught me a lot about city government and bureaucracy," she said. 
 
Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the intersection of National Blvd. and Motor Avenue, the market features fresh fruits and vegetables from farm vendors traveling from as far away as Fresno, Oxnard and Riverside. Local restaurants, bakeries and other shops also sell items. Perks like children’s activities, free dogsitting and valet bike parking make the marketing an even more welcoming place.
 
Said Ionescu: "The idea of a farmer’s market had been kicking around for several years, [but] there had never been someone there long enough [to make it happen]," she said. "I was passionate about it and interested in those issues."
 
Making things happen is nothing new for Ionescu, a native of Romania who came to UCLA as an undergrad. She was active throughout her undergrad studies in things like "Food Not Bombs," fair-trade coffee and sweatshop-free clothing initiative. Drawing on those experiences along with lessons she’s learning in urban planning, she has faced many a hurdle in creating the farmer’s market. For instance, early on they were shoehorned into a private parking lot, then had to move when parking requirements were added. She has worked with city officials to arrange street closures each Sunday, with the county on obtaining health permits and with public transportation officials to slight redirect bus routes.
 
The market has attracted a good amount of traffic despite its infancy. "It’s been well received and has given the local businesses along the street more customers," she said. "It’s a cute little stretch of National – fun shops, restaurants."
 
Her challenge now is to keep the market flourishing despite competition from farmer’s markets in nearby areas like Mar Vista and Culver City. And also despite the overhead.
 
"Each week it costs over $1,000," Ionescu said. "We’re in debt with what we’ve spent. There are a lot of start-up costs. The idea is to make a profit and put it back into the market or the Motor Avenue Improvement Association. We’re looking at setting up sponsorships."
 
Already the market has drawn support from the offices of City Councilmember Paul Koretz, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and several local businesses.
 
Support from customers is coming the market’s way too.
 
"I really enjoy going to the Farmers Market!" enthused a customer on the market’s Facebook page. "I walk down the alley and there it is! Can't get any better than that!"
 
For more information, visit the Motor Avenue Farmer's Market website
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