On an overcast drizzly morning in November, the two birds of paradise donned their bright yellow Vegetarians in Paradise hoodies and saddled up for their trip to the Autry Certified Farmers' Market just outside the Autry National Museum in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. Their mission was to check out the market and report back to their veggie-addicted fans about the fresh produce they found.
Z: When we arrived at the market runners were finishing their 5K/10K Turkey Trot. We saw some of them sporting their bright yellow tee shirts and their SWAG bags. Several runners proudly displayed the medals they had won in their age group.
R: The seasonal Turkey Trot is a sample of one of many events held to stimulate attendance at The Autry Farmers' Market in Griffith Park just across from the LA Zoo. The market is operated by Nick Spano who calls his organization City Farm. Nick is aided by his brother Anthony along with Brandon Scales who acts as assistant manager at the Autry Market.
Z: We should mention that City Farm also sponsors and operates other markets in the Los Angeles area including those at the Yamashiro in Hollywood, Warner Brothers Studios, South Bay Pavilion, Eagle Rock Plaza, and Cal State Long Beach.
R: Spano and company have a worthy goal: "City Farm's first mission is to build communities around great food, while supporting local farmers and encouraging small business enterprise. " They have decided to sponsor events that feature entertainment and bring families together to support a healthier lifestyle. They billed the Turkey Trot as a "race to reduce obesity and build healthier communities."
Z: In additon to their efforts to get people moving, the market operators were bringing farmers and their fresh-picked offerings to the public. This market is not large, but offers plenty of variety. It's a Saturday morning destination for 5 to 7 produce farmers during the winter months. In the summer stone fruit season that number might increase to a dozen.
R: Along with a hearty array of produce, there's plenty of prepared food as well. We even found we could enjoy a tasty lunch of all vegan offerings. Ohm Foods from Artesia offered us tastes of their sweet potato curry over brown rice. It was quite delicious! They also had a spinach, broccoli, and tofu combo that elicited our oohs and ahs. Their dal (pureed lentils) was as tasteful as any we sampled in Indian restaurants. All the dishes were vegan and gluten free.
Z: It's always a delight when we find vegan food being sold at a farmers' market. Even some of the other food vendors who were heavy on animal products had one or two vegan offerings.
R: We've strayed from our main purpose, telling everyone about the fresh produce sold at the market. Even though it was November, mounds of colorful grapes graced the tables of G Farms from Exeter who proudly displayed a sign saying everything on their table was organic. Their exceptional grape varieties included Autumn Royal purple, Melissa green, Red Flame, and Champagne. In addition to the grapes, they sold Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pink Lady apples, Hachiya and Fuji persimmons, and Yali and Asian pears as well as Satsuma tangerines and plump pomegranates.
Z: G Farms was not the only vendor with grapes, pears, and apples. Lim's Farm from Tehachapi sold beautiful Asian and Anjou pears along with Pink Lady and Fuji apples. Next to their table was Circle K from Sanger that was displaying the last of the Scarlet Royal grapes.
R: The big surprise for us was seeing American-grown black plums this time of year. And they looked just as bright and fresh as if it were July or August! Cottaje from Visalia featured the plums along with Red Flame grapes. Among their other fruits were Pink Lady and Fuji apples and Satsuma tangerines, while their vegetable assortment featured broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, vine tomatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, green peppers, and Anaheim chiles.
Z: And, of course, potatoes--lots of potatoes--Red Rose White Rose and even sweet potatoes and yams. Gama Farms from Arvin can always be counted on to show up with an assortment of potatoes. They offered baby red potatoes and baby Yukon Golds along with Russets and yams. Gama also sold red and brown onions and giant sweet onions. Though their fruit supply was limited, they displayed beautiful crimson grapes and pomegranates.
R: New Era Farms from Nipomo wins our berry best award. Along with brimming baskets of sweet Albion strawberries, their blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries were so colorfully displayed they looked like a geometric design in a palate of bright reds and deep blues.
Z: New Era Farms may have won the berry award, but no other farmer at this market could come close to challenging Underwood Family Farms from Somis and Moorpark in the vegetable category. They presided over Squash Heaven. What a selection! They filled a heaping table of many squash varieties in a stunning explosion of color. We had to snap a picture of their display of butternut, acorn, spaghetti, turban, kabocha, Golden Nugget, Hubbard, Carnival, and Delicata?
R: And that's just the winter squash! Their summer varieties were limited to yellows and greens but were equally as attractive. There were yellow and green pattypan, and green and yellow zucchinis.
Z: They also did the brassicas proud. You know, the cabbage family. Broccoli was there with its cousins Napa cabbage, mizuna, arugala, and green and purple kale, kohlrabi, bok choy, tatsoi, and striking cauliflower varieties in white, yellow, purple, and green. The green cauliflowers were most prominent with broccoflower, and green Romanesco looking so inviting.
R: Romanesco cauliflower is also called Broccoli Romanesco and Chou Romanesco. It has the texture of a cauliflower but tastes like a mild sweet broccoli. It wins the prize as one of the most attractive vegetables you'll ever see. It truly is a flower. Unlike cauliflower that has a bumpy, one-dimension surface, the Romanesco is nature's version of a fractal or geometric pattern. The multiple buds each form concentric logarithmic spirals with the largest spirals on the outside and smaller ones in the center that jut out from the surface. Its huge spiral is made up of buds that are mini-spirals.
Z: As you can tell, Reuben was very taken with the Romanesco. There was no lack of greens on the Underwood Farms tables. Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, and frisee (curly endive) lettuces were alongside spinach and Swiss chard.
R: There was also a colorful array of radishes and carrots. Nestled among the white icicle radishes were bunches of voluptuous, multicolored radishes we couldn't resist. Carrots came in the traditional orange plus a rarely seen white variety. In one of our past market visits Underwood showed bunches of very unusual black carrots.
Z: If we sound like we are lavishing too much praise on this farmer, you're right. Underwood adds so much to all the farmers markets where they sell.
R: Don't forget to mention the artichokes and yellow wax beans that came home with us. Oh, and they even had baskets of blueberries.
Z: The Autry Market is extremely kid friendly, providing an opportunity for children to enjoy drawing with crayons, face painting, and special events like kite days and Frisbee days. There was even Glen, the Balloon Guy, dazzling the kids with all the animals he formed out of balloons.
R: Older folks were happily enjoying the food, freshly brewed coffee, and music by artists like Eric Kufs, whose country songs emanated from his truck bed. Kufs is one of the many entertainers who show up to entertain market goers on Saturdays.
Z: As we concluded our visit, we looked at each other and commented, "There's something missing, fresh flowers." At other markets we always encountered flowers and/or plants. Hopefully, City Farm will add a flower grower to their bouquet of farmers. It's so special to bring home a bouquet of colorful flowers for the table.
Reviewed December 2013
Autry Certified Farmers Market