Z: Like the phoenix rising out of the ashes, the Westwood Village Farmers Market had its rebirth on July 15, 2007. The market, a Thursday afternoon neighborhood institution since 1995, closed in 2006 because of construction in the village. Instead of being east of Westwood Blvd., the reopened market has shifted westward to Broxton Ave. between Kinross and Weyburn.
R: It's a much smaller operation than we found in our visit in January 2000. Instead of 60 vendors, we found less than 15. But we shouldn't make comparisons because this market is now on Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. instead of Thursday afternoons. Although it might be classified as a small market, this one had an ample selection of fresh produce with organic choices available.
Z: When we visit farmers' markets, we like to zero in on some unique or unusual human-interest story connected to one or more of the farmers that have set up tables to market their wares. Occasionally, we'll find a grower who has planted in his own yard and brings his crops to a farmers market. Many people don't realize that they only need to show they didn't purchase the produce at the local supermarket and attempt to resell it. They must be able to prove they grew it on their own property.
R: Our local hero is Al Karbin of West Los Angeles who has created raised beds on his 50-foot by 50-foot growing space in his yard. Karbin, a retired mechanical engineer, spends his mornings checking on his stock investments and then spends the rest of the day tending to his mini farm.
Z: And what a mini farm! The lot is filled with fruit trees. There are tangerines, apricots, pomegranates, nectarines, and oranges. He wasn't sure about what variety of oranges were on his table that morning, but they looked like Valencias.
R: Don't forget the Bartlett pear tree he's adding and the two apple trees, one he described as an Ein Shemer, a yellow apple popular in Israel because it can grow in a hot climate. His small table displayed red Swiss chard, green cabbage, kohlrabi, arugula, parsley, Bronze Arrow lettuce, and New Zealand spinach. Our day would not have been complete if the lettuce and spinach had escaped our shopping bags and not ended up on our table in a gorgeous salad.
Z: Karbin was eager to show us photos of this crops as well as his composting bins and his shredder. Looking down at the items on his table, he proudly announced, "I picked all of these this morning." He didn't have to be coaxed to tell us about other fresh items that would be showing up on his table in coming weeks: fennel, Grand Rapids lettuce, and gladiolas. He wasn't sure about bringing carrots and readily admitted he found them challenging to grow in the dense Southern California soil.
R: Zel didn't hesitate to ask him how old he is. With a twinkle in his eye, he proudly said, "Eighty-seven and a half." He also added that his girlfriend doesn't care for the lettuce he grows, but she does cook for him.
Z: The few oranges on Karbin's table were no match for the quantity of citrus offered by two other vendors: Arnett Farms of Fresno and Bernard Ranches of Riverside. Arnett farms had extensive citrus choices that included tangerine varieties like Golden Nugget Mandarins, Satsuma Mandarins, Clementines, and tangelos. Grapefruit selections included pomelos, Oro Blancos, and red grapefruit. Orange lovers could feast on navels, blood oranges, or cara caras. Rounding out their display were Pink Lady apples, Asian pears, and large, thorn-less artichokes.
R: Bernard also had blood oranges, navels, lemons, marsh grapefruit, and Oro Blancos. Their Hass avocados were the only ones available at this market.
Z: The Gutierrez Farm table was a delightful berry lover's haven. Colorful strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries appealed to the eye and the appetite. Vilma Gutierrez, the daughter of this Santa Maria farmer, was happy to take us on a guided tour of her offerings. We tasted both the Avion and Camarosa strawberries and decided the Avion was just a tad sweeter. If we came back in the next few weeks, we would also find raspberries. Recognizing that blueberries are a hot item because of their anti-oxidant power, she told us they are experimenting with growing more varieties.
R: She also informed us that they grow beans, zucchini, and bell peppers on their 32-acre farm. Later this year they'll bring fresh beans to the market. In addition to selling, she works on the farm and held up a bandaged finger, her badge to prove she was wounded picking the new crop of snap peas yesterday. Of course, the plump and inviting snap peas appeared in our shopping bag at the end of the market visit.
Z: Vilma also added that they grow purslane on their farm. Though many people consider it a weed, it has many health benefits. Reuben was not privy to that information, but I nodded my head in agreement. He only knows the FDA considers purslane a pervasive weed, the seventh worst worldwide. Nevertheless, it's easy to grow and it has a good dose of Vitamin A and a small amount of Vitamin C. It also contains small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, and could even supply you with 1% of your daily protein.
R: Anna's Farm from Fillmore had a table filled with a rainbow of vegetables. Bunches of beets came in three choices: red, golden, and candy stripe. Leafy greens included kale, red and green chard, collards, baby bok choy, spinach, romaine, and green and red leaf lettuces. Their herb selection, displayed on a separate table, featured cilantro, mint, dill, parsley, green onions, and Italian parsley. Completing their display were celery, carrots, anise, cauliflower, radishes, red and green cabbage, chives, and celery root. I remarked that we rarely find celery root at a farmers' market. Zel decided it had to go into our shopping bag.
Z: I recently rediscovered celery root. I bought one awhile back and it was so bitter we couldn't eat it. It probably sat in a market so long because nobody knew what it was or what to do with it. My second experience was delightful. You didn't mention that Anna's sister Patricia filled us in on information about the farm. She wanted us to know that even though they are not certified organic, the soil on their farm has been pesticide free for seven years.
R: Speaking of pesticide-free produce, Z Ranch from Imperial Valley has been certified organic for quite some time. We found ourselves doing the bulk of our personal shopping at their table. Of course, we had to have their white corn! We were amazed to find fresh corn in March, and it was delicious cooked in the husk on our meat-free barbecue. Our shopping list included several small, round Indian eggplants, broccoli florets, zucchini, and radishes. They also sold artichokes, cucumbers, green and purple asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, carrots, and parsley.
Z: I was looking for purple potatoes for a recipe I was planning to make and found them on the table of Gama Farms from Arvin. They also sold White Rose and Russets along with garlic and brown onions.
R: Torch Flowers from Ventura had the only floral bouquets at the market. They showed colorful gerbera daisies in bright red, yellow, and deep pink. We were not familiar with solidaster with lacy wide heads of tiny flowers in soft primrose yellow on sturdy 2-foot stems. Solidaster is a hybrid of solidago and aster.
Z: The real visual knockout was their tulip bouquets featuring yellow, orange, and purple flowers. But the standout was one variety of red with yellow throats and brilliant yellow highlights making me want to catch my breath when I looked at it.
R: One of the high spots of the day for me was listening to Deedee O'Malley sing her own songs accompanying herself on the acoustic guitar. An accomplished songwriter, Deedee has even written a book giving others tips on how to write songs. She has produced four CDs and has had her songs on numerous television shows. She likes to come to venues like this to meet and connect with people. Information about her work and samples of her songs can be found on her website at http://www.deedeemusic.com/
Z: What surprised me was finding a pet adoption at the corner of Kinross and Broxton. The adoption is sponsored by Cagefree K-9 Rescue Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding homes for dogs. All their rescued dogs come from Los Angeles City shelters. The dogs are screened for temperament and sociability before being put up for adoption. The organization brings the dogs every Sunday. For more information about adoptions, contact the foundation at 310-202-6901 or access their website at http://www.cagefreecanines.com
Westwood Village Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2008