After working as an office manager in the medical field and as a witness coordinator for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, Croom-Turner spent 12 years as a corrections officer in the local county jail in downtown Los Angeles.
“I’d heard that the sheriff’s department was hiring and it sounded really interesting,” Croom-Turner recalls. “The position at the time was called a custody assistant [but] it ended up being a corrections position. I thought I would be working in the jail, just doing paperwork—that wasn’t the case.”
It was around her tenth year that Croom-Turner realized that corrections wasn’t the job for her. By this point she had gotten married and had a son, and she confided in her husband that she wanted to make a change.
“I told him, ‘I just don’t want to do this anymore, I’m not feeling connected to it, and I’m feeling ill about going to work every morning.’ So, I resigned.”
Where she went next in her career was a far cry from the county jail. Croom-Turner tells mater mea how she got started in her new career and what she’s learned along the way.
How did you get the idea to start a farmer’s market?
We lived in a neighborhood out in Southern California called the Inland Empire. It’s a very nice neighborhood—all new developments, new homes—but there’s just not much to do. It was very strip mall-like; all the stores were the same. I decided it would be cool to start some type of market place or farmer’s market in our own neighborhood so we could bring people together.
I didn’t know exactly what I was doing at the time, but I had this concept of what it could look like. I told my husband about it, and he just said, “That’s so us, we should definitely do it.” So we approached the city that we live in. My husband is really good about connecting with people in the city, so I sent him down to do that. They actually were open to it, but they didn’t want to do it in the area we wanted to do it in. But I said, “That’s OK, we’ll go to the neighboring city,” and they loved it. They hadn’t had a market in the city in 10 years and had actually started to discuss having one. We came in right on time.
We started our first one in 2011, and it was a small market, maybe four farmers and five other vendors. Then as it grew, we expanded. We got approached by our local high-end mall in the area. They wanted us to put one right smack dab in the middle of the outdoor mall and we jumped at the opportunity. Now I think we have about 40 vendors there. We’ve opened up another market in another city, and we’ve just been approached by three other cities to do markets.
How do you find vendors for the farmer’s market?
When we decided to start a farmer’s market, we found a mentor in another county who operated several farmer’s markets. Since her markets were in Long Beach, 50+ miles away from where ours was to be in Rancho Cucamonga, we weren’t a business threat. She gave us so much invaluable information on how to recruit by approaching other market operators in our area and asking if we could recruit their farmers to work. We also went to local farms and asked if they would be interested in joining our market. It was really intense because most farmers don’t want to take a chance on new farmer’s markets. But we found four local farmers and another six vendors and we were off and running.
What makes Heritage Farmer’s Market different from other markets?
It feels so much like a family, and most of our farmers vend at all of our markets. We know so much about them; we know their families and we do favors for one another.
We have this one lady who comes, her name is Patience and she’s from Nigeria. She attends all of our markets, and she’s the “mama” of the market. She knows everybody that shops there and everybody knows her. I just love the connection that we have with her and that she has with all of the people that attend our markets.
It just has a warm feeling and a good vibe, and we hear that from people, too. We get people from everywhere shopping in our markets. They don’t even live nearby and they drive over because they heard good things about them. So, I think it’s just the welcoming atmosphere and the warmth.
What are the benefits of working with your husband?
It’s a unique experience running Heritage Farmer’s Market with my husband. We have been friends since we were 12 years old and our birthdays are only two days apart, so we have a special connection as friends and spouses. We are both earth signs and very passionate about everything that we do, including the market. We love the farmer’s markets and both want to provide healthy, fresh, and local produce to our community—we are committed to that!
What are the challenges of working with him?
We have a good cop/bad cop relationship with the way we run things. Because of my background in law enforcement, I sometimes tend to be more stern and strict about the way I operate the markets. However, my husband is a gentler soul and more lenient than I am, and we can bump heads occasionally on operations and decisions about the markets. I really need to learn to be softer… I’m working on that.
You also run a wine and painting event. How did you come up with the idea for A Toast 2 Artistry?
My business partner Monica Lewis actually attended a similar event two hours away in San Diego with her husband and had an okay time. She called me to tell me about it and expressed that she was interested in doing something similar in our area and was wondering if I would partner with her. I had just closed up a brick-and-mortar boutique I’d owned for two years and was still feeling pretty down about that. I’d told my husband that I just wanted to focus on our farmer’s markets and let my next venture come to me organically. I expressed to Monica that I wasn’t ready to do another business and she said, “I’m not doing this without you!” So I said yes. We decided to put a twist on our business and provide art that was more African-centered. We started officially advertising A Toast 2 Artistry in October 2013 and our first art event sold out on December 16, 2013.
What is your favorite part of the work you do?
My favorite part is connecting with everybody and the different people that I meet. I meet a lot of different people, especially at the farmer’s market. It’s amazing, because they’ll come and just talk to me for an hour or so about different things. I love that because I grew up a shy child. I kept to myself and I stayed in the house, mostly. So for me, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come out of my shell. The farmer’s market really helped me to interact with people more and be more open to different people and different situations. It’s really been a blessing for me and my growth.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
I think it’s the disappointment—when things don’t always work out the way that you want them to. We have markets that we’ve started that haven’t worked out. I’ve put everything I had into them, and worked it and reworked it and it just did not work out. I’ve learned from those things, but the disappointment sometimes is really tough.
What advice would you offer someone who wanted to start their own business?
Just go for it, because there is no way to really know what’s going to happen. Fear is what gets in the way, and if you’re fearful, you really can’t do it. This is a brave profession. Self-employment is for the brave, I tell you. Just be all in.
You have to have guts and thick skin. People are going to tell you no, you’re going to fail at some things, and you really gotta be ready for that. This is not for the weak and it’s not for the lazy. Organization is key. Just be prepared to roll with the ups and downs because there are a lot of them.
How do you maintain work-life balance?
My family is most important, so when they’re here my work day ends. When I have the time to just focus, I use it wisely and I get in all that I can during that time. There were times when I was starting my business and I didn’t have time to hang out with my son. I was filling jewelry orders and I would tell him, “OK, just give me another hour.” But I now know that those things aren’t worth it. It’s best to just try to schedule your day out and get things done when nobody’s around, and then when your family’s there, be present.
What’s next on your horizon? What are you looking forward to?
We are actually in the process of opening up a new market in a local city, so I’m really excited about that. Right now we don’t have any weekend markets. We have two weekday markets and they’re well-attended—however, weekend markets are normally better attended. So, I’m looking forward to possibly opening up a Sunday market in the future.
My son works at the markets during the summer. He’s learning the business as well, which is awesome. He’s actually a Type 1 diabetic, so we have to eat healthy anyway. I’m just so happy that he’s learning all this stuff about eating well; it’s just going to set him up for when he’s an adult and when he goes away to college. I’m excited about him learning more about the business and growing in that way, too.
With A Toast 2 Artistry, my business partner and I are actually looking to have a studio where we can host events around the clock at our art space. I don’t know where I’m going to find the time, but we’ll see.