Z: Brave as we are, we decided to take public transportation for our visit to the Watts Healthy Farmers' Market. This is the only market we know of in LA County to use the word "healthy" in the name. They truly deserve to place that word in their name as you will discover reading this story.
R: For those who want the gory details of how we arrived at the market, this was our plan. We parked our car at the North Hollywood station, boarded the Red Line and traveled to Union Station so that we could take a bathroom break before heading south on the Blue Line. If we didn't need the break, we could have transferred to the Blue Line at Seventh Street Metro Center. After our bathroom stop, we hopped on the Red Line to Metro Center and caught the Blue Line to the 103rd Street Station. From there we walked three blocks to Ted Watkins Memorial Park at 103rd and Central Ave.
Z: Since we were not going home after visiting the market and were taking public transportation, we had decided that we were not going to do any personal shopping, even though there were many temptations there. As we walked toward the market in the parking lot of the park, we passed the Promenade Walk of Fame honoring the accomplishments of community leaders. The 27-acre park was named for Ted Watkins who was the founder of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. The park has a swimming pool open through October and facilities for baseball, flag football, basketball and soccer. The park appeared to be well attended with people of all ages actively engaged in physical endeavors or picnicking.
R: We recognized the healthy component when we paused to listen to Meka Webb from the Los Angeles County Department of Health talking to a small group trying to make them "Sugar Savvy." As she pointed out, "One 20-ounce can of soda is like eating 17 teaspoons of sugar." She also told the group, "You'll gain 25 pounds in a year if you drink a 20-ounce soda every day."
Z: Meka wanted to dispel the myth that a diet with loads of fresh fruits and vegetables is expensive. She displayed two bags of groceries purchased locally. One bag of 12 highly processed foods added up to a total cost of $31.99. The second bag that contained 21 items including fresh fruits and vegetables totaled $30.55. The basic idea was the bag filled with mostly unprocessed foods delivered more bang for the buck and contained healthier options.
R: Anyone sitting in on Meka's talk went away with a plastic bag full of goodies (not food) containing pamphlets and brochures provided by Champions for Change Network for a Healthy California. These pamphlets stressed the importance of physical activity and provided nutritional information about fruits and vegetables. Also included was an attractive 60-page book titled EVERYDAY Healthy Meals that was loaded with nutritious recipes and enticing photos.
Z: The Watts market has an impressive list of sponsors including Kaiser Permanente, Children's Hospital, Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, and See-LA that operates this market and six others around the city. Managing this market is Ashley Hiestand, an Occidental college graduate who is a full-time employee of See-LA. Ashley is the organization's Market Basket Coordinator, assembling baskets of produce and delivering them. She describes the task as similar to delivering to customers of a consumer-supported agriculture distribution, also known as a CSA.
R: We learned from Ashley that we had come a week early. The next Saturday was the gala second anniversary celebration with a children's petting zoo, face painting, and more. Even though we were a week early for the celebration, we still could get a good picture of the market. They currently have 11 growers, 6 food vendors, and 3 crafters. Fresh produce fanciers could find an abundant variety of choices at this market.
Z: Both Ha's Apple Farm from Tehachapi, Valley View Ranch from Phelan, and Gama Farm from Arvin offered a selection of stone fruits. Ha's, known for apples, did have some Fujis left, but the bulk of their display was stone fruits including white and yellow peaches white and yellow nectarines, Italian prune plums, and those cute little donut peaches.
R: Zel likes the look of those little donut peaches, but we both find them appealing because they're so sweet. We've seen them at farmers' markets the last few years and always thought they were a new variety. We learned that they originated in China and were first grown in the US in the 1800s. They were called Chinese flat peaches or Chinese saucer peaches, but they faded from the scene because most people preferred a yellow flesh peach over this white-flesh variety. The University of Florida came to the rescue of the donut peach by producing a variety they call UFO that has white firm flesh, can be tree ripened, and be firm enough to be shipped across the country.
Z: Valley View didn't have any donut peaches but offered white and yellow peaches, white nectarines, and Red Flame grapes. Gama is not currently a major player with stone fruits although they showed up with a box of pluots. Their claim to fame is potatoes. They offered an assortment of Russets, Yukons, and Red Rose and also featured baby Yukons and Red Rose varieties. Their produce mix included green and red tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, white, red and brown onions, garlic, shallots, carrots, and cactus pads called nopales by the Hispanic community. They also sold both regular and seedless watermelons and cantaloupes.
R: As we stood facing the Gama table, Monique, a woman with a delightful French accent, told us she's a regular at this market. She lives only two blocks away and has been in the neighborhood since 1968. Monique was delighted when this market opened. Before then she would have to travel to the Santa Monica market for her produce fix. She showed us her market coupon. Each time she made a purchase she would have the coupon punched. Ten punches and she would receive $3 off a market purchase. She looked at us and smiled as she announced, "I love farmers' markets."
Z: Castellanos from Riverside had an impressive array of vegetables, but they couldn't satisfy Gloria Cofield who wanted purple hull peas. Unlike Gloria, I was tempted by the selection of squashes: green and yellow zucchini, round zucchini, yellow crookneck, and white and yellow pattypan. Their offerings were more than ample with iceberg lettuce, romaine, green leaf, and red leaf. In their display one could find cucumbers, string beans, radishes, scallions, broccoli, celery, carrots, green and red cabbage, cauliflower, Italian parsley, leeks, jalapenos, celery, asparagus, garlic, tomatillos, and some quite beautiful kale. But Gloria kept urging the farmer that he must grow purple hull beans for her.
R: That's quite a long list, but it ignores their fruit offerings like cantaloupes, watermelons, and Camarosa strawberries. Speaking of fruits, Santiago from Nipomo and Rancho de Trinidad from Piru provide additional choices for market patrons. Santiago is big on berries with a table filled with blackberries, blueberries, red raspberries, and Albion strawberries. Their non-fruit items were carrots and string beans. Rancho de Trinidad's table emphasized citrus, although also they displayed vine tomatoes. They sold white, pink, and red grapefruit along with lemons, Valencia oranges, and Satsuma and honey tangerines.
Z: Approaching the banner of the South Central Farmers' Cooperative, I noticed a smaller sign announcing the award they had received at the Hollywood Farmers' Market in 2007: "Best Produce of Your Choice." In our visit to Leimert Park Farmers' Market we told our readers about how the cooperative had to move from their South Central garden up to Bakersfield. But they have managed to keep their LA ties by selling at several local markets. They also had a great squash selection with green and white pattypan, round zucchini, green zucchini, and yellow crookneck.
R: The Cooperative offered an herb they called papalo but the vendor was puzzled when asked we what it's called in English. Turns out that the people in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, where it's most commonly grown in the US, also use papalo as the English name for this plant, considered a weed in some other areas. It is eaten raw, not cooked, and sometimes appears in guacamole and salads. The taste is described as having a unique flavor somewhere between arugula, cilantro, and rue. Included in their herbal pail was epazote, often used in Mexican cooking to flavor black beans and to prevent flatulence.
Z: In addition to the herbs, they sold Armenian cucumbers, a unique variety that's pale green and rather curled in shape. Other items included red and green tomatoes, carrots, beets, okra, cucumbers, and deliciously sweet Tuscan cantaloupes. Moving away from the cooperative's table, we paused to check out the sprouts offered by Juan Bolanos of Los Angeles. His table presented alfalfa, broccoli, and radish sprouts along with sprouted beans, peanuts, wheat berries, and both wheat grass and kitty grass.
R: Anyone wanting to go home with a plant had some unique choices from Cazares Nursery from Compton. Those pink fuschias were tempting but would not thrive in our hot Valley climate. The Hawaiian papaya might do very well if we only had room for it. We wisely looked and did not buy. One plant that caught my attention was called tecomaria, short for tecomaria capensis. This plant with bright orange blossoms can be used as a vine or trained to be a shrub or tree. Zel was surprised when I called it by its common name: cape honeysuckle.
Z: Before we concluded our market visit, I had to savor the cut flower bouquets from ELC Growers in Somis. Their pink and purple asters were stunning as were the white and purple lisianthus. I was especially taken by the gorgeous safflowers with their small but intensely bright orange and yellow blossoms.
R: The Watts market truly deserves to have the word "healthy" in its name because it is not only bringing those fresh fruits and vegetables to a community that is underserved in this area, but it is also making a concerted effort to educate people in the neighborhood they need these foods in their diet.
Watts Healthy Farmers' Market
Reviewed August 2009