While Costco, Target and Walmart dominate the business of mainstream groceries, Valley Farm Market is trying to stay ahead of the commodity competition by not only offering USDA Prime Choice meats and organic produce, but also specialty brand sauces, snacks and even craft beer.
Based in Spring Valley, the single unit grocery store has been family-owned for 64 years, carrying local and unique out-of-stand brands for cheese, mustard, candy, drinks, chips, spice blends, and nearly 1,000 different beers of which roughly 70% are local San Diego brands.
“If it’s distributed in San Diego, we have it,” said Derek Marso, the third-generation owner for his grandfather’s market.
But Valley Farm Market is no longer a party of one, having just expanded to La Jolla at 6902 La Jolla Blvd.
“Valley Farm wouldn’t last as a commodity store,” said Marso. “The buying power of places like Costco are so massive. What we needed to do was offer people something they couldn’t find at any other store.”
Marso’s grandfather Felix, also known as “Curly,” was a butcher in Chicago before he and his wife Eleanor moved their family from the windy city to the Golden State, specifically San Diego. Felix opened up Valley Farm as a family-run, community-focused grocery store in 1956. In the 70s, the business was then passed down to Marso’s father and aunt as Marso perused professional football with a full-ride scholarship to Kansas State and a launch pad kickstarting Marso’s career as a defensive end in the NFL. But, eventually, Marso too found a home in his family’s grocery store.
“I had to figure out who I was apart from the sport,” said Marso, who bought the store from his parents in 2008. “It’s been great ever since, creating a culture that’s your own and getting employees excited to come to work.”
Just before Marso took the reins, Valley Farm Market was in bad shape, Marso saying his family was “doing all they could to keep the doors open.” That’s when Marso came up with the idea to have the store sell only specialty products such as Yai's Thai Red Thai Coconut Curry, Vegan Rob's Dragon Puffs, Dudley’s Apple Walnut and Cinnamon Fruit Bars and Fruits Of the Nile Nectar’s Gourmet Mango Orange drinks. Being an avid fan of BBQ, Marso also opened up Valley Farm Market BBQ Shack inside the market. Customers could come to a small window on the side of the market and order Barbeque brisket, pulled pork, tri-tip and additional BBQ sides by the pound.
Last year, Valley Farm’s BBQ was named “San Diego’s Best BBQ” by iHeartRadio. The market’s meat is free of antibiotics and hormones, with the animals raised on a vegetarian diet.
“We’re not a transactional business,” said Marso. “We’re here to be a part of the San Diego neighborhoods. People come into this store and they understand what we do, how we do it and why we do it. It’s not just about staying afloat; we want to support farmers and companies who are doing food right.”
Off North Lane, across from Rigoberto’s Taco Shop, Valley Farm’s seaside La Jolla location features a full-service kitchen — Valley Farm Market Kitchen — with tuna poke nachos with wonton chips, veggie sandwiches fish tacos and a dozen more sandwich and entree choices. In a couple weeks, the new branch will also begin selling craft beers, wine and other alcoholic beverages.
“All we have to do is listen to our community and hear what they want,” said Marso, whose team annually hosts Del Mar’s Turf & Surf BBQ Championships as well as Spring Valley Tailgate and BBQ Festival, where all proceeds are donated to underprivileged children. “Having my own business affords me the luxury of being able to pivot faster than other, bigger stores and invest in our customers. I don’t have to go through meetings or CEOs to get a requested product into the store, or to replace items on our menus. We’re extremely excited about our expansion to La Jolla and the chance to build our family.”
For more information, visit valleyfarmmarkets.com/lajolla.
La Jollans have a lot to look forward to — and much to be concerned about — as we’ve turned the corner on a new year.
There is certainly no shortage of hot-button issues to be dealt with, everything from regulating short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) to regulating electric scooters.
By year’s end there will be a new mayor, and a couple of new council members, including District 1, where City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry is vacating her seat to make a mayoral bid.
La Jolla Village News asked civic leaders in the Jewel to gaze ahead in 2020 and give us their take and what can and should be done to improve the quality of life for all San Diegans.
“I see a continuation of the improvements in the Maintenance Assessment District,” said Ed Witt, board president for the La Jolla MAD, which became active in October 2019. “We have a lot of work to do as a board with adding new members and establishing committees, plus all the continued ‘enhancing La Jolla.’ We'll continue to listen to the community and to refine our processes with our vendors to improve efficiencies and the final product [keeping LJ clean].”
Added Witt, “As the year unfolds, we'll learn from our successes and where we need to improve. We thank the citizens in the district for the trust they've put in us and we look forward to a full year of Enhancing La Jolla.”
Ann Dynes, president of La Jolla Parks and Beaches, Inc., also had community beautification high on her advisory group’s to-do list for 2020.
“The role of the MAD will be a significant development for residents of the Village and patrons of the business district of La Jolla, nothing prescient about that,” said Dynes. “In the new decade, La Jollans will need to be proactive in dealing with populist pressures such as sidewalk vendors, personal mobility devices, increased density, higher buildings, overtourism, STVRs and overhead noise, if we want to maintain any semblance of the ‘coastal village’ which most of us appreciate.”
Dynes pointed out such populist pressures “are antithetical to our current way of living, and we need to pay attention to them if we want to at least try to manage their impact.”
Dynes added it is also important for La Jollans in the new year to “vote for political representatives who have a proven record of advocating for La Jolla residents, which would be a good start in 2020.”
District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry sees maintaining local control of planning, and reigning in scooters, as two challenges lying ahead in 2020.
“I will continue to oppose the corporatization of our neighborhoods, which is evident with both the scooter and short-term vacation rental industry as well as proposed state legislation that would take away local control of land-use planning,” said Bry. “State legislation already took away our ability to require adult scooter riders to wear helmets, and tragically we are seeing an increase in traumatic head injuries, and the city is being named in lawsuits. In contrast, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed scooter legislation because it did not require riders to wear helmets.”
Janie Emerson, chair of La Jolla Shores Association, believes the city needs to be more neighborhood-focused in community planning.
“My biggest concern is that the city is going Big Brother on us,” Emerson said. “They just want to have one policy because that makes it easy. What’s happening is that the neighborhoods are being destroyed by this one-size-fits-all attitude. The beauty of the city is that we are so diverse and our neighborhoods have such wonderful texture, culture and depth.”
Emerson believes that “runaway density” and economic sustainability are two other issues the city move forward on in 2020.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to support more density,” she said. “We also need to become as ‘green’ as possible.”
Coastal landscape architect Jim Neri gave his wish list for 2020.
“I’d like to see the bike path right-of-way [between La Jolla High and Bird Rock] dedicated linear parkland,” said Neri. “This is important public open space that connects our community and it needs to be protected. It’s time to give identity to those public coastal access easements that run between residences to the shore, using simple signs customized to each neighborhood. Recognition of these unique access ways by name will improve neighborhood identity and deter encroachment.”
Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is celebrating the fifth anniversary of their rescued loggerhead sea turtle’s arrival with the first-ever “Turtleversary” on Jan. 11-12, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at 2300 Expedition Way in La Jolla.
The family-friendly “shell-ebration” will be a fun-filled weekend of sea turtle-themed activities, crafts and marine reptile science.
Guests are encouraged to get hands-on with sea turtle biofacts, learn about local sea turtle research, and get an insider’s look at how the aquarium’s sea turtle is trained and cared for.
The loggerhead’s story of perseverance, and the technological advances made to ensure her continued survival, have inspired people worldwide.
“Our collaborations with our colleagues have inspired students and researchers alike,” said Jennifer Nero Moffatt, the aquarium’s senior director of animal care, science and conservation. “Sea turtles hold a special place in our hearts and need our protection; all seven species are in danger from numerous environmental impacts. Our guests are able to get close to our loggerhead sea turtle and feel a sense of wonder for our ocean planet.”
Birch Aquarium’s female loggerhead sea turtle was found injured and sick in a power plant outflow canal in New Jersey. After rescue, she was nursed back to health at South Carolina Aquarium and was deemed non-releasable as the medical teams believed she would not survive on her own.
Birch Aquarium took in the sea turtle in November 2014, and she was revealed to the public in January 2015. Since then she has grown significantly and now weighs 215 pounds.
Birch Aquarium’s turtle made international news in 2018 for the 3D-printed prosthetic that fits like a puzzle piece into her shell. This groundbreaking brace was the first of its kind for a sea turtle shell and has now successfully mitigated the abnormal shell growth.
All Turtleversary activities are included in admission, which is $19.50 for adults, $15 for children ages 3 to 17. Children 2 and under are free. Annual memberships are also available.
Perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean, Birch Aquarium is home to nearly 6,000 animals and features the groundbreaking work of Scripps scientists, as well as conservation breeding programs and interactive exhibits. Birch Aquarium’s mission is to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet, which the aquarium achieves by providing engaging, hands-on learning opportunities for nearly 500,000 guests as well as more than 50,000 pre-K-12 students each year.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit aquarium.ucsd.edu or call 858-534-FISH.