Artsakh Gardens Market could have been a typical farmers market, except it isn’t: 10 months ago, two women came up with the idea of gathering Armenian food producers, farmers, bakers, craft masters, and jewelers on a shade-covered lawn in front of Glendale Central Library. Opened on September 12, 2021 and continuing every Sunday for the next three months from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., 30 vendors will offer everything from fresh produce to homemade food prepared with traditional recipes.
It all started with a single Facebook post through which Lilit Barsegyan started to look for a fellow community member with experience in organizing a farmers market. “I was driving around and buying different products from people to help my community here and in Armenia. Soon, I realized that we needed to have one place where everyone can get together and do it. I knew that there must be another Armenian out there in Los Angeles who would have some experience with the farmers markets,” Lilit says.
Hilda Avanessian turned out to be the right person. She used to organize two farmers markets by the local hospitals in Encino and Sherman Oaks where medical staff and families with patients could have access to healthy food. Lilit and Hilda met for a cup of coffee and started to work immediately. Ten months later the city of Glendale allocated the permit for the Artsakh Gardens Farmers Market to operate. Vendors are not only from Glendale but from other cities and counties as well.
Vartan Saghdejian drove down all the way from Fresno to represent fresh fruits and vegetables from his family farm. The CMC farm was established in 1986 by Vartan’s father, an immigrant from Syria. Now Vartan operates it with his brother and two sisters.
The aroma of golden grapes from CMC farm merges with the one of sweet cream coming from the next stall, where Vera Acun, also known as Kadaif Mama, is offering the dessert of shredded dough filled with cream. Two years ago Vera was at an Ugly Sweater Mother and Daughter party and took her favorite dessert as a gift. A week later guests from the party started to ask for her kadaif. Soon, the list of customers became longer, moving to social media and creating a steady market for her.
The vendor next door, Karo Danayan, a teenager, has already earned his place in similar markets in Studio City and 818 Pop-Ups Shops. His famous 16 ingredient carrot cake was first made for his father’s birthday. “He was bored and didn’t know what to do during the lockdown. So he started to bake cakes. Who knew he would come so far,” says Karo’s mother, who was helping him to set up the individually packed pieces of cakes.
A few stalls over, artisan bread baker Ani Harutiunian is “trying to change the bread culture in Los Angeles”. She learned her bread-making techniques in France and Switzerland over ten years ago. Ani first opened a chain bakery in Armenia and later moved to the U.S. Her bakery, Baketo, specializes in sourdough bread from rye to German pumpernickel, the latter of which requires 24 hours of baking time in a low-temperature oven.
For private chef Karreno Alexanian, time spent at home during the surge of COVID-19 was surprisingly productive. Like many in the food industry, he lost his job due to the pandemic. Karreno needed a creative way to generate some income and came up with charcuterie boards with specially designed cones and boxes filled with cold cuts and cheese. Tik-Tok and Instagram brought in over 2.5 million views for Charqute and a deal with Netflix to make special Bridgerton-themed charcuterie boards.
Almost all vendors at the Artsakh Farmers Market are home-based cooks and bakers who found the ideal place to share what unites them — food. Many of them have never operated a storefront. Avanessian is hopeful that more vendors will be joining soon. The farmers market is also raising funds for nonprofits such as Eternal Nations and Aid Beyond Borders, with plans to support other relief organizations in Syria and Lebanon. Artsakh Farmers Market will operate for three months and will continue as long as the city of Glendale renews the permit.