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‘Food Desert’ No More: A Raw Vegan Eatery Thrives in Huntington Park

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n ancient Greece, it was believed that if two people ate from the same beet, they were to fall in love. Now whether or not this is true, one thing customers at Root of Life Juicery in the city of Huntington Park know for sure is that owner Maria Pacheco knows her fruit facts. When she isn’t sharing cool fruit urban legends like this one, and health demographics with customers, the Nutritional Science major at East Los Angeles College is running her raw vegan eatery alongside her friend and business partner Robert Valdez.

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Despite its name, the Root of Life Juicery does more than just serve pressed juices. Pacheco and Valdez began that way, however, making all-natural juices and selling them in glass bottles to farmers market attendees. But since its opening in March of last year, the juicery’s raw vegan menu has expanded extensively, and with success. They’ve added Pad Thai salads with dressing made in-house, zucchini noodles, chocolate pudding, smoothies, and their very-photogenic waffles — everything vegan and, except for the waffles, everything raw.

Prior to opening on the corner of Florence and Mountain View Ave., between a Papa Johns and a Mother’s Nutritional Center, Pacheco and Valdez were regulars at the Huntington Park, South Gate, Downey, Long Beach, and Whittier farmers markets. Customers, like South Gate resident Johanna Zarro, 29, arrived at the eatery this Wednesday greeting the store owners by first name with a hug. Zarro is one of those loyal customers who first met the young entrepreneurs at their original farmers market appearances.

“I walked up to (Maria’s) booth, started talking to her, and never stopped,” she said.

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Although Pacheco and Valdez built a following throughout the years, it was their family that didn’t believe this more committed venture would succeed in a city such as Huntington Park.

“Our family kept telling us that opening a juice store in HP wasn’t gonna work and that I should also sell bionicos (a popular Mexican dessert consisting of fruit and heavy artificial sweeteners such as sweetened condensed milk), but I think ‘How am I gonna help them with the juice and then kill them with the bionicos?’” Pacheco explained.

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Huntington Park is considered a food desert, which is defined as “(a part) of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas,” according to the American Nutrition Association. The association adds that “while food deserts are often short on whole food providers, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, instead, they are heavy on local quickie marts that provide a wealth of processed, sugar, and fat-laden foods.”

'We don’t use syrups, we don’t use sherbet, we don’t add sugar to anything.'

Huntington Park being a highly pedestrian city seems to be working in favor of Root of Life. Its storefront is located in a small plaza surrounded by residences as close as 100 feet from the juice shop. With its rustic mien and it’s leave-a-book-take-a-book mini library, Root of Life also seeks to appeal to young adults who fancy comfy couches and WiFi, two things that Root of Life provides. And elevator music is never the backdrop of the eatery as its edgy playlist is made up of Pacheco’s favorite genre, classic rock.

Scenes of mothers walking with children in hand buying juices can also be seen at Root of Life.

“Curcuma ayuda con la inflamacion,” or “Turmeric helps with inflammation,” Pacheco informs an elderly lady with her two adult children and granddaughter as they buy a bag full of juices and discuss the benefits of not only juicing and eating healthy overall but the spirit of Root of Life.

What separates Root of Life from the popular juice franchise Jamba Juice, with two locations just a mile away from the independent juice shop, is that they source all their ingredients locally. “We don’t use syrups, we don’t use sherbet, we don’t add sugar to anything,” Pacheco says.

Root of Life buys the majority of its goods from Azteca Farms, an independent farm in Southern California that does not use any form of pesticides in growing its fruits and vegetables. “The Organic system has become a business” Pacheco explains. “The seal of ‘organic’ was first used to inform the public, but now the seal costs money. A farm owner has to pay $10,000 a year to have that seal,” money that Azteca Farms cannot afford. Still, Pacheco assures me that 90 percent of her goods are indeed organic.

Every week while Pacheco is running the joint, Valdez can be found at a farmers market unloading wooden boxes with glass bottles containing their natural and delicious juices. Or, sometimes they take turns; sometimes they roll together.

The young entrepreneurs hope to one day become the “Starbucks of Health” in Huntington Park, yearning for their community to demand better alternatives the way they demand frappuccinos. Pacheco and Valdez are not scared for the future. Instead an air of excitement is sensed as Pacheco passionately places the cherry on top of her dreams, saying, “for as long as I can dream, I will continue to create.”

Follow Root of Life on Instagram here.

RELATED: My Bionico-Obsessed Life

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