Z: When people think of the zip code 90210, they envision spoiled rich kids facing all kinds of dilemmas. Many also think of posh shops on Rodeo Drive. When we think of 90210, we picture a successful farmers market in Beverly Hills.
R: Right. We're not regular viewers of the 90210 TV show, but we certainly are fans of the Beverly Hills Farmers' Market. When we first visited the Beverly Hills Farmers' Market in 1999, we felt it had the aura of success. At that time the market was located on Canon Drive. That necessitated closing down the street. With the new location in a Civic Center parking lot next to the police station, the market has loads of space and there's no need to barricade any streets.
Z: One of the reasons for this market's success is manager Greta Dunlap, who is a full-time employee of the City of Beverly Hills working in the Parks and Recreation Department. Greta, who has a degree in public relations, has been manager of this market for eight years and has ten years of experienced managing farmers' markets.
R: She explained that this market celebrated its fourteenth anniversary in August 2008 and averages about 6000 visitors each Sunday. On this Sunday there were 38 farmers and 15 food vendors. There are no crafts at this market.
Z: What impressed me were the convenient, scaled-down shopping carts that shoppers could borrow at the entrance to the market. There are 18 for the adults and 8 kiddy carts. It's so precious to see the young children pushing these miniature baskets around the market and taking an active part in the shopping experience. Helping shoppers to identify the organic farmers were red or yellow flags that hung from their canopies--an excellent feature for those who buy only organic produce.
R: If we had visited the second Sunday of the month, we could have seen the Cookin' Kids Program that had all the kids excited about preparing foods with seasonal fruits and vegetables, learning their health benefits, and receiving recipes they can prepare at home. In September the featured item was corn that led into crafting cornhusk dolls. And there are pony rides and a petting zoo on that day to make 40 to 50 kids quite happy.
Z: Greta also mentioned the electronic waste pickup that occurs at the market on the first Sunday of the month. People can bring in their old computers, printers, and electronic gear instead of throwing them into the trash. She would love to see this market go green by trying to rid the market of plastic bags and styrofoam cups, but realizes that's a tough task.
R: Although we have visited most of thr farmers' markets in Los Angeles County, we never thought about the total number. Greta surprised us with the latest statistics for Los Angeles County and the State of California. Are you ready for this? There are currently 111 in the county and 520 in the state. That means Los Angeles County is home to one-fifth of the farmers' markets in the state!
Z: When we spoke to Richard Burkart of Burkart Organics from Dinuba, he told us, "Farming is the only business where you need a million dollars to make a dollar." A farmer for almost 30 years, he started going to farmers' markets when he was almost going broke trying to sell his products wholesale. Farmers markets were a turning point for him and have helped him survive.
R: We should mention that Burkart was selling Royal black and Thompson seedless grapes. He also displayed mini Blue Damsen plums, a variety that is popular in Europe. The most unusual item on his tables was the jujubes, both fresh and dried.
Z: Real jujubes are not really those gummy candies people buy when they go to the movies, the ones made with gelatin. The real ones come from an Asian tree called Zizaphus Jujube, but in this part of the world they're known as Chinese dates. They're shaped like giant olives but taste like nutty apples.
R: In Asia jujubes are known for their medicinal value, especially to cure coughs, soothe internal organs, and reduce water retention. Since Zel and I are fruit lovers anyway, we made our purchase. Even though we didn't have those medical complaints, we figured popping a few jujubes now and then might be beneficial to our general well being.
Z: Doug Powell of Archibald/Powell Farm in Redlands echoed Burkart's view on the value of farmers' markets. "Farmers' markets have really helped the small grower," he told us. Powell has been in agriculture for 30 years and began his farmers' market experience in 1992. He and his partner Tom Archibald have combined their efforts in a family business on their 20-acre farm.
R: We were delighted with his selection of Garnet yams, Jersey sweet potatoes, and Oriental sweet potatoes. We're great fans of this Japanese variety called kotobuki. They have a deliciously sweet white flesh with a chestnutty flavor. Of course, we had to take some home.
Z: While Reuben was paying for the sweet potatoes, I was eyeing the garlic, shallots, and those cute little cipollini onions. These tiny gems taste so sweet when they're roasted. Seeing kabocha, acorn, and butternut made me so conscious of this wonderful season of delicious winter squashes I can turn into hearty soups and tasty side dishes.
R: Their apple selection included Jonagold, Red Delicious, and the not often seen Matsu. The Matsu is a crisp, slightly tart apple. The Jonagold happens to be cross between a Golden Delicious and a Jonathan. TheArchibald/Powell tables also featured red potatoes, multicolor chili peppers, red and brown onions, Red Flame grapes, beefsteak tomatoes, and the less familiar Korean cucumbers.
Z: Speaking of tomatoes, we found the best heirloom selection brought by Lark Farms of Fillmore. Clearly marked with signs were their heirloom varieties: Brandywine, Cherokee, Pineapple, Green Zebra, and Marvel Stripe. They also displayed eggplants, Persian cucumbers, and all kinds of peppers: jalapeno, sweet red ones, and even the long, thin, deep red cayenne peppers seldom seen at farmers' markets.
R: Tomai Farms also featured tomatoes. In addition to heirlooms like Green Zebra and Pineapple, they had red, yellow, and purple cherry tomatoes along with Romas and Beefsteaks. Their table also contained green and wax beans, Mexican squash, round zucchini, arugula, red leaf lettuce, and white corn.
Z: And we shouldn't forget to mention McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo selling heirloom tomatoes: Zebra, Pineapple, Purple Cherokee, and Pink Brandywine. It was truly a great day for heirloom tomato fanciers. McGrath also brought butternut, kabocha, and delicata squashes. I was excited when I saw their sign for haricots verts. That's French for green beans. Haricot verts are French beans that are thinner and have a sweeter more complex flavor than ordinary string beans. The McGrath table did appeal to me because they were totally organic and had a great selection of greens including Swiss chard, beet, dandelion, and arugula. In addition they had three kinds of beets: red, golden and candy stripe as well as black radishes, a variety we rarely encounter.
R: Weiser Family Farms of Bakersfield and Zuckerman Farms of Stockton can always be counted on to appear at a number of farmers' markets with a trove of potatoes. Zuckerman sold its assortment of small potatoes, fingerlings, Yukons, and reds. Weiser had purples, butterballs, reds, Russian banana, and French fingerling. But their selection of eggplants and squashes had Zel salivating.
Z: Wow, I had to take home some of those they called Vietnamese eggplants. These were so unlike the purple Italian, and the Chinese and Japanese varieties we find in the supermarkets. We later found out their real names: Apple Green, Green Goddess, and Zebra Hybrid. They all became part of our eggplant feast.
R: You also became quite excited about their squashes. They offered mini baby dumpling, butternut, sunshine, Turkish Turban, mini kabocha, and one they labeled Sibley.
Z: Although it was the end of September there were still many stone fruits on display. Avila and Sons from Hanford and Tenerelli Orchards from Littlerock had enough to satisfy the local customers. Avila displayed yellow peaches and nectarines, white peaches and nectarines, Angelino plums, black pluots, and black mission figs. They also offer a sumptuous variety of dried fruits and nuts. Tenerelli had a crowd of people snapping up their white peaches and nectarines, yellow peaches, Bartlett pears, Asian pears, and Golden Delicious and green apples.
R: Speaking of apples again, Ha's Apple Farm from Tehachapi seemed to be just rolling out their crop of organic apples. Their table displayed boxes of Golden Delicious and Red Delicious and their usual dried apples and fruit jams. Fair Hills Farm from Paso Robles won the apple prize for the day with five varieties: Gala, Fuji, Cameo, Granny Smith, and Honey Crisp. They even displayed a bargain box of apples they labeled "visually distressed." We learned later that farmers selling less-than-the-best-quality produce had to clearly label those items.
Z: Anyone seeking to buy berries that day would have been disappointed if they had not come early. Pudwill's Berry Farm from Nipomo had only few boxes of raspberries and black figs by the time we passed their table at 11:30. They had sold out the blackberries, orangeberries, and goldenberries. Harry's Berries from Oxnard had sold all of their Gaviota strawberries and only had a few boxes of raspberries left along with a good supply of fresh-squeezed strawberry juice. Their table also featured Juliet grape tomatoes, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, large beefsteak tomatoes and two exotic string beans: plump, golden Italian Wax and French Filet.
R: If shoppers wanted some unique dried beans, they could find colorful bags from Sun Coast Farms from Lompoc. Their offering included fava, speckled limas, regular limas, pinto, Brazilian black beans, and Pinquito, also known as the Santa Maria bean. We have encountered Sun Coast at many farmers' markets where they manage to show up with humungous artichokes. That day was no exception. They also brought baby purple artichokes along with Brussels sprouts and asparagus.
Z: Sprout lovers could dive into delicious pea greens from Sunshine Sprouts ofSouth Gate. Amber Durazo represented her family and was eager to have us taste, epecially the sprouted beans. And, of course, we had to stop to examine the rectangular wicker baskets brimming with organic herbs and baby greens presented by Kenter Canyon Farms of North Hollywood. The prize-winning squash for me that day was a summer squash on hormones. Gigantic in size, it was deep green and studded with golden flecks. They called it Sunburst, but I labeled it "buy me."
R: Since we're in the middle of grape season, we had no difficulty identifying some great choices. Harry Nicholas received our market award for the most colorful tablecloth that brightly displayed all kinds of fruits and vegetables. On the table were Autumn Royal purple, Ruby red, and even Muscat, an heirloom variety of grapes grown for centuries and the oldest known to man. Finding Muscats is difficult these days because they are quite prone to spoilage. Summer Harvest Farm from Dinuba displayed Red Flame and Thompson grapes.
Z: No problem for people looking for citrus fruits. Rancho Mexico Lindo, an organic grower, sold Valencia oranges and Bearrs limes in addition to prickly pears, baby Fuyu persimmons, and plump Reed avocados. They were the only ones selling strawberry and lemon guavas. And for those not wanting to wrestle with pomegranates, they had bags of pomegranate seeds. I had never seen that before. What a convenience! Bernard Ranches from Riverside satisfied grapefruit buffs with Star Ruby and Marsh as well as Valencia oranges and lemons and limes. Rancho de Trinidad from Piru also displayed Valencias and red and white grapefruit.
R: When we visited this market years ago, we commented on the numerous choices of cut flowers and potted plants. C Stars Nursery from Gardena had so many plants that would look great in our yard. One striking bush was the giant hibiscus with a red and white flower that measured almost six inches in diameter. There was lantana in many bright colors, orange cape honeysuckle, and a shrimp plant that sported that name for good reason.
Z: While you were examining C Stars, I was gazing at the Asian and Oriental lilies at Spot Flowers from Santa Paula. Their cut flowers featured zinnias in pink, red, orange, and magenta. The sign announced "vase life 7-14 days."
R: We both had to stop and "ooh and ah" at the flowers displayed by Aroma Orchids from Rowland Heights. The yellow and orange Psychopsis Kalihi was breathtaking. The purple and white Minho Princess ran a close second in my personal orchid beauty contest. We both felt sorry for Mayeda Cut Flowers from Oxnard. They didn't bring enough to satisfy the demand. When we passed their table at 11:30 they only had a few sunflowers left.
Z: As we walked back to our car in the adjacent parking garage, we sipped on our Beverly Hills Farmers' Market "Clear and Refreshing Natural Spring Water." The label says it's produced and distributed by the city of Beverly Hills. The water is available for purchase at the market. Ours came courtesy of someone who has a great deal of influence in the organization. We should mention that two hours free parking is available in the structure located at 450 Rexford Drive.
R: Contrary to the views of many, both of us can multitask. We were chewing on Halawy organic dates from Bautista Farms in Mecca and washing them down with spring water as we listened to the mellow sounds of Michael Sullivan who sings his own songs and accompanies himself on the guitar. He's a regular showing up once a month.
Z: We left the market loaded down with bags of farm-fresh goodies and recognizing our market experience always provides us the enriching opportunity to connect with those heroes who persevere through rain, wind, frost, and drought to provide us urban dwellers with nourishing sustenance.
Beverly Hills Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed October 2008