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Vegan for the Holidays


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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise
The Great Produce Hunt


For a complete current list of farmers' markets click on Certified Farmers Markets in Los Angeles County.

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On a warm, sunny Saturday morning in May the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, traveled to the west end of the San Fernando Valley. Their mission possible was to check out the Main Street Canoga Park Certified Farmers' Market and report back to their eager, hungry readers.

Z: The Hollywood Farmers' Market has a newborn cousin who came on the scene April 24, 2010. Maybe, I should explain. The Main Street Canoga Park Farmers Market has as its parent SEE-LA, the organization that began with the Hollywood Farmers' market and now includes a total of eight farmers' markets in Los Angeles County.

R: On Sundays people can visit the hugely successful Hollywood Farmers' Market or they can experience the Atwater Village Market. Wednesday shoppers can find fresh produce at the Los Angeles Medical Center market in Barnsdall Park while on Thursdays they can make purchases at the Central Avenue market. Echo Park is the scene of a Friday market. On Saturdays SEE-LA spreads its wings at the Crenshaw market at the Baldwin Hills Plaza and the Watts Healthy Farmers' Market in Ted Watkins Memorial Park as well as the new Canoga Park market.

Z: The initials SEE-LA stand for Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles. One of SEE-LA's goals is to "contribute to the health and quality of life of the Los Angeles community by operating successful certified farmers' markets, which provide fresh produce directly from the farmers to the local residents, and work on making this quality food accessible to all, including low-income families."

Canoga Park Farmers' Market R: In our many years of visiting farmers' markets around Los Angeles County we have visited their markets in neighborhoods where they saw the need to make fresh produce available but had to struggle to gain the audience. As a result, SEE-LA's success has been achieved through a combination of hard work and patience.

Z: In Canoga Park SEE-LA managed a street closure: Owensmouth Ave. between Sherman Way and Wyandotte St. That's not an easy task. Then again, the market has an impressive group of sponsors like CRA/LA, West Hills Chamber of Commerce, Canoga Park Main Street, and Councilman Dennis P. Zine.

R: On that Mid-May morning the market featured a free produce raffle, face painting and balloons for kids, and an 18-foot jumper slide and obstacle course also for kids. In the coming weeks the market will host cooking demonstrations, live music, exercise demonstrations, and a dietitian who will answer questions. To encourage regular visits to the market, there is a Frequent Shopper Card that offers $3 of Market Money each 5th visit.

Z: Among the all-organic selections that day were avocados, lemons, and limes from Ace Ranch in Escondido. Christina Afaghi and her husband Simon operate the 32-acre farm covered with 2500 trees. The Hass variety accounts for 90% of the avocados they grow. Around July they will be selling those deliciously creamy, plump Reed avocados. Christina explained that the Reed season is short, only about two months. "The Reed avocados are so heavy we have to support the branches to keep them from breaking." Their Fuerte and Bacon varieties will be available in November. She also told us that avocados are expensive because they require so much water.

Canoga Park Farmers' Market R: Another avocado grower, Martinez Farm from Tehachapi also featured Hass avocados as well as oranges. Mike Suarez, whose father-in-law owns the farm, gave us a quick education on the mushrooms they produce in their greenhouse. The cremini and Portobello mushrooms are grown on horse manure while the oyster and shiitake develop atop chopped wood. The greenhouse temperature is kept between 70 and 80 degrees, though in summer the temperature can climb as high as 120 degrees. The greenhouse has a watering system to keep the mushrooms moist and to prevent them from burning in hot weather.

Z: I chose two portobellos that we had as the centerpiece of that evening's dinner. Citrus dominated the display of Etheridge Farms from Fresno. This all-organic grower sold Tango tangerines, Minneola tangelos, Valencia oranges, Chandler pomelos, Oro Blancos, Meyer lemons, and Ruby Star grapefruit. They heralded the opening of the stone fruit season with Maycrest white peaches and brilliant red Brooks cherries. Erin Etheridge, whose family operates the farm, assured us that apricots and apriums would be available in the next few weeks.

R: Strawberries were being sold by four of the farmers. The dominant variety was Camarosa. R & L Produce from Santa Paula sold a variety they called "1975" but is patented as BG-1975. Those quite sweet berries found their way to our house and were quickly devoured. Along with the strawberries R & L had broccoli and Hass avocados.

Z: Lores from Oxnard also displayed Camarosa strawberries. Lore's offered both yellow and green pattypan squash, Brussels sprouts, cluster tomatoes, string beans, zucchinis, and green and red bell peppers. Canoga Park Farmers' Market

R: While we're talking strawberries, we must mention Gutierrez Farm from Santa Maria who displayed Camarosas alongside their other colorful berries: blackberries, blueberries, and red raspberries. Gutierrez cornered the market on snap peas and sugar peas that morning. They also offered broccoli, carrots, zucchini, Mexican squash, and green beans, along with fresh fava beans we rarely encounter at the farmers' markets. Zel felt a fava bean purchase was a must. Guess who gets to shell the favas.

Z: The fourth farmer to offer strawberries was Castellanos from Riverside. Theirs were Camarosas also. Vegetable lovers like me have a good time with all the choices presented by this grower. The list is almost endless: asparagus, carrots, beets, celery, spinach, radishes, green onions, romaine, red leaf lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, red and green zucchini, leeks, red and brown onions, and kale. I couldn't resist that giant bunch of bright green kale that will soon become a delectable kale salad.

R: Since you mentioned Castellanos for asparagus, I wanted to call attention to Zuckerman Farms from Stockton that also had asparagus spears and tips. Zuckerman, a well-known California potato grower, has a presence in so many farmers' markets in Southern California. They never disappoint, showing up at markets with baby potatoes, fingerlings and their gourmet bags that contain red, gold, and purple potatoes.

Z: Now let's talk nuts. We need to mention Santa Barbara Pistachios from you know where. We met Karen Sassen when we visited the Panorama City Market where she showed us her many varieties of shelled and unshelled pistachios. That morning she made us aware of their newest item, pistachio flour from finely ground pistachios.

Canoga Park Farmers' Market R: But peanut lover that you are you had to have some of those garlic roasted peanuts from Avila and Sons from Hanford. One taste and you were sold. And since you are The Nut Gourmet, purchasing some of their nut butters was a must.

Z: I was intrigued by the thought of spreading walnut butter, pecan butter, or pistachio butter on a slice of toasted bread or a cracker. Although those were my three selections, I could have also bought their peanut, almond, or honey walnut butter.

R: Alex Avila, #3 son of Avila and Sons, told us about the variety of fruits and nuts grown on their 50-acre farm. The tree nuts include walnuts, pecans, almonds, and pistachios. They also cultivate the small Spanish peanuts. Their orchards also contain peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, Fuji, Gala and Pink Lady apples, figs, persimmons, and cherries. The cherries they sold that morning were Andy G Son, an early variety that's burgundy hued, quite sweet, and not as crunchy as the Brooks. We almost finished the entire pound that evening.

Z: I was surprised to hear that they also grew corn for their own corn nuts. And, of course, they dried and sold their own fruit as well as flavored nuts like salted tomato almonds and chili lemon pistachios.

R: After eating all those salted and flavored nuts, someone might want to pause for a refreshing juice drink from Sherrill Orchards from Acton. Sherrill offered combinations of apple, cherry, and pomegranate. They also had pomegranate jelly, with or without sugar.

Z: Anyone seeking sprouts would find a good selection from Bolanos Family Sprouts from Canoga Park. Along with wheat grass they sold sunflower, green pea, daikon radish, and alfalfa sprouts. Their other sprouted offerings included peanuts, garbanzos, black beans, black eyed peas, green peas, fenugreek, red and brown lentils, mung beans, wheat berries, and sunflower seeds.

Mystery Flower R: Bender Farms from Santa Paula was the only flower vendor at the market. We both were transfixed by a bouquet of blazing red flowers. "Cordesia" was the name on the sign identifying the bouquet, but we could not find any reference to a flower by that name. For the purpose of this story we are calling it the Mystery Flower, hoping one of our readers will supply us with an identification when they look at the picture. Bender's other bouquet selections included pastel yellow mums, purple iris, alstroemeria, and lavender larkspur.

Z: When we saw the sign "All vegetarian and vegan," we had to pause to investigate. We discovered Bolani, a traditional Afghani flatbread that's stuffed with either spinach, pumpkin, red potato, or green lentil filling. It was being offered by East & West Gourmet Afghan Food. As we sampled the Bolani topped with Cilantro Pesto, we asked if our hostess was from Afghanistan. Marcelle Baca and her co-demonstrator Leonardo Antonio were both Brazilians. Only in Los Angeles do we have Brazilians sampling Afghani foods. Before we left, we picked up a Bolani stuffed with spinach and a container of their delicious spicy Red Lentil Curry.

R: As we approached the corner of Owensmouth and Wyandotte, we saw a table sponsored by the Childhood Development Institute. Their representative, Jose Chavez, provided us with information about the Child Development Institute's Early Learning Center for children under five that is slated to open in what was the former Canoga Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Z: The remodeled facility will house a Children's Discovery Zone with hands-on exhibits and learning kiosks as well as crawling and climbing equipment. Plans for the building include a community room, a toy and book-lending library, a 600-square-foot Head Start classroom, and indoor and outdoor play areas. Four therapy rooms will be available for children who need speech therapy or other intervention services. In the Family Consultation families can meet with the professional staff. This room will also have a computer kiosk for internet access and research. A full-service instructional kitchen will feature cooking and nutrition classes for families as well as a Little Chefs group where children will have an opportunity to prepare and try new foods.

Canoga Park Farmers' Market R: We were quite surprised to encounter Pompea Smith at this market. As CEO of SEE-LA, she doesn't usually appear at each of their markets on a regular basis. There are others who help her manage markets except for Hollywood that she usually oversees. She was enthusiastic about the Canoga market and wanted it to launch successfully. Now she looks forward to next year when the Hollywood market triumphantly celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Z: Pompea was excited about The Farmer's Kitchen in Hollywood. The Farmer's Kitchen is a farm-fresh cafe as well as a commercial teaching, processing, and retail kitchen for the sale of prepared foods and farm-fresh produce. The revenue from the Farmer's Kitchen supports nutrition education programs and provides job training in food preparation for Hollywood's low-income residents. An extension of the Sunday Hollywood Farmers' Market, The Farmer's Kitchen is a source of healthy, affordable food for Hollywood residents of all income levels.

R: The Farmer's Kitchen is open for a "Grab & Go" lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Sundays they are open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for breakfast and lunch. The facility, located in the Sunset and Vine complex at the corner of Selma Avenue and Morningside Court, is closed Monday and Saturday. Menus and other information can be found at http://www.hollywoodfarmerskitchen.org.

Main Street Canoga Park Certified Farmers' Market
Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Owensmouth Ave. between Sherman Way and Wyandotte St.
Phone: 323-463-3171

Reviewed June 2010


Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews


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