Like most Sundays, Lori and Char Shaw-Taguinod arrive at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market between 6:30 and 6:45 AM. They unpack their meticulously organized van onto the street and quickly begin to set up their tents, a three-compartment sink, tables, griddle, handmade signs, and other necessary supplies for the day. Around 7:15, Lori packs two crates in a small push-cart and we begin her walk around the market to gather their day’s ingredients.
A mutual appreciation is apparent between Lori and the vendors, and she greets each as if they are long-time friends. Peaches, greens, avocados, herbs, figs, heirloom tomatoes, and honey are all carefully stowed away, and we return to the booth a little after 8 AM where customers have already begun to form a line.
The team––consisting of Hans, Corina, Troy, and Natalie––finishes prepping and begins to take the first few orders of the day as Char and Lori buzz around them, adding finishing touches to the booth. Watching them work, it’s clear that they have their set-up down to a science. Attention to detail is emphasized in the decoration of the booth; fresh flowers and hand-painted signs are set on the front table to welcome hungry guests.
Throughout the day, Lori and Char split their time between the front and back of the “house.” They both welcome returning customers; Lori remembers particular food allergies, and notices if a regular skips a week of visiting their booth. “You have to tell us when you’re going out of town so we don’t worry about you,” she says to one. Lori takes the time to teach, rather than correct her team on various food prepping techniques.
Lori and Char have been together for ten years and were among the historic 18,000 couples married when same-sex marriage first became legal in California, before later being repealed. Lori was inspired by good food at an early age thanks to her grandmother, who helped raise her. Together, they made preserves for canning and explored techniques in the kitchen that would build the foundation of Lori’s passion for cooking. After working as an accountant for a construction company and not feeling fulfilled, Lori was given a chance to pursue something that she truly loved when the real estate market crashed in 2008. She enrolled in culinary school, but after graduating she worked in a restaurant kitchen where she grew to dislike the way that she saw chefs deal with their staff, so she set out on her own.
Originally the business went by the name Savory Sweet Eclectic, but that––along with their entire model––changed following Lori’s experience as a volunteer on an urban farm in Long Beach, where the entire staff of farmers was female. “At the farm, I tended the chickens, planted seedlings, and weeded rows upon rows of crops. I got to see the food process go from soil, to seed, to the table. That year working on the farm changed my life. It completely changed the way I viewed food and the people who grow it.” This inspired them to make direct-farm sourcing a standard part of their business; they felt that changing their name to The LadyFarmer was a perfect way to pay homage to all the women working in agriculture.
Motivated by the idea of bringing their food to people on a more consistent basis, Lori and Char transitioned the LadyFarmer into a farmers’ market business. Noting a lack of options for healthy, locally-sourced prepared food items, they felt that this is where they were needed most.
“You see people coming to the market to buy all of this amazing produce, but most of them never end up staying to actually eat. None of the prepared food vendors are using what the farmers have to offer, and we wanted to change that,” says Char.
They have since taken this a step further by achieving Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership (REAL) certification by the United States Healthful Food Council (USHFC). Serving plates are made from areca palm leaves and customers are encouraged to purchase a glass tumbler for beverages, or to use cups made from corn or potato starch, which are also offered.
Simplicity and sophistication work in unison to create the LadyFarmer’s menu. A dish called “Pimped Out Grits” is a combination of Anson Mills white corn grits, farm fresh egg, sweet pepper, breakfast sausage, onion, sautéed greens, and genesee (a tomato, garlic, and onion concoction that Char’s uncle devised while he was a cook in the Navy). Other menu items include a berry tabouli salad (with bulgur wheat, toasted rolled oats, pecans, honey, organic yogurt, and fresh fruit), a BLT (with pecan wood smoked bacon, baby greens, heirloom tomato, and green goddess aioli on toasted French country bread), avocado toast, heirloom tomato tartine, and a breakfast sandwich. Refreshments include lavender or ginger peach lemonades.
The vegetable-centric American south, as well as flavors of Filipino origin, heavily influence Lori’s cooking. Char is Filipino and her aunt, Tita Erva, is constantly teaching Lori new techniques, often demonstrating the many similarities between Filipino and Southern styles of cooking. Lori has also found a great deal of inspiration from The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection by Karen Hess, which explores the history and influence of African American slaves on Southern cuisine. This has undoubtedly instilled a great sense of pride in her as an African American chef.
For Lori, food is an act of love. She and Char want customers to leave their booth in a better state than when they arrived. They are simultaneously creating meals with integrity, as well as a community with their staff, customers, and vendors. “One of the best parts of this is when a customer asks where their food came from, and I can send them just a few feet away to a farmer’s booth.” Lori says. She mentions that farmers’ market life can be difficult––the early mornings, and constantly transporting heavy equipment––but she then wastes no time expressing how happy she is to see the family that has been created around The LadyFarmer.
Note: In addition to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market on Sundays, The LadyFarmer can be found at the Barnsdall Market on Mondays.