Z: Anyone who knows us realizes that this is our home base for health care. All of our personal medical needs revolve around this facility. In fact, all of our kids were born here. We were delighted to learn that a farmers' market was making its debut at the Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Hospital and Clinic.
R: How appropriate that the market emerged on the greenest day of the year--Saint Patrick's Day. We arrived on the scene one week later to find a market that appeared to be thriving. Although not visible from any main streets, the market had a decided advantage being located next to a five-story parking structure and only a short walk to a busy three-story clinic.
Z: Anyone visiting the doctors in the North 3 Building had to walk from the parking structure past the cupolas and vegetable-laden tables signaling the presence of a farmers' market. And on that day, that's what people were doing as they paused to survey the offerings of the vendors. Although this is a small market, it provides a variety of choices for people who want farm-fresh produce.
R: In this market farmers did not have to be so concerned about competition stealing their sales because there was so little overlap in inventories. Each farmer's offerings were not duplicated by other farmers, as is the case in many large markets.
Z: Etheridge Farms from the Fresno area displayed a table filled with citrus fruits. Allison Etheridge flashed her winning smile as she answered questions about Mericat and Dancy tangerines. She told us that the family sells at nine markets in the Southland. We remember meeting Dad Etheridge at the Encino Market. On that morning we noticed Meyer lemons and were not sure about those other fruits that looked like lemons-- Allison identified them as sweet Persian limes. We faced other choices like navel oranges, tangelos, pomelos, and oro blancos before I settled on two giant oro blancos that went into my shopping bag.
R: The folks from Gayton Farms drove all the way down from Santa Maria to present quite an array of produce. Zel couldn't resist buying some fresh asparagus we savored at dinner the following evening. The green cabbage and leeks are in the refrig for other dinners. Their wide selection of root vegetables included carrots, radishes, icicle radishes, red beets, and onions-- brown, red, and Maui with their green stalks still attached. They sold three varieties of lettuce: iceberg, romaine, and red leaf. Other items on the table were cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, celery, parsley, cilantro, dill, and even beet greens.
Z: When we eyed this table as we arrived at the market, we noticed the baskets of Albion strawberries. By the time we decided to make our purchases, they were sold out. Empty cartons that held the berries were stacked neatly at the end of the table. But I wasn't totally disappointed because I found some unique produce offerings from Yee Vue Farms from Fresno. Yee Vue had veggies that so many Asians cook regularly like different kinds of eggplant. Any fan of Vegetarians in Paradise knows that Reuben is wild about eggplant.
R: Yes, and this was eggplant heaven. They provided an Asian tour with Chinese, Indian, and Philippine eggplants. These were some of the largest Chinese eggplants I had ever seen. The Chinese eggplants were bright shiny light purple while the Philippine ones were deep purple with green striations. The Indian eggplants were smaller and looked like oversize, deep purple eggs.
Z: Yee's nephew Tou told us he helps out on the farm and, of course, is part of the two-person selling team. He looked quite alert despite his two hours of sleep the previous night. In the four-hour trips from Fresno he has faced heavy winds, downpours, and rock slides. Not only do they have the hard work of growing the food, the farmers face the challenges of getting it to the farmers' markets.
R: Tou was eager to show us three kinds of sweet potatoes grown on his farm: the orange Jewel yams, the Japanese white sweet potatoes, and the yellow sweet potatoes. When we asked whether they grew the purple Korean sweet potatoes, he answered affirmatively, but told us we would have to wait until next fall. Nevertheless, we bought five Japanese sweet potatoes and devoured three of them that evening. We found them deliciously creamy and ultra sweet and look forward to next week's market.
Z: Farmers markets invariably have fruits and vegetables we had never encountered before. In this instance it was Indian bitter melon that's smaller and more bitter than the Chinese variety. Needless to say, we didn't buy either since Reuben is not a bitter melon fan. Yee's table also featured long, plump daikon radishes, cilantro, scallions, and fresh ginger. I also wanted to renew our acquaintance with sinqua, a squash that has a slightly spongy texture and mild flavor similar to zucchini. It's also known as angled luffa, silk gourd, or Chinese okra. We now have two available for another meal. I also couldn't resist the raw peanuts piled into a mound. I shoveled a bunch into a plastic bag and plan to roast them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes.
R: Speaking of nuts, the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company set up a table displaying their many varieties of pistachios. Karen Sassen was happy to tell us about the organization's shelled and unshelled nuts as well as their pistachio oil. We even had an opportunity to taste the oil that had a definite pistachio flavor. She also explained that this was a small pistachio farm that grows and processes its own crop. The Zannon Family has been in the pistachio business since 1991.
Z: As their website says, " Today, as the only locally-owned and family-managed pistachio farm on the Central Coast of California selling its own product, Santa Barbara Pistachio Company controls every phase of production, from planting, farming and harvesting to flavoring, hot air-drying and hand-packaging." I understand why they are known as the "Original Home of the Flavored Pistachio." Their attractive display included some of their favorites: Onion Garlic, Chile Lemon, Crushed Garlic, Red Hot Habanero, and more.
R: Anyone wanting an orchid plant could find colorful phalaenopsis plants including a gorgeous hybrid variety at Harry Atlas's table. When we met Harry at the Encino and Calabasas markets he had a greenhouse in Chatsworth, but he now produces his beautiful plants in Canoga Park. He advises watering these plants once each week.
Z: Our real education in extending the life of cut flowers came from Bert Rutten of Sunny Spot Flowers from Santa Barbara. All of his flowers were clearly labeled with their names. But what we really liked was that along with the name of each was how long it would last in a vase. For example, the tulips would stay fresh for 5 to 8 days, the ranunculus for the same length of time, and alstroemeria for 10 to 18 days.
R: Along with each bouquet he sold, Bert included a packet that combined a bacteriacide and food for the flowers. As he explained, "The biggest problem for flowers is bacteria." He advises cutting the base of the flower stems every three days and changing the water the same time. As we were standing there, one of his very pleased patrons approached Bert and announced, "I still have my flowers from last week." Since we can't remember the differences between Asiatic and Oriental lilies, we turned to Bert for the answer. Oriental lilies are fragrant while Asiatic lilies have no smell and are smaller.
Z: We spoke to market manager Anne Epstein who has been involved with farmers' markets on and off since 1991. In addition to this market, she manages the one at Kaiser's Woodland Hills facility on Thursdays. She acknowledges, "The parking structure is feeding us customers. This is the perfect marriage with Kaiser putting its money where its mouth is."
R: We learned that Kaiser became involved in farmers' markets when one of their surgeons, Preston Maring, created the Friday Fresh Farmer's Market at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in May 2003. Since that time, Kaiser has opened close to 30 markets in California that operate year round. For locations and information click here. "Now you can pick up your prescription and your green beans in the same trip" is the message on the website.
Along with sponsoring the market, Kaiser has enlisted 30 of its Panorama City employees as Thrive Ambassadors who take hourly shifts to help at the market. Two of the ambassadors, Louise Kartin and Maria Riccio, were eager to tell us about their roles in the organization.
Z: We had the feeling that this market is well on its way to becoming a highly successful operation. After only two weeks it has the traffic that many small markets would envy. The only major drawback is space limitations. According to manager Epstein's calculations the market would max out with 11 vendors. It needs more space, especially in the summer when the stone fruits appear. Hopefully, they'll be able to work something out that will be satisfactory to the hospital and the fire marshals.
Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2010