Z: When we came to the Santa Monica side of Plummer Park, there was no market, just a sign sending us to the north parking lot on Fountain and Vista.
R: We circled the block until we came to the parking lot. It was full, but a pleasant woman pointed to spot at the curb near the entrance. Our Toyota seemed to be hanging into the driveway, but she assured us it was O.K. She even placed an orange traffic cone behind the car. She was wearing a parks and recreation t-shirt and a warm smile. "What a nice person," I thought. Later we learned this was Shirley Berry, the market manager.
Z: This was a small market which took up half of the parking lot. At first glance it looked like they had less than 30 vendors. We did notice several signs that proudly announced the produce at this farm stand was "organic." We also saw some of the familiar names who sell at other markets like Tanaka Farms who had a small display of onions, radishes, tomatoes, green beans, garlic, and cute baby pumpkins. It was 10:45 and there was only one box of strawberries left.
R: I didn't see any rhubarb at ABC Rhubarb Farms, but they did have all kinds of fresh herbs. Zel couldn't resist the arugala and the dill. Victor handed Zel two generous bunches which only came to a dollar. He told us this was a family business operated by his brother-in-law. Most of their business involves shipping their produce across the country.
Z: Valdivia Farms had quite a display of tomatoes at very reasonable prices. The large ones I bought were $.75 a pound, quite a bargain. They also displayed pear-shaped cherry tomatoes and yellow tomatoes. On the table were a variety of baby vegetables including squash, turnips, and even corn. There were also five varieties of beans: French, yellow wax beans, purple striped dragon beans, romano, and slender round green beans. They all looked plump and tempting, but I had some at home waiting to be cooked.
R: The Nakamura Berry Farm people from Oxnard seem to be at every market, large or small. They had their usual assortment of "greens galore." That's how Zel describes their stand. She also adds, "A mountain of kale." Since she doesn't drink milk, one of her musts is a serving of kale. Along with the kale, she purchased carrots, radishes, onions, and cilantro. There was much more to buy, all organic, but the refrigerator at home isn't big enough.
Z: Burkart Farms traveled all the way from Dinuba with their organic Japanese eggplants, Fuji apples, Satsuma tangerines, giant persimmons, and pomegranates. They also had organic raisins and dried jujubes. The jujubes are reddish brown and look like small wrinkled prunes. They taste like. . .well, you'll really have to try them to know how to describe them . A bit pricey, but we picked up a half pound for a snack. Maybe, we'll give a few to Aunt Nettie when she comes over.
R: They had a picture of the jujube tree that looks something like a willow. I later did a bit of research and learned it was a variety of zizyphus, a group of spiny shrubs and trees. Jujubes are more common in China, but now trees are grown in this country. The fruit does not taste great when raw, so it is scored with a knife and then dropped into boiling syrup and cooked for 30 minutes and then cooled and dried to the consistency of a prune. Sometimes the jujube is called Chinese date.
Z: That was a nice aside, and you get an A for research! Focusing back on the market, the Crown 12 Farms folks from Corona had plenty of citrus, avocados, persimmons, and pomegranates. The giant Fuyu persimmons were just what I wanted for some special desserts we enjoy this season. Avocados have been horribly expensive this year, but the Teague avocados were a great buy at three for $2. Finally, the 10 lb.bag of oranges completed my shopping at this stand.
R: The Top Veg people had an enormous display of 10 tables filled with every kind of vegetable you could imagine. It was the largest display at this market. Ken, who was quite busy, answered a few questions on the run, and told us that the vegetables are grown in the Long Beach/Carson area by three generations of the Takahashi family. Here there were some of the less common veggies such as bitter melon, radicchio, New Zealand spinach, white beets, shallots, bags of broccoli stems, and bunches of dandelion greens.
Z: Casitas Floral Farms from Carpinteria was the only vendor with cut flowers. The mixed bouquets of asiatic lilies and stargazer lilies were quite stunning, as were the pastel peach colored roses. Their display included giant bunches of bright yellow sunflowers, but the highlight of their repertoire was the multicolor gerbera daisies in red, pink, and orange.
R: The Weiser Family Farms of Lucerne Valley are also ubiquitous on the farmers' market scene. They were here with their organic potatoes and apples. Zel had to have some of those Peruvian purple potatoes. The fingerlings, baby red rose, and Yukon gold would be for another time.
Z: Ubiquitous! Why not just say they're everywhere? The highlight of this farmers' market for us was talking to Lin Rach who grows orchids. We had encountered Lin's at other markets. When we asked about Lin's, the vendors would tell us the orchids were grown in Panorama City. At this market we met the delightful Lin herself, who told us she was the mother of eight. Her children and their spouses all participate in selling at the other markets.
R: Lin has been growing orchids for 27 years. It began as a hobby and blossomed into a successful business. She now has a 30 by 60 foot greenhouse where she propagates her plants. We only wished that we had more time to talk to this woman who was born in Bangkok and left when she was 18. She's well educated having studied at London University and Oregon State where she earned a degree in agribusiness.
Z: We really connected with her. When we left, I gave her a hug and she handed me a gift of three stems of purple and white dendrobium orchids, rattling off complete instructions on keeping them fresh for two full months.
R: I heard the sounds of a soprano saxophone and knew that Dexter of Jazzy Sprouts was here. He had his usual giant assortment of sprouts including sprouted peanuts, cashews, fenugreek, and broccoli. Zel had to get her wheat grass juice fix while we chatted with Dexter. For the salad bowl, we took home some pea sprouts, broccoli sprouts, the colorful mixed bean assortment, and a wheat grass plant for Fuzzy, our new little kitten.
Z: We had a pleasant chat with Shirley Berry, the market manager. She told us the market just celebrated its 13th birthday this summer. She's been the manager since March. We liked her from the moment she helped us park the car. Shirley has been an employee of the Recreation Department of the City of West Hollywood for the last five years. Her biggest challenge in recent months was the move from the south part of the park to the north section. The move was necessary because the park is being renovated and is under construction.
R: The move to Fountain and Vista has turned out to be a benefit, making the market more visible from the street. The farmers like that fact, plus they face less traffic than when the market faced Santa Monica Boulevard. At the peak of the growing season, the market has about 25 farmers. With the size of the parking lot, they can't accommodate any more. On this morning there were two craft booths: Fifi, the hat lady and Trade Winds Beads with necklaces and bracelets.
Z: Shirley is proud of the fact that the market appeals to the older people who use the park and are frequent shoppers. Her greatest pride is shown in the signs hanging in many of the booths that state, "School tours and camp groups welcome here." She handed us an impressive three-page field trip schedule. School children from pre-school to high school meet the farmers; a dietician makes shakes with them; and they hear a recycling presentation where they are taught about composting. As part of the tour they shop at the market, have a snack, and play in the park.
R: It's a two hour and 45 minute program. On that day five schools were involved in a staggered schedule. Four arrived on buses and one group walked to the market. The program is called the Healthy West Hollywood School Project and is coordinated through the city's Social Services Department. Shirley also manages three community gardens in the city which grants plots to residents and employees. Two plots in each garden are reserved for the schools.
Z: "Who is Helen Albert?" we asked, wondering how the market received its name. Shirley told us Helen Albert was a former mayor who is being honored for her contributions to West Hollywood.
R: The impressive fact about this market is that it serves the needs of a varied clientele. Nursery school toddlers, school age children, senior citizens, the poor on food stamps, and people who desire organic produce all play a role here. Although this market is small, it offers so much to the community.
Helen Albert Farmers' Market in West Hollywood
Reviewed December 1999