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How a DACA Recipient From East L.A. Hustled His Way to Growing and Owning His Own Fruit Stand at the Original Farmers Market

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n one of the toughest years filled with fear and anxiety, Rick Dominguez, an East Los Angeles native, by way of Nayarit, Mexico achieved his dream of opening up two produce shops. One in East Hollywood off Virgil Avenue, and the second and newest resides at the highly esteemed Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax.  

Rick’s journey into farming began by chance. After graduating from Schurr High School in Montebello, he began working in real estate. But once the financial crisis hit in 2007, he decided to leave his profession to support a friend who had just purchased a farm. In order to make ends meet, Rick began helping his friend by learning the basics of farming and selling avocados and other produce at the East Hollywood farmers market.  “Back in 2007, I didn’t even know what a farmers market was, for me it was a swap meet but with produce,” Rick tells L.A. TACO. 

Within the span of six years, Rick gained a vast amount of experience and knowledge about the production of produce. His interest and dedication to cultivation and farming flourished. He began building a wide network of clients, both retail and commercial, and eventually, all of his hustle led him to excitedly purchase his own farm in Fallbrook, CA in 2013. 

Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

In 2017, Rick’s success took one more step forward after meeting his now business partner, Alejandro Verduzco on an Uber drive. Alejandro picked Rick up for an Uber ride from East Los Angeles to Pomona. In the 45 minute car ride, Alejandro learned that Rick was a farmer, and coming from the restaurant industry as a chef himself, he began sharing advice and ideas. Rick shared that he initially had no interest in opening a store. Then, he was happy to simply farm and work the land while doing the weekly farmers market circuit, selling the produce he grew with love to communities around southern California. But Alejandro, a native Boyle Heights resident, pushed him to take the next step, “The support of someone I trusted was important, we’re from the same ‘hoods, and this motivated me more to progress. We both had the same view, to be better and help out the community.”

After noticing that a gelato shop closed down in East Hollywood, Rick inquired about the space and found out the owner was a previous client. The shop was equipped with a kitchen and the perfect amount of space for a produce storefront and thus Ricks Produce's first location was born. 

Many folks accused him of targeting a more affluent and white audience.

As a farmer himself, he sources exclusively from small family farms. “Every item we sell is from someone we know personally and we can even tell you where items were farmed and who picked them,” he tells L.A. TACO. Rick farms 70 percent of the items he vends at his storefront, which includes a colorful variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and eggs. L.A. TACO was also excited to learn that he carries tortilla chips from La Princesita in East L.A and fresh-baked bread from HomeBoy Industries

One of the biggest issues that Rick has encountered in his goal of exclusively working with local farmers is the higher prices. When he opened his first location, most of the criticism he received was from the Latino community who didn't understand why his avocado prices were higher when compared to corporate supermarkets. 

Photo by Laura Tejeda for L.A. TACO.

Many folks accused him of targeting a more affluent and white audience. The community in East Hollywood, outside of his farmers market family, didn’t know his story or where he came from. But his philosophy has always prioritized supporting small over corporate farms. This was when he realized he needed to take on the role of educating the community about fresh produce and why fruits and vegetable prices in the supermarket are inflated. 

“I’m growing produce for everyone and telling you exactly what you’re getting. If you’re saving money, someone else is getting screwed, there’s a bigger picture. I’m not trying to get rich, I'm trying to be sustainable.”

After achieving success in East Hollywood, the Original Farmers Market grocery manager, James Haydu, paid Rick’s shop a visit and was blown away. The two had begun their networking relationship back when Rick was solely vending at the East Hollywood farmer’s market. It was after seeing Rick’s quick growth that James offered him a space to sell at the Original farmers market. Ricks Produce was scheduled to open in January of 2020 but with the unforeseen pandemic, he decided to take his time and vend through a smaller temporary pop-up shop, and in January of this year, his shop finally opened. 

Nestled among bakeries, eateries, artisan ice cream, beef jerky, global hot sauce, and fresh-made pickle vendors, Rick's Produce Market stands strong. Rick is not only representing his farm in Fallbrook, he’s holding it down for Nayarit, East Los Angeles, and the farmworkers he supports through his stand. Rick shares, “These opportunities for Latinos are not always available. Where I am, as a company and as an individual, I’m in the position to help more people, I want to help farmers and the community and all of this support is coming from someone from Mexico.”

“I crossed the border by foot, and now I’m walking into my own store to fill a market with my produce. I’m working the fields here for something bigger.”

Rick is a proud DACA recipient, and previous to applying for DACAmentation, he struggled every day to ensure his safety in the East Los Angeles community. “Growing up in East Los without papers, I had barriers, but I also have friends who were willing to help me out and take me under their wing.” Not having citizenship never stopped him in his journey to be successful, but accessing support like DACA meant he was able to take on more opportunities without fear. Rick attributes his success to DACA, his business partners, friends, and his wife, who has supported him since day one. 

Rick’s ultimate goal is to live on a farm and continue to support communities with fresh produce. As someone who immigrated to the U.S. at seven years old, he comments on issues like gentrification and shares he wishes generations before would have had more opportunities to invest more in communities like Los Angeles. “I crossed the border by foot, and now I’m walking into my own store to fill a market with my produce. I’m working the fields here for something bigger.”

For Rick, success isn't singular. He shares, “If you’re a client, I love you, you’re not just supporting me but you’re supporting my entire network. We value connection with our clients and we want you to trust us.”  Rick’s produce represents more than fresh vegetables and fruits, it represents community and hope. 

Ricks Produce at the Original Farmers Market is open Monday - Sunday 10a-6p.

Ricks Produce in East Hollywood is open from Monday - Sunday 8a-6p.

Follow Ricks Produce Market on Instagram for updates.

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