All the world is nuts about
Z: While our friends and relatives back East were buried under mounds of snow, we were grateful to be in sunny Southern California enjoying the fruits and vegetables grown locally. We were curious to see what changes had occurred at this market since we last wrote about it in our June 2000 issue.
R: Sure, there were changes in the list of farmers, but we're delighted to see that some of the same farmers were still here ten years later. Also we're happy to learn the community continues to embrace this market and appreciates having fresh produce brought almost to their doorsteps each Sunday morning.
Z: An even bigger surprise--this market is under the same management that has operated it since July 1993. The organization is the Ventura County Certified Farmers' Markets Association that has four venues, two in the city of Ventura, one in Thousand Oaks, and this market in Santa Clarita.
R: Knowing we cover only Los Angeles County Farmers' Markets, our readers may wonder why this visit. The city of Santa Clarita, realizing how successful the VCCFMA was with its Ventura and Thousand Oaks operations, came to the organization with a request to start a market in this community, even though it was in Los Angeles County. The VCCFMA's choice to oversee this market was Karen Wetzel Schott, who has been with the organization 22 years.
Z: As Karen explained, "This market has no arts and crafts. The farmers grow or raise the products they sell. Prepared food producers must be licensed and meet health department regulations and licensing." Karen admits, "This was one of the hardest markets to get going. People did not understand the farmers' market concept. Now our farmers tell us this is one of their favorite markets to come to. It's now one of our strongest markets."
R: During this winter season the market features 25 growers and 10 food vendors. The number of growers will rise to 40 farmers during the stone fruit season. Visitors reach a peak of approximate 1500 each Sunday during the summer season.
Z: I was fascinated to find some of the same farmers we encountered here in 2000. Fife Family Farms from Visalia was still going or growing strong with their citrus, grapes, and dried fruits. This was their last day for Red Flame grapes. We didn't expect to see California-grown grapes showing up at a farmers' market in January but must say they were plump and exceptionally sweet. Most of the grapes currently in the supermarkets travel thousands of miles from Chile. Fife's citrus, uniquely displayed in sunken tabletop bins bordered by 2 x 4s, included navel oranges, Melogold Pomelos, Oro Blancos, Marsh White grapefruits, and Tarocco Blood Oranges. The Tarocco is a contradiction. Who'd imagine an orange as deep red as a pomegranate. Fife's table also revealed dried fruits: Red Flame, Thompson, and Golden Thompson raisins as well as Fantasia nectarines.
R: Ha's Farm from Tehacahapi, a fixture at so many markets in the Southland, has been a steady participant in this market over the years. Their specialty is mountain-grown apples and Asian pears. They seem to offer more varieties of apples than they had 10 years ago. The table displayed Granny Smiths, Cameos, Pink Ladies, Red Delicious and Fujis as well as jellies, jams, syrups, apple cider vinegar, and apple butter. Also offered was Walnut and Fruit Brittle, a mixture of Fuji apple, pear, peach, and walnut with no sugar added. To taste was to buy. Zel had to have it. So the package came home with us.
Z: Quite delicious and so healthful! Pritchett Farms from Visalia is another long-standing participant in this market. This group is still making the long trek southward with Yukon Gold and Red Rose potatoes as well fresh garlic and brown onions. The farm has entered the citrus arena with navel oranges, Pomelos, Oro Blancos, Meyer lemons, and sweet limes.
R: In our 2000 visit we learned about the two Freds that make up F and F Farms from Somis. Their offerings that Sunday were Hass avocados, lemons, sweet limes, and wheat grass, a favorite for those who like to bring home a tasty treat for their cats.
Z: The Zuckerman Farms team from the San Joaquin Delta is ubiquitous around California with their potatoes and asparagus. This farmer sells in markets as far north as San Francisco and as far south as Los Angeles. Zuckerman Farms was launched in the 1920's by Roscoe Zuckerman and is now in its third generation with grandson Roscoe who told us that they have expanded to 3000 acres, 200 of which produce asparagus. Unfortunately, they have cut back on their asparagus beds because of difficulty competing with foreign growers who can ship their products here at lower prices. Other American farmers tell us similar stories, especially about competition from cheap Chinese produce.
R: Zuckerman Farms began on an "island" in the delta formed by San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers as they flow into San Francisco Bay. Because this farmland is 12 to 20 feet below sea level, the farm is surrounded by levees to keep it from being flooded. In the last big flood in 1982 they lost everything. It took six months to drain the land. Their loss included 700 acres that is still flooded and can't be farmed. Fortunately, they have recovered a 1500-acre plot.
Z: Just like 10 years ago, Zuckerman can be counted to bring their unique potatoes to this market. They displayed baby purples (Russian Blue), baby reds (Chieftan), Russian banana fingerlings, French elongated fingerlings, and their colorful assortment bags. Roscoe wanted us to tell our readers that asparagus will be available in late February. We learned that planters of asparagus don't expect a crop during the first year following planting. In fact, not much happens the first two years in the asparagus bed. After the asparagus begins to produce in its third year, it remains productive from 7 to 10 years.
R: That's why I like to visit farmers' markets. We always pick up such interesting information. Completing the group of growers who we encountered again after 10 years was PM Orchids from Panorama City. Their table was filled with a colorful display of cattleyas, phalaenopsis, and dendrobians.
Z: Linda and Brian Raphael of Apkarian Family Farm make the three-hour trip from Reedley to market their vineyard crop that will end its season by the time you read this story. Fortunately for us, they still had their delicious inch-long, plump deep purple Autumn Royal grapes. They also sold Diamond Muscat raisins and Princess raisins made from large green grapes. We were offered a taste of their fantastic Thomcord grape juice. It's an impressive, super-sweet blend of Thompson and Concord grapes. Unable to leave the Autumn Royals behind, I came home with 1 1/2 pounds of the beauties that were so tasty they vanished with amazing speed.
R: Pudwill Berry Farms is not exactly around the corner from this market. They make the 160-mile trip from Nipomo to bring their blueberries, blackberries, golden raspberries, and red raspberries.
Z: Cortez Farm from Santa Maria also featured blueberries along with Albion strawberries that are very popular at farmers' markets this time of year. I know why. Albions are far tastier than those supermarket flavorless red lumps that masquerade as strawberries. The Cortez display also included Brussels sprouts, broccoli, celery, snap peas, and dried Peruano beans.
R: Rodriguez Farm in Oxnard also sold Albion strawberries, but they offered a cultivar we had not seen before: San Andreas that was introduced in January 2010. This cultivar is similar to the Albion in many aspects, but is a hardier plant with a good appearance and of higher quality earlier in the season. Next time we'll try to purchase the San Andreas, although we thoroughly enjoyed the Albion 3-pack we took home. Chavez Farm from Santa Maria also sold Albion strawberries Brussels sprouts, celery, cabbage, cauliflower, red potatoes, and four varieties of lettuce: green leaf, red leaf, iceberg, and romaine.
Z: There was no shortage of citrus that day. Both Rancho de Trinidad from Piru and Timber Canyon Ranch from Santa Paula sold navel oranges, Satsuma tangerines, and blood oranges. Timber Canyon offered more variety with Oro Blancos, Clementines, Meyer lemons, and limes. Their non-citrus item was Bacon avocados. Rancho de Trinidad took citrus one step further by selling fresh-squeezed orange juice.
R: By the time we reached Green Farms from Lompoc, they had just about sold out their artichoke inventory. One lonely artichoke lay there so forlorn. They did have an ample selection of asparagus, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Z: What caught my attention were Green Farms' baby zucchinis with golden blossoms attached. Since I wanted to experiment with stuffing them, I had to make the purchase. Tomatoes were not in abundance that January morning. Beylik Farms, operating since 1971, has 9 green houses to grow tomatoes. Tomatoes for sale were small clusters, golden plums, and low-acid Japanese. Their non-tomato offering was Persian cucumbers. Adam, who will soon be a member of the family when he ties the knot with Jeri Beylik, described how they grow tomato plants in coconut fiber.
R: Zel, aka The Nut Gourmet, really tuned in to Camilo Vasquez as he showed us his sprouted, dehydrated, and roasted almonds from Specialty Almond Products in Goleta. The almonds are grown on 18 acres in Wasco and then transported to a kitchen in Bakersfield. There they are processed into rosemary, Cajun, and Chinese flavors as well as almond flour, butter, and paste. Camilo felt we should have a pack of their Fat Uncle Farms sprouted and dehydrated almonds that Zel and I enjoyed as a snack that evening.
Z: Cut-flower devotees had ample choices provided by Myriad Flowers of Carpinteria and Shigeru Nursery from Oxnard. Both featured tulips in a myriad of colors as well as attractive mixed bouquets and both Asiatic and Oriental lilies. Shigeru had one unique bouquet that I don't remember seeing at any of the farmers' markets: ornamental kale. Displayed were green and white heads cuddled next to leafy green and purple heads.
R: Although I brought my date (Zel) to this market, I was quite interested in the other dates at this market. DaVall Date Gardens of Desert Gardens presented us with some varied choices: Deglet Noor, Medjool, Barhi, Honey, and Empress. The history of the Empress and Honey dates goes back to 1916 when they were first planted in Southern California. The Empress is unique, only grown by DaVall.
Z: One of the highlights of the day for me was Worldwide Exotics in Lake View Terrace. On their 6-acre plot they manage to grow 1000 varieties of drought-tolerant plants from around the world. Quite intriguing was the oxalis purpurea garnet with its deep purple leaves in a three-leaf clover configuration. Reuben kept looking at the Abutilon Voodoo, also known as the Flowering Maple. The blossoms were like miniature red Chinese lanterns. I was attracted to the Melianthus Major or Honey Bush, with its long, saw-tooth serrated leaves. It's native to Madagascar.
Owners Ken and Shelley Jennings have been collecting and growing exotic perennials for over 20 years. Eldest daughter Sara was eager to tell us about the plants she had brought to the market that day. "Plants are a great way to heal yourself," she told us. "Plants saved me," she added. She also had some good suggestions for dealing with the skunks and raccoons that were digging up plants in our yard searching for grubs.
R: As we walked back to our car in the humongous college parking lot, we reflected on our impressions of this market. Even in this winter season there were numerous choices of fresh fruits and vegetables. This market is not only alive and well, but also a definite go-to place on Sunday mornings. No entertainment or crafts, it just spotlights fresh fruits and vegetables and a place to sit and enjoy prepared food. Isn't that what a farmers' market should be?
Santa Clarita Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed February 2011