When Renee Gunter was 5 years old, she wanted nothing more than to be Mighty Mouse. Wearing wings she’d made out of paper, string and balsa wood, she climbed to the roof of her two-story West Adams apartment building and jumped.
It was the first of many leaps Gunter would take in life, though she’s thankful that the others — modeling, postcard manufacturing and landscape design, to name a few — resulted in traveling the globe and learning new languages rather than broken bones. These days, Gunter, 63, is focusing on what is perhaps her most gratifying leap to date: bringing organic produce to her neighbors in and around Jefferson Park and West Adams.
After acting in a 2012 Cornerstone Theater Company play inspired by food-justice issues in South L.A., Gunter wanted to stop talking and start doing. “I’d never heard the term ‘food desert’ until that play,” she says. “I finally recognized that I lived in one myself.”
“What I’m doing here is slowing things down. It’s an old-fashioned way of doing business.” —Renee Gunter
Using a portion of the $300 given to her as an honorarium for her role in the play, Gunter purchased cases of strawberries, carrots and oranges from an organic produce wholesaler. She loaded the goods into the back of her 1962 Corvair Rampside truck, parked on the corner of 28th Street and St. Andrews Place, and gave everything away. In exchange, customers handed over completed surveys about their produce preferences and what they’d be willing to buy the following week.
Gunter went on to sell her goods at 29th Street and Cimarron Avenue in Jefferson Park on Sunday mornings and at Pico Boulevard and Ridgeley Drive in Mid-City on Saturdays. The whimsical way in which she set up her stand later caught the attention of the duo behind the now-closed butcher shop Lindy and Grundy. They invited her to park in front of their Fairfax Boulevard store on Saturday afternoons.
“I wanted to build an environment of wonder, to display the food in delightful ways,” Gunter says. “I used flowers and created a turn-of-the-century look that evolved with the seasons.”
Gunter eventually determined that if she was to continue her work — dubbed Daily Organics, or DO! for short — she’d need to find a permanent home. Local restaurateur and designer Fred Sutherland caught sight of Gunter’s truck and brought Daily Organics to Adams Gateway, an up-and-coming shipping-container village that Sutherland has helped install at the corner of West Adams Boulevard and Spaulding Avenue.
Gunter spent last summer transforming a bare metal box into a boutique market. All the fittings inside Daily Organics were made, found or restored by her. And the shelves are stocked with delicacies such as honey from a Mid-City bee farmer, Opal apples and wild arugula.
After a couple of years in the organic produce world, Gunter had built a solid network of growers, some as close as Pomona and Fallbrook, others as far as New Zealand.
You won’t find most of these items at a Trader Joe’s, Gunter says. Shoppers also will find a cooking inspiration board at the front of the shop — it recently listed all the veggies and herbs available to make Japanese noodle soup.
“What I’m doing here is slowing things down, bringing that human connection back,” Gunter says. “It’s an old-fashioned way of doing business. I want you to fall in love with the food. I want you to fall in love with the space. I want you to feel welcome here.”
Gunter feels right at home herself. In fact, from the porch of her kelly green container store, she can just make out the rooftop of that apartment building she leapt from as a child — it’s just north of Adams Gateway.
“This location is part of my DNA,” she says. “It was obviously meant to be.”