All the world is nuts about
Z: If you're looking for the Echo Park Market, don't expect to find Sunset Boulevard closed off with barricades. Instead, just turn the corner on Logan Street to find the market nestled in City Parking Lot #663 surrounded by tall buildings just south of Sunset Boulevard. You can't miss the banner announcing the market and its late afternoon hours.
R: Unfortunately, it's not a highly visible spot in the community, but assistant market manager Holly Calhoun and the SEE-LA staff have made considerable efforts at publicity by distributing flyers throughout the neighborhood and in the schools, placing banners on the streets, and maintaining a friends-of-the-market email list.
Z: They even have a promotion for patrons, a frequent shopper card that rewards them with $3 Market Money on the 5th shopping visit. And I shouldn't forget to mention the weekly craft table for kids to create their own works of art.
R: I was surprised to learn that this market is one of seven operated by SEE-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles). Their most successful enterprise is the Hollywood Farmers Market that draws thousands of people each Sunday and is one of the largest farmers' markets in Southern California.
Z: One of their principal goals is to increase access to fresh nutritious food for all people. That means bringing farm-fresh produce to neighborhoods that would not normally have access to it. I also admire their efforts to provide information on health, nutrition, and agricultural issues. For example, they provide healthy recipes in English and Spanish as part of their Farm to Table Program.
R: They also cooperate with the County of Los Angeles Public Health Nutrition Program in distributing information on topics like "The Power of Antioxidants" by encouraging people to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
Z: I am especially impressed with SEE-LA's efforts to educate children about healthy nutrition and the importance of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Their Farmer in the Classroom Program does just that, bringing the farmer to the students to share day-to-day experiences of farming through words, pictures, and samples of what they grow. In many cases the children taste fruits and vegetables they have never experienced before.
R: SEE-LA launched the Echo Park market in October 2006 and currently has between 12 and 15 farmers, four prepared food vendors, and two to four craft sellers. Unique among the crafters was Tibetan Semi-Precious Gemstone Jewelry Designed and Handmade by Sonam Dolma. Her table included videos and CD's featuring the Dalai Lama as well as Tibetan prayer flags and meditation bowls.
Z: Her handmade jewelry was stunning. I couldn't leave her table without buying a pair of petite amethyst drop earrings to give as a gift. As we walked up and down the four rows of tables packed into the parking lot, I found other temptations, but they were strictly edible.
R: We were both salivating at the fruit and nut display of Avila and Sons from Hanford. They sold both fresh and dried fruits. Their fresh assortment included both black and green figs, apricots, a variety of plums called Yummy Rosa plums, donut peaches, pluots, Snow Queen peaches, and white and yellow nectarines. Dried fruits featured apricots, figs, peaches, prunes, apple rings, mixed fruits, and fruit medleys.
Z: Since I'm known as the Nut Lady because of my book The Nut Gourmet, I paid special attention to Avila's nut offerings: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, and peanuts grown on their 50-acre farm. Specially tantalizing were their pistachios in three flavors: chile, garlic, and jalapeno as well as their tomato almonds. But the piece de resistance for me was the peanuts. Reuben and I were both thinking ahead to our peanut party that evening featuring the plain roasted and garlic roasted unsalted peanuts.
R: Switching gears, we moved on to Sweredoski Farms from Bell Gardens. What an assortment of vegetables, especially greens. Their table displayed red mustard, epazote, arugala, basil, red leaf lettuce, romaine, mizuna, kale, Swiss chard, baby spinach, and even turnip greens we rarely see at farmers' markets. They also showed a voluptuous selection of beets, celery, green beans, broccoli, garlic, both vine and grape tomatoes, fennel, Japanese cucumbers, plain old American cucumbers, squash blossoms, and onions galore: red, sweet, cipollini, and shallots.
Z: We spent a few minutes talking to the boss, John Sweredoski, a retired marine who loves farming, despite the hard work. He wanted to make sure we tasted the Hawaiian green beans and cipollini onions that he added to our personal shopping bag. I was impressed with his optimistic outlook about life and his boundless energy. It was obvious to both of us how much he enjoyed interacting with the shoppers, chatting and giving cooking suggestions.
R: We should back up and explain the difference between cipollini (pronounced chip-oh-LEE-nee) and shallots. Cipollini is a small, flat, pale onion with a slight yellowish color and thin papery skin. The color of the skin ranges from pale yellow to the light brown color of Spanish onions. The cipollini has more sugar than garden-variety white or yellow onions, but not as much as shallots. The shallot is a member of the lily family and closely related to the onion. Its small bulb usually sports a papery, reddish-brown skin and a white interior flesh that has a sweeter flavor than even mild onions. When peeled, the shallot separates into cloves like garlic.
Z: I have used shallots in my cooking, but this was my introduction to cipollini. Another delightful encounter I had that afternoon was fresh squash blossoms that I purchased from Gayton Farms from Mira Loma. Reuben received his introduction to stuffed squash blossoms a few days later when I prepared them along with the cipollini, and he didn't protest a bit. Gayton's table overflowed with plump cabbage, eggplant, beets, carrots, white corn, onions (sweet, red and brown), asparagus, green beans, cucumbers, mint, romaine, pasilla peppers, and three types of summer squashes: zucchini, Mexican, and round French zucchinis, sometimes called Ronde de Nice. Cantaloupes and Camarosa strawberries round out their display.
R: Don't forget the epazote that many people call Mexican tea. It's a pungent herb that's used in cooking beans to reduce the gas. Two of the farmers that day had it in their repertoire.
Z: Two exotic fruits that are making more frequent appearances at farmers markets in the last few years are cherimoya and sapote. Rancho Santa Cecila from Carpinteria grows both along with Thai guava, a variety we have never seen before. They also sold Fuerte and Hass avocados along with plums and apricots.
R: That afternoon we reconnected with Dexter from Jazzy Sprouts who we had encountered at other markets. Dexter has been growing and marketing sprouts for 18 years. He currently brings most of his 38 varieties of sprouts to eight farmers markets. They're Jazzy Sprouts because he brings his clarinet to farmers' markets and needs very little persuasion to launch into one of his jazzy solos. We were treated to his lively renditions of "La Cucaracha" and "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."
Z: Speaking of music, a regular at this market is David Martin on the amplified acoustic guitar. Martin bills himself as Mariachi los Caltecas de California and features bilingual music.
R: As we listened to the music, we took a few minutes to examine the table of Abode from Gardena. Abode's display featured a vast array of colorful vegan soaps and candles. The handmade soaps are made with vegetable glycerin and come in flavors like banana split, coconut lemongrass, apricot chamomile, and lemon and teatree. Among their unique soy candle fragrances were cinnamon and clove, ginger and vanilla, and grapefruit and sweetpea.
Z: As we concluded out visit around 5:00 p.m., we remembered that manager Holly Calhoun had mentioned earlier that the busy time at the market was between 5:00 and 7:00. And sure enough, people were arriving and it was quickly becoming a bustling marketplace. It was heartwarming to see more activity around the farmers' tables. Although it's a relatively small market, Echo Park Farmers' Market is definitely playing a valuable role in the community
Echo Park Ceritified Farmers' Market
Reviewed July 2008