At the corner of North Walnut Avenue and East 3rd Street lies a hidden gem: a backyard farm that has opened its garden gates to support San Dimas seniors.
Gabriela Perezmartinez moved to San Dimas with her family in 2019. A long time gardener, she immediately began transforming her neglected backyard into a little farm, which is now filled with over 100 varieties of organic, non-genetically modified, edible plants and trees.
As Perezmartinez grew her garden, she also cultivated new friendships within the community. Her dream of engaging with neighbors through a “crop swap” (where local gardeners could trade produce with each other) became a reality.
While she brainstormed options for the garden’s future, Perezmartinez made a shocking discovery — there were many seniors in the community who were experiencing food insecurity.
“There are seniors in San Dimas who have beautiful homes but can’t afford to put nutritious food on their tables,” said a stunned Perezmartinez.
Perezmartinez saw this as an opportunity to make a difference, and the nonprofit Lucas Eden sprouted as a way to provide nutritious food to seniors.
Perezmartinez described her career background as “a few lives stuffed into one.” She began her career as an artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Illustration from Otis-Parsons in Los Angeles. Ironically, helping prepare food to serve at her art shows led Perezmartinez to fall in love with the culinary arts. She went on to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena and refined her skills through traveling to Paris and Argentina.
Upon her return, Perezmartinez worked as a chef at a senior housing and assisted living facility in Rosemead. She loved preparing nutritious meals for the seniors and getting to know the residents, often by playing games and listening to their stories.
Unfortunately, after Perezmartinez finally found a vocation she was passionate about, chronic back issues ended her career as a chef. She redirected her energy and enthusiasm for taking care of seniors into her newly formed nonprofit Lucas Eden.
The little farmers market
A highlight of Perezmartinez’s venture is what she calls a “little farmers market” that she sets up along her fence line every other Tuesday afternoon from 3-5 p.m. Perezmartinez stocks the stand with produce from her garden, fruits and vegetables from other gardeners, organic produce donated from a few local grocery stores and fruits she is permitted to pick from trees at Moon Valley Nurseries in La Verne and city trees in San Dimas. Sometimes, she even provides fresh eggs from her five chickens. She strives to offer a large variety of fruits and vegetables so people can plan nutritious meals for the week.
Perezmartinez also prepares a vegetarian soup and a beverage for visitors to sample at the market. She enjoys introducing people to new dishes, extending their palettes and talking with them about recipes.
Perezmartinez asks that people donate what they feel is fair, and seniors or others in need can shop for free.
Sometimes, the weekly neighborhood market has up to 40 visitors. Some pick up food and leave while a few regulars linger to chat about cooking and gardening.
Julie Draayom is one of the regulars. A retired San Dimas resident, Draayom said, “Lucas Eden’s nonprofit market day is a great place for seniors to augment their diet with organic or homegrown fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, being able to pay what you can afford for the produce is a really needed service in today’s economy, especially for folks on a fixed income.”
Money received at the stand helps to cover operating costs, with additional profits donated to Meals on Wheels. To date, the Lucas Eden farm stand has donated approximately $2,000 to Meals on Wheels.
An added benefit of Perezmartinez’s farmers market is that it helps to reduce the amount of usable produce that ends up in landfills. At this time, Perezmartinez reports that 15,722 pounds of produce have been distributed to community members and prevented from going to waste.
Additionally, harvesting fruits and vegetables that people would otherwise leave on their trees or gardens also helps reduce unwanted pests in our area.
Perezmartinez’s passion to empower others to grow their own food and take more control over their nutrition inspires her to share her gardening and culinary knowledge with others.
Perezmartinez answers questions about how to start a garden and, at the request of some locals, she visits their properties to provide suggestions about where to grow and what to plant. She teaches new gardeners techniques that will help them be more successful, such as companion planting, which helps deter pests and boost crop productivity. At times, Perezmartinez helps neighbors identify plants that are already growing on their property and how they can be used.
Perezmartinez values the traditions of slow food recipes passed down for generations. She talks with people about the dishes that have been passed down through their families. She sometimes shares one of these recipes and adds it to the market day menu. She also educates others about tea preparations and the medicinal uses of plants.
Perezmartinez’s husband Miguel says he is “very proud” of what his wife has accomplished. Her son, Lucas, 7, enjoys being “famous” (since the business is named after him). Lucas also helps his mom set up the farmers market and plant in the garden.
When asked what she likes best about her work, Perezmartinez quickly answered, “Keeping busy, making people happy and seeing an interest spark in them. That makes me super happy.”
Perezmartinez states on her website, “As a Chef I can find no greater way to express my love and care than through food and fresh home grown produce.”
Lucas Eden is proof of that.
To learn more about Lucas Eden and to find out how you can get involved to help support their efforts to help seniors, visit their website at: https://www.lucaseden.org.
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