Leimert Park is not just a residential area filled with homes and apartment complexes, but a community enriched with flourishing Black businesses, family friendly and cultural events, and more.
People living in or around Leimert have grown accustomed to the sounds of music filling the streets or the smells of savory food from street vendors and surrounding restaurants.
Over the course of 10 years, residents have watched Leimert transform tremendously. From the Coronavirus pandemic almost shutting down small businesses to the building of the Metro rail station to the growing concern of gentrification, the community has been through a lot.
With all they have endured, the Leimert Village merchants are still able to bring smiles to the faces of many each day with their culturally driven events along with their positive and welcoming attitudes.
When you visit Leimert, you can feel the love that the community has for one another and you want your family to not only feel love, but be safe and healthy as well. Thomas Mitchell, a 30+-year resident of Leimert, can agree.
“My mom has lupus and healthy food options aren’t readily available in our neighborhood. We have to travel 20-minutes to more gentrified neighborhoods for better quality,” he said.
While Leimert Park and the surrounding neighborhoods do have plenty of fast food choices, there is not a grocery store within walking distance – let alone many healthy options.
Thomas, and other Leimert residents will soon not have to drive or walk miles to get access to viable food. Sole Folks, a retail based co-op in Leimert, has partnered with Black-owned farms to bring fresh produce to the community.
Founder of Sole Folks, Akil West, plans to take the initiative to resolve this growing problem by bringing Black Arts District Farmer’s Market to provide fresh food and a nearby location to obtain healthy produce. West is aware of the needs of the community.
“We are currently in a nutritional food desert. With the closing of the Ralphs during the pandemic and the upcoming closure of Albertsons on Crenshaw, we are getting further and further away from viable sources for healthy food,” he said.
Word of a farmer’s market in the area definitely brought on a lot of excitement. When West and his team put out a call for vendors, they received hundreds of submissions. The vendors, West states, are Black and Brown people from this community or those who have put in “some sweat equity into sustaining the vendor culture of this community.”
A percentage of the vendor slots have also been saved for members of the Leimert Park Village Vendors Association. This was done to make sure that those who have been vending in this community and who want to be a part of the market also have the opportunity to participate.
However, before opening and selling food to the public, West explained that a lot of calls must be made, permits be reviewed and accepted, and other timely logistics to get in order. The team at Sole Folks has been putting in extra man-hours to provide the best quality food and experience for the community.
“In general, we do not believe in waiting for governments or corporations to solve our problems, so when it comes to the issue of food insecurity, it’s no different. We want to reimagine the resources we have at our disposal such as public space (parking lots, side walks, etc.) to come up with community led solutions,” West said, adding that they want to make sure everything they do has a positive impact.
“As we plan this market, we want to make sure that the vendors, merchants and unhoused community members are not being negatively impacted by the usage of public space as we move forward.”
Sole Folks is not just a retail store that sells clothes and sneakers, but “serves as a community hub as we produce workshops, events and offer programming that are culturally significant and provide information and resources,” West emphasized.
“Our pillars are ownership/creative entrepreneurship, health and wellness and mental health awareness. The programs we have had at Sole folks range from weekly organic food giveaways to sewing classes to live music and dance workshops,” West added.
While the opening date for the farmer’s market is still being planned, West feels optimistic for its future.
“I think the farmers market can serve as a bridge between the members of this community who come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. It will encourage folks who live in the hills to stay in their own community to do their shopping and it will make it more accessible for those who don’t have the means to travel however many miles to get fresh foods.”