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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 predictably warm Sunday morning in July the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their bright yellow VIP tee shirts and cruised down to the Los Feliz Post Office, not to buy forever stamps or mail a package, but to investigate the produce pickings at the Los Feliz Village Farmers Market and to report back to their eager, veggie-addicted readers.

Z: The Los Feliz US Post Office is not open on Sundays, but the parking lot was a bustling scene with tables loaded with fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables. The deep rectangular lot was divided into four rows. The produce growers populated the center two rows with their tables back to back forming a single column. Two outside rows on the perimeter highlighted the wares of food and craft vendors. Eager shoppers flowed in and out, filling the aisles between the rows.

R: Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the parking lot for customers. They could either put coins or credit cards into metered parking on the street or park in the bank lot down the street.

Lisa Choy Z: Although this market would be considered a small one with its eight growers, three hot food vendors, six food vendors, and six crafters, there were ample choices for people wanting fresh produce. After all, July is the peak of the tomato, summer squash, and stone fruit season.

R: One grower we had not encountered at other farmers' markets was Fresha from Apple Valley. This farmer more than satisfied shoppers with a generous selection of stone fruits. Lisa Choy gave us a guided tour of selections that day as well as information about her family's 20-acre farm that's been in operation for six years. Lisa, an art major, is planning to attend art school in Chicago. Her family emigrated to this country from Korea.

Z: Lisa was presiding over a stone fruit paradise that day. This was the last day for black cherries picked from 20 trees on the farm. On the table were thee varieties of peaches: white, yellow, and those cute, pixie-size donut peaches. Other stone fruits offered were yellow nectarines, apricots, pluots, and black plums. Grape lovers could feast on champagne, crimson, and huge Thompson seedless attractively displayed with fresh grape leaves that highlighted Lisa's artistic flair. Recently available here and at more farmers' markets are jujubes, commonly called Chinese dates.

Donut Peaches R: But Fresha was not all stone fruits. Stacked on the table was a plethora of potatoes and onions. The onions were brown, white or red while the potatoes were White Rose, Red Rose, or Korean white sweets. Rounding out the display were Korean and Japanese cucumbers, along with vine tomatoes.

Z: Lore's Family Farm in Oxnard manages to produce an impressive array of fruits and vegetables on a mere 11 acres. Their tables were overflowing with white corn, romaine and red leaf lettuce, kale, leeks, parsley, mint, dill, beets, celery, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, regular and Persian cucumbers, green and red bell peppers, spinach, green beans, avocados, Brussels sprouts, and beefsteak, vine, and cherry tomatoes.

R: That's an extensive list. But you didn't mention the berries. They also found room to display their plump Albion strawberries, blackberries, red raspberries, and blueberries. David Cisneros provided us with interesting tidbits of about the process of growing blueberries. We were surprised that blueberries were successfully grown in the warmer climates of Southern California. We now know that the season for blueberries in California is March through October. He also revealed that it takes 14 to 16 weeks to harvest berries from a small bush and that bushes produce well for about three years. This is another instance where we learned so much in casual conversations with farmers in our visits to farmers' markets over the years.

Z: Berries were everything at Sanchez Farm from Nipomo. They featured beautiful Albion strawberries, bright red raspberries, and voluptuous blackberries, and blueberries. Castellanos Farm from Riverside also sold strawberries, but their area was missing something--a representative to sell their wares. The produce was there, but because of a car accident en route to the market, no one was available to sell it. Stepping into the breach was market manager Helen Lee who put on another hat to take charge of sales. She oversaw another farmer's table whose employee became ill. She was extremely busy, but still managed to supply us with details about the market in bits and pieces between sales. This experience gave us a taste of the emergencies that can arise unexpectedly at a farmers' market and what a manager must do to provide help.

R: The Sanchez Farm tables were filled with kale, Italian parsley, Thai basil, scallions, cauliflower, tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radishes, green bell peppers, romaine, red leaf lettuce, and brown and red onions.

Squashes Z: Castellanos was squash heaven for me. They displayed summer squashes in all kinds of colors, shapes, and sizes. The pattypans came in three colors: pure white, brilliant yellow, and variegated with speckles of yellow on deep green and vice-versa. They have a pleasant, nutty flavor, and are easy to hollow out, stuff, and bake. The zucchinis were both green and yellow. What looked like a ball-shaped zucchini was Ronde de Nice commonly known as globe squash. Giant Yellow crooknecks completed the choices.

R: Adding to Manager Lee's duties was her job as seller at the table of Moua Kao Youa from Selma. Fortunately for her, the table was adjacent to that of Castellanos. This Hmong farmer had to be at a Long Beach market and could only drop off produce here. The items were clearly marked with small signs because many people are not familiar with some of the vegetables.

Z: Since we include a wide variety of veggies in our diet, I could identify almost all of the produce. We have eaten baby bok choy, green and black kale, Chinese broccoli, collards, basil, Thai chili, lemon grass, jalapenos, okra, opo and cinqua squashes. Since Reuben loves eggplant, we feast on generous quantities of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian (round) eggplant that were also part of the offerings.

Bitter Melon R: My distaste for bitter melon is legendary. And yet, to some it is a miracle food. On the table were not one but two varieties distinguishable by color and shape. Helen had a brief moment to explain that the lighter color was the Chinese variety, while the darker color was Indian bitter melon. The Indian bitter melon usually has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. Despite the bitterness of this squash, many Asian cultures are convinced of its medicinal value.

Z: As part of our market experience we always stop to admire and even purchase a cut-flower bouquet. Two vendors were eager to satisfy the flower desires of market shoppers: Venegas from Fallbrook and Skyline Flowers from Oxnard. Venegas showed some gorgeous hot pink Sweet William bouquets and brilliant fuzzy looking sunshine sunflowers. I was surprised to find bright orange coffee bean bouquets unlike the dull brown roasted coffee beans we often see. The green and maroon amaranthus was a show-stopper with long fronds of teeny purple seeds clustered closely together. We were told the seeds were edible.

Amaranthus/Coffee Bean Plant R: A bit of research reveals seeds of amaranthus are amaranth that we now think of as a grain. The plant was grown in the Andes as far back as 6000 years ago and used as a food source. We didn't find food at Skyline Flowers, but instead brilliant clusters of Matsumoto asters (red with yellow centers), delicate lavender Tracheliums, yellow and green hydrangeas, and coreopsis (yellow with red throats). Their inventory included breathtaking, giant size orange dahlias, Concador lilies, gerbera daisies, and rose-colored Sweet William, along with gorgeous bouquets of mixed flowers.

Z: After that awesome visual feast of color, what came home with me might seem rather bland. But they've been on our dining table for almost a week and are just beginning to wilt--a stunning bouquet of flawless, chaste white ranunculus.

Gastrobus Roadside Bistro R: We were delighted to find some tasty food options at this market. We sampled Plum and Cucumber Salad from Gastrobus Roadside Bistro, a bright yellow food truck parked at the rear of the lot. The delicious salad contained chunks of red and black plums with slices of crisp Korean cucumber, seasoned with Thai basil and lemon. If we were in a Mediterranean mood, we could have enjoyed hummos, taboule, and various salads on pita from Brother's Products from Garden Grove. We could have made similar choices at MBS Baba Foods from Chatsworth who sold pita and tortilla chips along with 16 flavors of hummos.

Z: Gourmet Tamale from San Fernando had a sweet corn tamale and a sweet pineapple tamale, both vegan. Unfortunately, their vegetable tamale is made with chicken broth. We suggested they use vegetarian broth in the vegetable tamale, making it appealing to both vegans and omnivores. We did enjoy talking to Stephie of France Bakery, her husband's business. She makes soy candles, but was not selling them at this market. It was difficult to refuse when she offered us samples of Cranberry Walnut Bread and some Seasoned Bread Crumbs. I did succumb to a purchase of a delicious round loaf of Whole Wheat Squaw Bread.

Helen Lee R: In between changing hats and racing from table to table, Manager Helen found a few moments to answer questions about herself and the market. We learned that she manages two other markets, one at USC, and the other in Newbury Park. She spent her early years in the Los Feliz neighborhood. "I grew up under the Observatory," she says. She wanted us to know that any food left over from the market is contributed to the Hope-Net Food Pantry at the Wilshire Presbyterian Church (309 S. Oxford). Hope-Net distributes food bags to those in need on Monday mornings.

Z: Helen had a big surprise for us as we said goodbye. She knew we were coming to the market because we had called the day before. We were blown away when she handed us two shopping bags of fruits and vegetables she had gleaned from the market sellers. Of course, we thanked her profusely. And the bags even included some samples from squash heaven, especially that variegated one.

R: Strolling around the market that morning, we were aware of the mellow sounds of Melanie Devaney as she sang and accompanied herself on the acoustic guitar. Singer/songwriter Devaney is at home singing folk, rock, country, and pop.

Z: As we concluded our visit, I told Reuben I was thrilled to see another market that is being embraced by the community.

Los Feliz Village Certified Farmers' Market
Sundays 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
1825 N. Vermont Ave. in post office parking lot
Phone: 323-272-9171

Reviewed August 2011

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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