CUESA Behind the Mask: Lulu Meyer | CUESA

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July 23, 2020

CUESA Behind the Mask: Lulu Meyer

In these times of social distancing, we would love for you to get to know our team better. Each week, we’re going to take you “behind the mask” with a different CUESA staff member, so that, even when our faces are covered, we won’t be strangers at the farmers market. This week, meet our Director of Operations Lulu Meyer. 

Tell us a bit about you and your role and history at CUESA.

I was a regular market shopper for many years, and had been working in restaurants for more than a decade before I joined the CUESA staff full time. Just after I left culinary school I discovered that I wanted to broaden my understanding of seasonality and my own local food system, and have a deeper connection to the farmers and food crafters at my favorite market, so I came to CUESA as a volunteer in the spring of 2004. After a few months I was asked to join the market operations team and had the privilege to learn all about the ins and outs of the farmers markets world from my predecessor and former co-director, Dexter Carmichael. Over time, I formalized our chef shopping program, and helped to refine our operational protocols, and create systems to better manage the administrative and financial duties related to operating the markets. After Dexter moved on from CUESA in 2016, I was promoted to Director of Operations and I am forever grateful for the foundation and knowledge he shared with me in the decade plus that we worked side by side.

How has your work changed since the pandemic?

Pretty much overnight the way we did everything changed. We had to find new solutions to allow us to operate and remain open while factoring in all the new safety rules and guidelines issued to us by the city. Many of those rules changed week by week in the first month. I also spent a lot of time coordinating with other farmers market operators throughout the state so we could convince the city and state that farmers markets are essential businesses. In the first couple of weeks we made changes and adjustments in real time. Now we have started to ease into our new routines, but everything is definitely more time consuming for us all. Normally when our busy season kicks off we are maxed out completely in terms of space, but this year we have had the added complication of creating ways for shoppers and sellers to socially distance themselves while at the markets. This meant we have had to revamp layouts, relocate sellers, and rethink just about everything. It hasn’t been easy but our sellers have been incredibly patient and flexible, and the entire CUESA staff has really pulled together during this crisis.

What’s something people may not know about the farmers market or your work at CUESA?

The work is physically very taxing, sure, but there is also an immense amount of emotional labor involved in running farmers markets. Each farm and food business is a unique entity, and they all work harder than most people can imagine, so they deserve to have my full attention and patience every market day. Navigating the needs of 145 plus small businesses, providing high-touch customer service to our amazingly dedicated market shoppers, and navigating the city, state, and federal administrative reporting and permitting requirements can be quite a juggling act for me and my team. It requires a lot of attention every week and the responsibilities go way beyond just the hours we spend in the market. I can’t tell you how many times people ask, “But what do you do with the rest of the week?” Markets require so many hidden tasks to make them a reality and most people don’t see that. We work hard to make it all appear to be seamless and to create space for our sellers to shine. 

What inspires or motivates you about your work at CUESA? 

The people! The sellers, my team, and our amazing regulars are what keep me going, especially during this time which has been by far the most challenging of my tenure at CUESA. I feel very lucky to have grown up in San Francisco, and I consider our markets to be great city landmarks, so working at CUESA fills me with an immense amount of hometown pride. Every day I enjoy food grown or made by my friends and market family, and that is truly an honor.

What do you do to recharge outside of work? 

I love a day filled with kitchen projects, where I can find delicious ways to utilize my market haul or whatever needs to be harvested from the tiny little vegetable patch in my backyard. I am actually quite an introvert, and being in the markets requires a lot of emotional energy and stimulation, so when I am not in the markets I enjoy my alone time or having projects to work on at home that let me regroup. I’m normally a big reader, but have been finding it hard to concentrate on a book since the COVID crisis hit. Lately I’ve been turning to podcasts more and more, and pushing myself to create a reading list for the summer and commit to a little time away each week from the news to lose myself in a good story.

Do you have any favorite market foods or tips you can share?

I’m a sucker for short-season, farmers-market-only treats like Bronx grapes from Lagier Ranch, Calçot onions from Allstar Organics, Ashmead’s Kernel apples from Devoto Orchards, or tayberries from Swanton Berry Farm. I also like to sneak a peek at what the chefs are hauling around on their carts for inspiration. I can get a little overzealous when I shop the market, especially in the summer months when everything is popping off, so anything I have too much of gets turned into quick pickles or refrigerator jam, or gets prepped so I remember to use it first. I would recommend that you branch out from the familiar every now and then, even if you’re not sure what to do with those mouse melons or that bunch of dandelion greens, because you might find your new favorite thing

Is there anything else you would like our shoppers and market community to know?

This market is a vibrant community and all of us have a role to play to keep it alive and healthy. I have so much admiration and respect for our market sellers and the amazing talents they share with us each week. Our shoppers are such a diverse and savvy bunch, and I am so grateful for the patience and support they have shown us over the past several months especially. It’s my job—but also my pleasure—to spend so much of my time in the markets each week surrounded by my amazing co-workers and all of you. Also, if you see me in the market, please  be sure to say hi, and know that I’m always happy to help find just what you might be looking for or to answer your burning market questions, so don’t hesitate to ask.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to growing thriving communities through the power and joy of local food. Learn More »