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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
The Great Produce Hunt

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


On a surprisingly cool Wednesday afternoon in late September before the triple-digit heat wave the following week, the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, traveled to Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles, not to view an art exhibit, but to investigate The Los Angeles Medical Center Certified Farmers' Market. Their mission possible was to check out the LAMC Certified Farmers' Market and report back to their eager, veggie-addicted readers.

LA Medical Center Farmers' Market Z: If timing is everything, our timing for participating in this market's special events was off the mark. We were one month too early to enter the Salsa Contest and the Pumpkin Carving Contest. It would have been fun to bring one of my homemade salsas to the event, and Reuben might have sharpened his knife to do some fancy pumpkin carving.

R: These are just two of the many activities to spur community interest in this market that hosts events for children and adults including healthy cooking demonstrations, tastings, Spring into Health activities, free raffles, live music, and craft workshops. Unfortunately, I'd have trouble qualifying for the pumpkin-carving competition because it's limited to kids.

Z: In our market visits we're always excited to find some fruit or vegetable we've never experienced before. One of the high spots of our visit was the dazzling display of plump Dragon Fruit by Pedro's Certified Organic Ranch in Fallbrook. Known as pitaya or pitahaya, dragon fruit is from a cactus species usually grown in Latin America and Southeast Asia and has the most striking appearance of any fruit we've ever seen.

Dragon Fruit R: The one we purchased from Pedro's goes by the Latin name Hylocereus costaricensis (Costa Rica pitaya) that has hot pinkish red skin tipped with bright green and brilliant pink flesh embedded with a battalion of tiny black seeds. We took one home, cut it in half, scooped out the flesh, and devoured it with gusto. As our Latin American friends would say, "Muy Delicioso!"

Z: It was almost too beautiful to eat. The fruit is a powerhouse of nutrition that boasts carotene, phosphorus, ascorbic acid, riboflavin, calcium, niacin, iron, and even protein. The flesh is reminiscent of kiwi because of its edible black crunchy seeds with a nutty flavor. I was surprised to learn the plant's flowers are edible and can be steeped as a tea, but don't try to bite into the inedible skin.

R: Richard, who was selling for Pedro's that day, told us about the 23-acre ranch that mostly grows Hass avocados. He was quite enthusiastic about the pear-shaped Lamb Hass that is creamier and larger than the traditional Hass available in most markets. He also promised to have the first-of-the-season pomegranates the following week.

Z: Sherrill Farms from Arvin beat Pedro's to the punch with their pomegranate display. Beat them to the punch sounds like one of Reuben's puns, but the Sherrill juices are really quite like punch. Along with pomegranate juice, they sold juice combinations: apple pomegranate, apple cherry pomegranate, and orange pomegranate, all squeezed from fruit they grow.

R: The big excitement for me was that stone fruits were still available. Arnett Farms from Fresno had a diverse assortment that was pesticide free. What we liked about Arnett was their labeling of plums and pluots by their trade names. For us pluot lovers their variety was heaven. They displayed Black Cat (black), Dinosaur Egg (mottled reddish purple, Flavor Treat (burgundy), Flavor Rich (black), September Yummy (bright red), October Sun (bright green blushed with red), and Emerald (yellow-green). For those unaware, pluots are a hybrid of apricots and plums.

Jujubes Z: For those wanting a traditional plum, Arnett offered purple Angelinas. We've noticed a reluctance of farm vendors to identify peaches and nectarines by specific names. Instead, they are simply labeled white or yellow peaches or white or yellow nectarines. Arnett sold both white and yellow nectarines and white and yellow peaches. There were two distinct varieties of yellow peaches, but neither was identified by name.

R: Arnett's selection was not limited to stone fruits. They also sold organic Fuji and Gala apples, Asian pears, and Valencia oranges. Arnett is making an effort to introduce shoppers to jujubes, also known as Chinese dates. An information sheet protruding from their display touted the health benefits of jujubes that are a staple of Chinese medicine. The sheet explained their use in treating cancer and HIV.

Z: Arnett Farms wasn't the only vendor with stone fruits. Cottage Grove Farm from Ivanhoe sold white and yellow nectarines, white peaches, and purple pluots in additon to Asian pears, Fuji apples, and large seedless green grapes. I was intrigued with their Tsu Li pears. They're an Asian variety, but shaped more like a football than the familiar round ones we see in the grocery stores. These had a waxy yellowish green skin and had a flavor that could be described as sweet and yet tart. Growers like them because they can be stored from 6 to 10 months.

R: Berry lovers could bask in delight at the tables of Guiterrez Farm from Santa Maria and Lore's from Oxnard. Guiterrez featured blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. In addition to the berries, their table was filled with white corn, broccoli, yellow and green patty pan squash, Mexican squash, yellow and green zucchini, green beans, snow and snap peas, teardrop tomatoes, and pasilla and Anaheim chile peppers.

LA Medical Center Farmers' Market Z: Lore's didn't have as many types of berries, just Camarosa strawberries and blueberries, but they presented an impressive display of veggie temptations: asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, red and green bell peppers, white corn, Armenian cucumbers, carrots, green onions, parsley, carrots, and tomatoes.

R: Zel described Castellanos Farm from Riverside as the squash and chile pepper heaven that took the blue ribbon for the awesome number of varieties they displayed. Heaping mounds of squashes covered the table. There were green and yellow zucchinis and Mexican squashes, as well as yellow crooknecks and patty pans in a myriad of colors: yellow (speckled with green), white, light green, and yellow green. Pepper choices featured voluptuous green and red bells as well as bags of spicy serranos, jalapenos, and pasillas.

Z: Castellanos also produces some of the largest tomatillos I've seen. The variety of vegetables they grow and sell is daunting. Their table was loaded with cucumbers, yellow and brown onions, broccoli, string beans, cauliflower, cabbage, white corn, carrots, radishes, beets, and romaine and red leaf lettuce. Oh, and they also had delicious Albion strawberries.

R: Anna's Produce from Fillmore was an important part of the vegetable scene at this market that Wednesday. Anna, her husband, and three children have been working their 20-acre farm for the last five years. They were the only vendor offering kale, collards, green and red Swiss Chard, spinach, leeks, heirloom organic tomatoes, and herbs: chives, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, basil, cilantro, dill, blooming cilantro, and parsley. This grower also displayed a rainbow of carrots: yellow, orange, white, and purple. Along with four kinds of lettuce (Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, and iceberg), they tempted buyers with bi-color cauliflower tinted with lavender.

Z: Rivadeneira Farm from Fillmore played the perfect niche roll at this market. They supplied the only mushrooms, potatoes, garlic, and shallots. Their pesticide-free potatoes included Russets, White Rose, Red Rose, and Peruvian Purples. Mushrooms that graced their table were portobella, cremini, and oyster.

Hoya (Wax Plant) R: Ah, but this market was not just fruits and vegetables alone! TT Orchids from Anaheim had a dazzling montage of phalaenopsis, oncideum, and cattleya orchids. What really called to us was the hoya or wax plant with its heart-shaped waxy leaves. Because neither of the two hanging plants was in bloom, the grower had a photo of the blossoms to show what the plant looked like in full bloom.

Z: You don't remember that we have a hoya in a pot in our backyard, but it's a different variety than the one at the market. The hoya at the market was much more attractive and had many branches cascading from the hanging basket, if the picture is any indication of its beauty.

R: While you were looking at the flowers, my stomach was grumbling. I noticed that one of the food vendors displayed a sign announcing they were vegetarian. Shiv and Tanu Gupta, calling themselves Marigold Café, had prepared a vegan soup and cheela, a dosa-like omelet pancake made with ground lentils. They also presented a cilantro lime chutney. Thinking we were vegetarian because of our Vegetarians in Paradise sweatshirts, the Guptas asked us to taste the cheela. When we told them we were vegan, they confessed they used butter to make them. They did give us a generous sample of their delicious soup made with split peas, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, mustard seed, neem leaves, and an assortment of spices. They also promised to make their cheelas without butter next time to accommodate vegans.

LA Medical Center Farmers' Market Z: While our readers are salivating over the soup, I need to mention another food vendor with vegan options. East-West Gourmet Afghan Food from Northern California is introducing Southland shoppers to their Bolani, a traditional flatbread stuffed with either spinach, pumpkin, red potato, or green lentil filling. We first encountered them at the Canoga Park Main Street Farmers' Market and couldn't resist purchasing a Bolani that we thoroughly enjoyed.

R: This LAMC market evolved out of efforts by See-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles) to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to this neighborhood. See-LA operates eight markets in Los Angeles County, including their highly successful flagship market in Hollywood. For a while this market was located at a former Sears parking lot to the east, and then it was briefly identified as the Lemon Grove market in still another location. With the assistance of Kaiser Permanente, it was reincarnated in the Barnsdall Art Park lower parking lot in November 2009.

Z: James Schroeder, a free-lance artist, apprenticed as assistant manager starting in December 2009 and then moved up to manage the market. Schroeder, whose art specialty is film story boarding, moved to Los Angeles for film opportunities and to escape the Chicago weather.

R: Trim and energetic, he told us he has been vegetarian for two years and personally tries to eat local, organic, and sustainable. James lamented, "Non profits don't have much money for promotion and advertising. We're talking to a lot of churches to get people to come." He is grateful for Kaiser Permanente's sponsorship: paying for the space, providing canopies for the farmers, and keeping the market viable. He explained that Kaiser usually has a table staffed by volunteers at the market, but on the day of our visit--no table.

Z: As we walked to our car, we paused to listen to mellow vocals of Melanie Devaney as she accompanied herself on the acoustic guitar.

R: Aside from a small sandwich sign on the sidewalk outside of the fence, this market needs more visibility from the street to attract more patrons. Although it's along busy Hollywood Boulevard, the fence and tall bushes obscure the view from passersby.

Los Angeles Medical Center Certified Farmers' Market at Barnsdall Art Park
Wednesdays, Noon to 6:00 p.m.
Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd.
In parking lot on south side of Hollywood Blvd. at New Hampshire Ave. (west of Vermont Ave.)
Phone: 323-463-3171

Reviewed October 2010

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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