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Rising Stars: Meet Julie Gerard

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Gerard.

Hi Julie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.

My name is Julie Gerard and I am one of the five board members that created the Ojai Community Farmers’ Market.  In 2014 I moved to Ojai with the intention of changing my life after a serious health scare. Ojai is a very special place, and not long after settling into my new home, I met a small group of people who shared the dream of creating a unique local weekday farmers’ market. We worked tirelessly for over three years, created a non-profit and partnered with the local school district to bring the community together in a healthy, safe way. At the time Covid was not a factor but as it turned out when we were finally ready to start the market our vision was exactly what our community needed.

Our mission was to provide access to healthy food, cultivate community and promote education. We contacted and connected with local farmers, food artisans, makers and musicians who, like us, we’re focused on healthy, organic nutritionally dense food, community and education.

With their commitment to making this work, we opened this local market on June 3rd, 2021 to huge fanfare and a great community turnout. The market is unique because it provides a safe outdoor space to stay a while, shop, eat and hang out with friends.

We now have over 40 vendors providing everything our community needs without having to leave the Ojai Valley. We have farmers who grow everything from vegetables to flowers. We have makers of every kind of  handmade goods and we have artisanal food producers making fermented foods, sour dough breads and everything in between.  The market truly has everything you need to feed your family all week long.

Our local non-profits attend the market each week to inform our community and encourage everyone to get involved to support issues facing our environment, health and food systems.

The magical courtyard where the market takes place every Thursday invites the community to shop for their weekly food, and lay out a blanket to enjoy a late lunch or early dinner of hot and cold sandwiches or wood-fired pizza while listening to Ojai’s local musicians.

We have established a program for kids that includes the local mobile library, dance, song and creative play.

Our adult education programs are centered around sharing information with our community to create a more sustainable food system and the importance of eating healthy.

In order to accomplish our mission to include everyone in our community we participate in the CalFresh/EBT and WIC programs. We are fortunate to have a market match grant which enables us to encourage people to spend their dollars on local nutritionally dense food by providing a market match of $20.00 for each visit to the market. This is so important because it increases your marketing dollars allowing for more healthy choices.

We further our mission of diversity and inclusion by having all our signage in English and Spanish and we are working on an outreach program to encourage our Spanish-speaking community members to enjoy the market as part of their community.

We encourage everyone to decrease their carbon footprint by giving out market money: $2 for riding your bike, $3 for taking the Trolley and $4 for riding the bus. It’s a huge hit with the locals and visitors alike. Most of our local hotels have bike access and the Ojai Trolley stops right at the front door of the market.

The market is open every Thursday year-round, rain or shine from 3-7 in the Chaparral courtyard at 414 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA. It is a beautiful welcoming space, with huge old trees, plenty of shade and a place to hang out with family and enjoy a picnic of delicious local food while listening to live local musicians. We have everything you need to feed your family for the week, entertain and educate your kids, learn about homesteading, food and our food system.

Everyone is welcome and everyone is celebrated here.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been an adventure. I don’t think any of us realized what kind of time commitment this would be. In the beginning, we had difficulties finding a suitable location but with considerable patience, we ultimately found the perfect place. We had countless hours of conversation and heated discussions about our true vision and mission. But it was never a challenge to find local farmers, food artisans and makers who were willing to take a chance on our vision and join together to make it happen. There are so many beautiful, hardworking people willing to share their commitment to good food, education and community.

I think I speak for all of our Board members when I say that we wouldn’t have changed a thing about the journey that has gotten us to this amazing place.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
For more than thirty years, I have been a practicing attorney. When I moved to Ojai and became more involved in our food system and the difficulties farmers and food artisans face every day, the focus of my law practice widened to include land acquisitions, food freedom, farming and food issues, permitting and certifications. Each of our founding Board members has a profession outside of creating this farmers’ market. We are farmers, food artisans, nutritionists and business owners who have all increased our knowledge and grown our areas of expertise as a result of creating this spectacular one of a kind farmers’ market.

We have not only gained knowledge and experience in the areas of food, community and education but we have created a new family, a farmers’ market family.

What does success mean to you?
Success can be defined in so many ways. For me, the creation of this market is success. Success is seeing all of our vendors happy to be at the market. Success is seeing the community come together for a common goal.

Success is seeing the community eager to learn about our food system and willing to shop, gather, eat and play together for the greater good of our community.

For me the ultimate success would be to provide fresh organic nutrient dense food to everyone in our community.  Access to healthy food is a necessity not a luxury.

We are sharing our joy through food. Come share in the joy, share in our local food and be a part of our community.

Joy and good health are contagious. Come join us!

Contact Info:

  • Email: Ojaicommunityfarmersmarket@gmail.com
  • Website: Ojaicommunityfarmersmarket.com
  • Instagram: @ojaicommunityfm @mercadoocfm
  • Facebook: Ojai Community Farmers’ Market


Image Credits:

Lauren Whitney Glass

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