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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

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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 unusually warm and breezy morning in January the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their bright yellow VIP sweatshirts and cruised south to the Ballona Wetlands area to investigate the fresh produce pickings at the Playa Vista Farmers Market and to report back to their eager, veggie-addicted readers.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market Z: Our original intention was to visit the Playa Vista Market one week earlier, but we bowed out when the raindrops began their torrential downpour on our rooftop. We had contacted market manager Mark Anderson a few days previously to tell him of our planned visit. When we arrived one week later, he told us the rain had decreased their attendance somewhat, but dedicated community members still made their weekly visit, while the rain discouraged only three of the vendors.

R: Most of the farmers' markets in LA County have a rain-or-shine policy like this one. We really feel bad for the farmers who have to travel three or four hours from places as far away as Fresno. But January is a mixed bag of sunshine, rain, wind, and cold days. Our friends in the Northeast or Midwest would consider our Southern California cold days really pleasant weather.

Z: Mark was eager to tell us about his market that was launched in June 2009. Who better to manage a farmers' market than a former tomato and cucumber grower who now plays a key role in the Sprouts of Promise Foundation. Mark wanted us to know the foundation has no connection with the burgeoning Sprouts market chain springing up with stores all around California.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market R: According to their website, "Sprouts of Promise Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate both children and adults on the importance of healthy eating habits -- with an emphasis on the benefits of locally sourced fruits and vegetables. One vehicle of education is the farmers' market experience where local farm produce is brought directly to you. Another vehicle of education is bringing farmers' into the classroom and the classroom to the farm where children can be taught how fruits and vegetables are grown and how fresh produce gets from farm to plate."

Playa Vista Farmers' Market Z: Those goals are quite admirable and not just words. This is definitely a family-oriented market with a trackless train ride for kids, face painting, and a balloon twister making animals for kids. Cooking demonstrations, nature walks along the nearby Ballona Wetlands, and scavenger hunts for kids are all on the market agenda to encourage community involvement. A weekly raffle means that one of the patrons will go home with a bag stuffed with fresh produce provided by the farmers.

R: Onsite market manager Cynthia Rogers told us, "We're proud of the family-centered feel of our market. It's relaxed and pleasant as well as family centered. We want to teach people about the value of farmers' markets."

Z: We began our market survey by checking the offerings of Mark Boujikian Farms from Raisin City. Family member Massis Boujikian told us they are selling in as many as 40 different markets in the summer months. The sign on their booth proudly announced their farm is family-owned and operated since 1985. They have been participating in farmers' markets for almost 30 years.

R: We were a few weeks late in finding fresh grapes. Their season ended early in January, but they had their usual abundant supply of dried fruits (many sun dried) and nuts. Displayed at one end of the table were almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, while dried fruits dominated the offerings. Dried fruits including figs, prunes, nectarines, apriums, plums, green plums, persimmons, and pluots were all part of their stock.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market Z: Ace Ranch from Escondido sold Hass and Fuerte avocados in various sizes. They also featured lemons, Meyer lemons, limes, and Persian sweet limes.

R: Arnett Farms from Fresno presented a larger variety of citrus. What impressed us were the labeling signs and attractive displays of fruit cascading dramatically from large baskets turned on their sides. The signs named unique varieties like "Clementine Tangerines" and "Satsuma Mandarins." Their citrus offerings included Cara Cara oranges, Golden Nugget mandarins, Nova tangerines, blood oranges, pomelos, oro blancos, and bags of navel oranges.

Z: Arnett sold two varieties of apples and the same number of Asian pears. Their supply was made up of Fuji and Pink Lady apples and Hosui and Shinko pears. In addition their table sported a selection of dried fruits: Flavor Queen pluots, Crimson Glow plums, apricots, Asian pears, Fuyu persimmons, and Black Mission figs.

R: A farmers' market doesn't seem like a farmers' market unless it has a table with produce from Ha's of Tehachapi. This grower of mostly apples and Asian pears is in markets all over Southern California, and Playa Vista is no exception. Shoppers could purchase Asian pears and four types of apples: Red Delicious, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady. Their table displayed dried apples and jams, jellies, and butters made with apples, or apple and other fruit combinations.

Z: Strawberries in January? Yes, Castellanos Farm from Riverside sold the familiar Albion variety along with their great selection of veggies. Piled on their tables were plump brown and red onions, bunches of carrots, celery, leeks, green onions, slender asparagus spears, broccoli crowns, red and white radishes, red and golden beets, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Also featured were an abundance of leafy greens: spinach, red leaf lettuce, romaine, Swiss chard, Italian parsley, and kale.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market R: Speaking of Brussels sprouts, you commented on the purple ones shown by Gutierrez Farm from San Luis Obispo County. We had not seen purple Brussels sprouts before and guessed their deep purple color meant higher antioxidant levels. Their table also had the green ones as well as broccoli, snap peas, and spicy Monzano peppers. The Monzano is yellow orange and shaped like an apple. This highly spicy pepper with black seeds makes a great spicy salsa.

Z: I appreciate farmers' markets that offer the Asian greens we may not encounter in local super markets. Panhia Vang of Vang Farms from Fresno was our guide that morning. Panhia, a high school student who plans to become an architect, explained that she was in charge because her parents were at a wedding. She patiently showed us pea shoots, Japanese broccoli, Chinese broccoli, white mustard greens, baby bok choy, Shanghai bok choy, black kale, and Russian kale.

R: We didn't need her help in identifying the red and brown onions, yams, garlic, green and purple cabbage, broccoli, daikon radish, Napa cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, green onions, Italian parsley, cilantro, spinach, romaine, and arugula.

Z: Salad aficionados like me always enjoy finding the treasures grown by farmers like Scarborough Farms from Oxnard. Their display featured a lettuce mix, arugula, baby spinach, baby romaine, and basil.

R: Pudwill Berry Farms from Nipomo brings their colorful and antioxidant-laden berries to many markets in the Southland. On display that day were blueberries, blackberries, and red raspberries grown in their 40 acres of greenhouses. We learned the secret of their voluptuous appearance--lots of water.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market Z: I'm always attracted to the flowers at farmers' markets. Divine Décor Orchids Farm from West Los Angeles had an attractive showing of orchid plants ready to take home. Ocean Breeze from Carpinteria emphasized Gerbera daisies in almost every color you could think of. They also sold bouquets of chrysanthemums, roses, Oriental lilies, birds of paradise, and solidasters. The dazzling blue gerberas made a stunning display but somehow didn't look natural. Our instinct was right on--they were dyed to achieve that striking color.

R: My curiosity led me to research information about solidasters. I learned that solidasters are a hybrid of goldenrod or solidago, and the aster. Like their parent plants, solidasters are members of the Compositae family, giving them common heritage with chrysanthemums, gerberas and zinnias. It has hundreds of tiny flowers on multi-branching stems.

Z: Because of very limited vegan offerings at many farmers' markets, we're often challenged in finding food for lunch. This was not the case at this venue. The number of choices pleasantly surprised us. Dave's Gourmet Korean Food had a table filled with tasty vegan choices. In addition to his salad dressings, he offered Spicy Mixed Veggies, Burdock, Noodles, Radish Salad, Kimchee, and Tempha (his spelling), all wheat and gluten free.

R: Bolani East and West Gourmet Afghan Food produces a line of totally vegan items that include bolanis, sauces, dips, spreads, and pepper jellies. Our choice was a package of two Spinach Bolanis that we took home for a deliciously satisfying lunch the next day. The Spinach Bolani is a thin flatbread stuffed with spinach, green onions, cilantro, and Afghan seasonings. They also sell three others stuffed with either pumpkin, potato, or lentils. Their dips and spreads include tasty varieties of pestos and curries.

Z: MBS Baba Foods from Chatsworth revealed their Mediterranean dips and salads along with pita and varieties of hummus. Many of their items were vegan. Corn Maiden from Harbor City, present at so many farmers' markets, makes four kinds of vegan tamales among their 29, but that day they brought only one that was vegan: Grilled Vegetables, Red Bee Potatoes, and Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market R: Urban Green Cuisine from Pasadena tantalized market goers with vegan soups, salads, and wraps. Patrons could build their own wraps, choosing the ingredients from a long list. Not all ingredients were vegan, but the featured wrap was totally vegan. They called it Jubilee Quinoa Chili Wrap. In addition to being totally vegan, it was wheat and gluten free. The ingredient list named black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, organic quinoa, roasted tomatoes, red peppers, and spices. Sweet potato pecan tarts were the dessert offering of the day.

Z: Too bad we each had only one stomach to give to our cause. Sitting at a table in the market's awning- covered dining area, we shared a Corn Maiden tamale and munched on Dave's Tempha and Spicy Cucumber. We even had some of Dave's goodies leftover to take home.

Playa Vista Farmers' Market R: We confess that we don't spend much time in the craft section of markets we visit. In this case we walked toward the entrance of the market that featured these vendors. What caught our attention was a colorful plastic bag with an array of beautifully photographed fruits splashed across one side and vegetables across the other. Juanita Lewis of Market Accessories explained her friend in Oregon made the bags from recycled plastic bottles. We graciously accepted her gift and filled it with some of our market purchases.

Z: As we strolled around the market, we heard the soft sounds of Nathalie Alice who sang and accompanied herself on the acoustic guitar. Nathalie's repertoire included songs from the Great American Songbook as well as familiar French songs. As we learned, the market has one or two musicians each week to entertain the shoppers.

R: At the market entrance we stopped for few moments to observe the pet sitting area. Since animals are not allowed in areas selling food, it provides a convenient go-to place for people to park their pets.

Playa Vista Certified Farmers' Market
Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
6400 Seabluff Drive (corner of Discovery Creek and Seabluff Drive.
Phone: 424-645-7211
Website: http://www.PlayaVistaFM.com

Reviewed February 2012

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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