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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 an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in April with the temperature soaring into the 90's, the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, cruised down the 405 freeway to explore the newly opened Sherman Oaks Community Farmers Market and report back to their eager, veggie-addicted readers.

Sherman Oaks Farmers Market Z: People don't realize the amount of effort that goes into launching a farmers' market. The Sherman Oaks Community Market, owned and operated by the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce, became a reality April 2, 2011. "We started working on the market seven years ago," says Chamber President Robert Cohen.

R: Cohen, who is a dentist in the community, is a big booster of the market. He took time this Saturday morning to be at the market and was very willing to talk to us about the project. "We intend to make this market a family event," he told us. He was quite enthusiastic about the farmers bringing their produce to Sherman Oaks. "Yesterday it was on the vine. Today it's here--fresh," he added.

Z: I'm sure his master's degree in nutrition made him quite aware of the important role fruits and vegetables play in health. Cohen also wants to encourage the schools to participate in some of the programs the market is planning. He mentioned possible events featuring the fire department and the Red Cross.

R: One example of this market's community outreach is the Child Care Resource Center that had representatives explaining the role of the organization. The CCRC assists parents at no charge in locating and selecting the best childcare for their children. They also provide Early Head Start for children up to three years old as well as Head Start preschool for three- and four-year olds.

Z: Even though our focus is fresh fruits and vegetables when visiting farmers' markets, we are always aware of the informational tables of organizations that provide useful services to the community. CCRC is one of many examples.

R: But we need to get back to our main reason for being here. In our market visits we always look for and generally find something unique at most markets. Sherman Oaks is fortunate to have Living Lettuce.com that offers hydroponic-grown greens. Our relationship with this grower goes back to 1999 when we discovered him at the Studio City Farmers Market. We were so intrigued by the project we called owner David Goldman and asked if we could visit. Our story on Culinary Farms appeared in our April 2002 issue.

Culinary Farms Z: That morning we were greeted by Kiki Kusuma whose family now manages the farm. Their table featured romaine, green butter, red leaf and red oak lettuces, five varieties of baby lettuce mixes as well as dandelion greens, Swiss chard, and green and Russian red kale. Also sold were sorrel, frisee, tatsoi, radicchio, chervil, mint, scallions, chives, cilantro, and dill. I was delighted that we reconnected with them and that their business was still flourishing.

R: I was shocked to see fresh Ruby Red seedless grapes being sold in April. Jeff Rayis from Nicholas Farms in Orange Cove explained they were able to keep the grapes in cold storage at no more than a 36-=degree temperature. The grapes had to be kept dry to prevent mold. He also displayed three types of apples grown on their 900-acre ranch: Pink Lady, Granny Smith, and Fuji.

Z: On the table were jars of jellies and jams produced by his mother, Sherry. Those included apple-grape, fig, blackberry, raspberry, kiwi, red bell pepper, strawberry-banana, and blood orange, the most popular. "Everything we grow we turn into jams, except persimmons," he told us. He frowned as he described persimmon jam as a "most awful thing."

Sherman Oaks Farmers Market R: Zel and I received quite an education on citrus that morning from some of the growers at this market. Rayis was eager to show us his selection that included navels, pomelo and Mellow Gold grapefruit, lemons, Cara Cara pink navels, tangelos, and tree types of tangerines: Paige, Murcott, and Golden Nugget. Rayis liked the Murcott, a tangerine and sweet orange hybrid, because it has a good balance between acid and sugar. He labeled the tangelo the most acidic. With grapefruit the Mellow Gold is less acidic than the Oro Blanco.

Z: Our citrus education continued when we spoke to Jackson Spears whose father and grandfather developed The Grove in Riverside. They grow what he called "Washington Root Stock Navels." This variety was the predominant one grown in California during the 1930s. It is sometimes called "Old Line Washington Navel Oranges." Spears was also selling the popular Hass avocados. At other times of the year he will be offering Fuerte, Bacon, Jim Bacon, and Zutano varieties.

R: More citrus instruction continued with Etheridge Farms from Fresno. Cliff McFarlin, co-owner of 64-organic acres, sold Old Line Washington Navels from trees that were brought to California in the 1890s. His display included Oro Blancos, lemons, navels, Cara Cara navels, blood oranges, tangelos, and three kinds of tangerines: Shasta Gold, Tango, and Golden Nugget. The Shasta Gold, a hybrid developed in 2002, is one of the largest tangerines or mandarins. It's seedless, juicy and quite sweet. The Tango is a Murcott hybrid while the Golden Nugget is a seedless mandarin with rich sweet flavor. Growers like Golden Nugget because it has an extraordinary long harvest season. McFarlin, who was also a math and golf teacher at one time, told us, "If it wasn't for farmers' markets, I probably would be out of business."

Z: For those thinking this market was all-citrus, we say, "Not true." Berries arrived on the scene with Chuy Berry Farm from Arroyo Grande. Jesus, who explained that Chuy is his nickname, showed us his berry good offerings of blackberries, blueberries, red raspberries, and Albion strawberries. Chuy began his day at 3:00 a.m. to deliver berries to Santa Barbara and Camarillo before arriving here by 8:00 a.m.

Sherman Oaks Farmers Market R: While standing in front of the table of Menos Farm of Riverside, we met David Karp who writes about farmers' markets for the Los Angeles Times. Karp noticed our yellow Vegparadise tee shirts and was familiar with our web magazine. Of course, we praised him for his informative articles in the paper and on his Market Watch blog for the Times Market Watch blog

Z: We turned to inspect the Menos offerings and spoke to the boss himself, Manuel Menos, who brought a diverse food crop to the market. From his three acres he delivered Albion strawberries, broccoli, celery, red cabbage, sweet Maui onions, carrots, beets, turnips, parsley, kale, rainbow chard, snap peas, scallions, arugula, and three kinds of lettuce: romaine, green leaf, and red leaf.

R: At a nearby table G & B Farm from Riverside sold many of the same items as Menos with a few additions like zucchini, both yellow and green pattypan squash, green beans, asparagus, red and brown onions, vine tomatoes, and long red icicle radishes. Their strawberries were the Camarosa variety.

Z: Buenrostro Farms from Redlands also provided a similar mix with tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, snap peas, asparagus, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, celery, leeks, carrots, beets, Maui sweet onions, cabbage, giant artichokes, and three kinds of lettuce: romaine, red leaf, and green leaf. The giant artichokes appealed so much they ended up in our shopping bag.

R: Rancho Mi Familia from Santa Maria displayed small carrots they called "mocha." We could not find any information on these thin, short carrots that were quite sweet but did not suggest chocolate. This vendor advertised pesticide-free produce and showed beets, cabbage, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, raspberries, Albion strawberries, and three varieties of lettuce: iceberg, red leaf, and green leaf.

Z: People in the community would know what was sprouting up by viewing the items brought by Bolanos Famly Sprouts from Canoga Park. Hector Bolanos was happy to show us the wheat grass and wheat grass juice as well as the following sprouts: sunflower, alfalfa, onion, broccoli, pea, mung bean, daikon, and radish.

R: Gama Farms from Arvin had the potato scene all to themselves. Their potato display included red, white, and Russet as well as baby varieties: red, white, and Yukon Gold. On the table were white, brown, and red onions, shallots, garlic, green onions, and navels.

Sherman Oaks Farmers Market Z: We always face a challenge when we stop at a table displaying a variety of Asian greens. That morning we decided to face up to the identity challenge and approach the offerings of Kai Fresh Asian Produce from Fresno. May Kai was our guide to Chinese broccoli, Shanghai greens, mustard greens, baby bok choy, yo choi, Chinese spinach, daikon, and pea sprouts. We figured the rest out for ourselves: zucchini, basil, red leaf lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro, cucumbers, broccoli, and cauliflower. I had to take home some Chinese spinach and Chinese broccoli to add to one of my Asian-inspired dinners.

R: Two nurseries provided a splash of color with gorgeous cut-flower bouquets. Vanegas Growers from Fallbrook dazzled patrons with bouquets of purple anemones and varieties of protea in yellow, orange, pink, and a striking yellow-orange combination. V Floral from Guadalupe grabbed the spotlight with a boronia bush exhibiting striking pink blossoms. It's an evergreen shrub native to Australia They also showed what Zel calls two-tone gerbera daisies. For those who want to grow their own plants, Inner Garden and the Tree Trunk from Topanga offered a mix of herb and vegetable seedlings.

Sherman Oaks Farmers Market Z: Normally I am excited by the flower displays at the farmers' markets, but in this case I was more enthralled by La Funghi's selection of mushrooms and fungi. Imagine black trumpets, hedgehogs, hen of the woods, wood ear, persimmon enoki, bunashineji, forest nameko, velvet pioppini, and yellow-footed chanterelles. Some of these I have rarely encountered or never seen. More familiar were the button crimini, white button, shiitake, oyster, king oyster, and portobello. Oh, to be able to afford some of the exotic mushrooms.

R: As we strolled around the market, we were aware of the pleasant sounds of Organic Demo.com. Mike Boning and John Keller were entertaining the crowd with guitar, mandolin, and their spirited vocals.

Sherman Oaks Farmers Market Z: Kid friendly--yes! Balloons You Love as well as Face and Body Painting by Karina provided distractions for kids who might become bored accompanying their parents to the market.

R: Food choices at the market presented a few surprises. Bolani East and West Afghan Gourmet Food had numerous vegan options. Mom's Products had palate-pleasing Mediterranean delights we could sample. We zeroed in on Dave's Korean Gourmet Kitchen. We were quite familiar with his vegan creations and decided that our lunch would feature two of his tasty foods: marinated Tempha and spicy Shiitake Mushroom.

Z: We concluded our visit with a conversation with market manager Carole Gallegos whom we knew from her past lives in heading up the Studio City Farmers' Market and a brief stint trying to launch a market in San Fernando. We wished her well in this endeavor. With an experienced manager, strong support from the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce, and a good mix of farmers and food purveyors, this market is on the road to success. As is the case with all farmers' markets, public support and patronage is the key element. If the people in the community recognize and embrace this valuable asset, it will flourish to the benefit of all.

Sherman Oaks Community Certified Farmers Market
Saturdays 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Sepulveda Blvd. and Camarillo St.
North of the Sherman Oaks Galleria
Phone: 818-748-6131

Website: http://www.shermanoaksfarmersmarket.org

Reviewed May 2011

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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