Mixing it Up: Diversity is the Secret to Success for Urban Farm Family
To this day Alex Weiser can still remember nearly 25 years ago when customers at Los Angeles-area farmers markets started raving about, and buying up, the apples the Weisers were selling.
It was a far cry from a few years earlier when the family, under Alex’s father, Sid, had purchased their first farm, a 160-acre apple orchard.
They couldn’t sell their production to wholesalers at a price that allowed them to make money. They were forced to unload the apples to juice producers at bankruptcy-inducing rates.
They learned plenty of lessons and regrouped. They decided they needed to sell their products direct to customers and that they needed to diversify. Their customers, which increasingly included chefs, wanted the Weisers to grow other things.
Today the Weisers, parents Sid and Raquel, and siblings Alex, Dan, and Esther, will consider producing whatever their customers’ desire. They are known for their potatoes—sometimes as many as a dozen different varieties in a year—and their melons.
Their success at a varying number of southern California farmers’ markets drove interest from restaurant chefs who wanted their produce. That in turn brought in wholesalers who supplied those restaurants. The farmers markets, even though they represent a minority of the family’s sales now, are the key to the operation.
“We have a 25-year-old bond with our customers,” says Alex. “When the state had a frost in February, many of the chefs held a benefit for farmers. That’s the kind of relationship we have.”
In addition to speaking publicly about agricultures’ needs to community groups and Congress, the Weisers and Alex, in particular, helped found the Southland Farmers Market Association and the group, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles. Those two organizations help promote their business through nutrition programs and by promoting sustainable agriculture in classrooms.
“We try to connect with inner city kids about how things grow and show them what seasonal fruit tastes like,” says Alex. “They treat me like a rock star. You can see that people will eat good food if you give it to them.”
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