Z: When we saw that sign-flipper doing his gyrations on the corner of Rosecrans Boulevard and Hawthorne Boulevard as he waved the Lawndale Farmers' Market sign, we knew the market was nearby. Normally, anyone going south on Hawthorne Boulevard and turning right on 147th Street would find the city hall and library on Burin Avenue at the end of the block. On Wednesday afternoons barricades block that route signaling farmers' market day.
R: We found ample free parking in the city hall lot and began our search for the market manager, an easy task since Manager Dyan Davis was seated at a table at one end of the market. In the chair next to her was her mother, Ruthi Davis, co-manager. Both Davis girls are active in the local chamber of commerce. Dyan is currently executive director while her mom, selling boxes of Girl Scout cookies that afternoon, is a former president of the chamber.
Z: With Dyan at the helm, this market is celebrating its first anniversary this month. We were a week early for the gala event that would involve a visit from three elementary schools in the community. The after-school program the following Wednesday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. would feature a DJ and balloons as well as arts and crafts.
R: To encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables, the schools have a fruit and vegetable of the month. They are also working to include more fruits and vegetables into school lunches.
Z: As we glanced down the street, lined on both sides by vendors, we noticed a scant number of patrons. Sponsored by the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce, the market is set up to hold a maximum of 20 vendors, but Dyan explained that the current number of seven agricultural and seven hot foods vendors was comfortable. Because she didn't want the farmers' cannibalizing each others' sales she has made an effort to avoid multiple farmers offering similar produce.
R: Although there were just seven farmers at the market, those participating offered a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Lore's from Oxnard displayed a table filled with beets, carrots, celery, cauliflower, large artichokes, Roma tomatoes, zucchini, Mexican squash, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus.
Geovanna Leyva explained that Lore's is a family farm operated by three generations of the family. She proudly announced that they do not use chemicals and pesticides. We felt very comfortable buying their plump deep red Albion strawberries. According to the Environmental Working Group, strawberries are on their top ten list of pesticide-laden crops.
Z: I was excited to see South Central Farmers' Cooperative at this market. A brief explanation of how the cooperative had to leave the Los Angeles area appears on the LA Farm Girl blog. The turnips on the table were gigantic--at least four inches in diameter. Reuben cautioned me about buying one because turnips that size are usually woody and tasteless. Boy, was he wrong. For lunch the next day I peeled and cut one, and we savored the sweet, crunchy slices.
R: Turnips weren't the only item Zel bought from the Cooperative. She had her choice of Russian, blue, and black kale, but she settled on blue that will probably end up in one of our morning smoothies. She also couldn't resist the basket of spinach that looked like it was just picked.
Z: I was also eyeing the Swiss chard bunch with three flavors: red, yellow, and green that had to come home with me. I know Reuben was getting nervous when I looked at the package of dried New Mexico chili peppers that they described as "muy caliente." As you can guess, he's not into the heavy spice.
R: Lim's of San Diego had a wide selection of fruits that included apples, pears, citrus, and avocados. Current samples of what they grow on their 45-acre farm included Bosc and Anjou pears, Fuji apples, and Hass avocados. Their citrus display featured navel oranges, sweet limes, lemons, pink grapefruit, blood oranges, pomelo, tangelos, and pixie mandarins.
Z: Since you're talking fruits, you should mention the vine tomatoes. Most people think of tomatoes as vegetables, but they're fruits, in spite of what the Supreme Court said. Oh, and the blood oranges were too tempting. They look and taste so great in a fruit salad.
R: One of the high spots for me in this market visit was talking to Jose Gama of Gama Family Farm in Arvin. Over the years in our farmers' market explorations we often encountered the Gama table overflowing with a generous display of colorful vegetables. To use a fancy expression, they were ubiquitous, appearing in about 30 markets around California. The Gama Family is made up of the parents, three brothers, and five sisters-and that's a lot of potatoes.
Z: And that's a pretty terrible pun. But they are known for their potatoes. At this market they showed White Rose, Red Rose, Yukon Gold, Russets, and fingerlings. The Peruvian purple potatoes they usually bring to market will have to wait until the next harvest. I was not aware that small potatoes take three months to grow while the larger ones are ready in four months.
R: Jose had the time to give us a bit of family history. His parents came to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico where they had a farm. They started the farm in Arvin by clearing 5 acres of jojoba trees at a time and planting vegetables. Their farm now measures 80 acres.
Z: I was surprised by the extent of their cherry and grape varieties. Their 20 acres of cherries include Brooks, Tulare, Bing, Ranier, Mini Royal, and one variety that currently has a number but no name. Their grape crop includes Flame, Red Globe, Thompson seedless, Autumn Royal, and Crimson.
R: Along with the potatoes his table displayed carrots, beets, and those tiny Milpero tomatillos. But Zel was fixated on nopales, also known as cactus pads. I told her that if she bought those spiny things, she'd have to carry them home. After Jose told her how to prepare them and that she could eat them raw or cooked, she made her purchase in spite of my trepidation.
Z: Two other farmers at the market were R and L Farms from Kingsburg and Santiago Produce from Santa Maria. R and L had an extensive citrus offering that included navel oranges, pomelos, oro blanco, cara cara, ruby red grapefruit, tangerines, clementines, sweet limes, lemons, and blood oranges. They displayed Fuerte and Hass avocados, Camarosa strawberries, and cheremoyas. Santiago sold Albion strawberries along with blackberries and blueberries.
R: Before we left we decided to take advantage of the free health screening. We climbed into the large trailer to have our blood pressure checked and our blood taken for glucose and cholesterol readings. Our healthful low numbers surprised the technicians. We kept telling them our readings were in the normal range because we were vegetarians.
Z: Before we completed our final purchases, we stopped to listen to Adelina strumming on her acoustic guitar and singing unamplified.
R: As we reached the car, we asked ourselves, "How could we leave the community without seeing the new city library a few steps away?" We marveled that a small city measuring only 1.9 square miles could create such a beautiful facility of such impressive size that was filled with people, and attractive displays of books, CDs, films, and more. We wished we could have one like it in our neighborhood.
Lawndale Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2009