Z: This market is truly historic. It's located in an historic neighborhood and it's unlike any other market in Los Angeles County because of its "vegetarian focus." The focus is understandable because the market sponsor is Smyrna Seventh-Day Adventist Church that makes its large parking lot available each Sunday to bring fresh produce to the community.
R: This market even smells vegetarian. I should explain. Many of the markets we visit have food vendors, and invariably we are inhaling unpleasant aromas of the barbecued meats available for people coming for a quick meal. There's No burnt flesh here; all the food is vegetarian. Although the food was entirely vegetarian, unfortunately the vegan offerings were limited.
Z: The market is unique because the farmers and vendors are not charged commission on their sales. Farmers pay only a flat fee of $10 each week, while food vendors and crafters are assessed $20. That rate structure makes participation very attractive for all vendors.
R: In talking to market manager Lora Davis, we learned how the market came into existence. Lora, a long-time resident of the community, yearned to have a farmers market in the area. She approached the Smyrna Seventh Day Adventist Church to sponsor the market. Pastor A. Jeremiah Kelly agreed on one condition: the market must be vegetarian. Another significant participant in launching this market was Kaiser Permanente that made a significant donation. As we noted in some of our previous farmers' market reports, Kaiser Permanente has taken an active role in establishing farmers' markets in California.
Z: The Adventists have always stressed a healthful diet that avoids meat, chicken, and fish as well as caffeine. Shoppers won't find barbecue meats, fresh-roasted coffee, or caffeinated soft drinks at this market. Our food options that day were provided by Muriel's, of Course Café and Catering located a few blocks away and Mom's Specialty Foods from Orange. Muriel's only vegan option was a tasty chili that became the centerpiece of our lunch. We both found it quite delectably full-bodied and satisfying.
R: We turned to Mom's for some delicious whole-wheat pita bread and two kinds of hummus: Artichoke and Roasted Garlic and Chives. The pita didn't look dark like so many whole-wheat varieties because it was made with white whole wheat. The pita was also much softer than most and was pleasantly moist, as well. Mom's turns out 12 kinds of hummus and salads like Mediterranean couscous and Tabouleh.
Z: Listening to Reuben, you would think our main purpose in visiting this market was to eat lunch. As always we were interested in the farm offerings and having brief conversations with the growers or their representatives. On the day we visited there were 7 farmers, one certified organic, 6 food vendors and 3 crafters. Among the non-organic growers we spotted signs that said, "no spray." Frankly, I was quite pleased with the produce choices at this market.
R: I was intrigued with Angelo's Farms in Hinkley. Angelo Filandianos is 78 and still farming his 195 acres. The growing tradition extends back to Greece where Angelo's father grew grapes. Angelo's son Tony and his brother help their dad by selling at farmers' markets. Tony was eager to describe how they grow their watermelons in the sand using a drip system to conserve water. In addition to the bright red seeded variety known as Sandia watermelons, they cultivate orange flesh, yellow flesh, and Sugar Nut melons.
Z: With great pride Tony told us, "90% of our watermelons are stung by bees." He was even ready to show us the dead bees on his truck. Bee stings on watermelons are traditionally viewed as an indication the melon is quite sweet. The farm also produces an extensive variety of other melons: Canary, Crenshaw, Persian, Casaba, Orange Flesh, Honeydew, and Christmas. He hoped to bring the Christmas melons to the market by the beginning of August.
R: Also grown at the farm are plums, peaches, cherries, potatoes, and red and brown onions. "We don't use pesticides," Tony said. "You can tell because we have all kinds of weeds." In our personal shopping spree we took home three cantaloupes that were delicious.
Z: Juan Uriostegui from Redlands also sold watermelons and cantaloupes, but his display featured a gigantic selection of vegetables as well. The list included cabbage, celery, spinach, asparagus, carrots, beets, cucumbers, tomatillos, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, white corn, three kinds of lettuce (romaine, red leaf, and iceberg), and bell peppers (green, red, and yellow).
R: That's some laundry list. It just proves that one grower can bring awesome variety to a farmers' market. Vang Farms of Fresno is another example of diversity in farming. I was excited by their three kinds of eggplant: American, Chinese, and Japanese. But their tomatoes sent me into ecstasy. Those heirlooms and Yellow Ladies were taste sensations. The red and yellow cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes were other pure delights.
Z: What really appealed to me was their humongous display of beautiful Asian vegetables like bok choy, baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, Thai purple basil, Chinese long beans, daikon radish, and dandelion greens. Their pepper selection included green and red bells as well as a lizard-shaped green sweet pepper. But our great find was one of our all-time favorite root vegetables: kohlrabi. We bought three sweet, plump ones that we munched on with great delight.
R: As we watched Pa Nhia Vang making her veggie lunch, her sister Pa told us about the 7-acre farm where they have been farming for the last 8 years. All of their offerings were picked the day before and then transported to the 5 farmers' markets where they do the selling. To reach this market they have to travel 3 1/2 hours.
Z: Two farmers, Menos Farms of Riverside and R & L Produce from Santa Paula, brought their own strawberry festival, arriving with sweet, voluptuous Albion berries. R & L also featured red raspberries, and a unique selection of tomatoes: vine, heirloom, grape, and black cherry varieties. They also displayed several varieties of baby lettuces and lettuce mixes. Their attractive "amazing mix" included baby lettuces accented with colorful flower petals. They supplemented their bountiful display with white corn, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, kale, and romaine hearts. Menos, a certified organic farm, also had spinach, kale, and a variety of lettuces along with cucumbers, zucchini, Mexican squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, arugula, radishes, carrots, beets, and string beans.
R: Loera Farm of San Diego had the stone fruit scene all to themselves, displaying bright mounds of yellow and white nectarines, white peaches, red and black plums, and apricots. Nestled next to the apricots were black figs and Hass avocados along with a rich display of Thompson seedless, Red Flame, and black grapes, all grown on their 10-acre farm. We were quite surprised to see that they still had navel oranges.
Z: Skyline Flowers, present in so many Southland farmers' markets, featured their usual display of blazing colors with unique cut-flower bouquets. The strawflowers, sunflowers, and gold coreopsis with maroon center were quite striking. Brilliant dahlias in pink, white, purple, red, orange and burgundy were a visual delight. But we saw flower varieties we had not encountered before like Matsumoto Asters in white, red, lavender, and peach as well as Bouvardia with tiny pink or red blossoms. Then we spotted a striking ivory flower that stood apart. The vendor told us they looked like lilies, but they were not--they were called Concadors. Our research revealed they were indeed in the lily family, specifically, an Orienpet Hybrid Lily Bulb. The name is sometimes written as "Conca d' Or."
R: As we strolled around the market, we listened to the jazz sounds of the Mike Mull Trio (saxophone, bass, and drum, one of the many musical groups booked by Shelly Brown, a neighbor of Davis. While we're talking about neighbors, this market is staffed by 20 community people including Kathy Lewis, who plays a vital role in the market operation. She has been active in farmers markets, serving on the board of directors of the La Cienega Market.
Z: Davis explained that getting a market established is not an easy task. The process began in January 2009, a year before the market had its grand opening on March 21, 2010. Our visit came during its fifth month of operation. As we spoke to her, Pastor Kelly stopped at the manager's table. We were introduced and Davis told him about Vegetarians in Paradise. As we gave him our card, he told us he was going to tell his congregation about our web magazine.
R: Concluding our visit, we gathered our purchases and headed for our car. We paused a few minutes at the Pet Area just outside the market to watch our new canine friend Oscar playing catch with the children. Our fervent hope is that this market succeeds. As Davis explained, "This community is a wasteland when it comes to fresh produce." Because people in the neighborhood must drive a distance to find a market with fresh fruits and vegetables, she was inspired to do whatever was needed to create this market. Hopefully, the community will respond more vigorously to this marvelous opportunity.
Z: The Adventist sponsorship is a plus, but their services are on Saturday when they celebrate the Sabbath. Members of the congregation have to make a special trip back to the church the next day for the market. Davis told us that many church members do not live in the community. Like so many small markets, Wellington Square faces the task of encouraging enough buyers to keep the farmers coming back to the market.
Wellington Square Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed August 2010