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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 warm morning in June the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their bright yellow VIP sweatshirts and cruised down to North Hollywood to investigate the fresh produce pickings at the NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market and report back to their eager, veggie-addicted readers.

Z: The NoHo Arts District has numerous newly constructed apartments, over two dozen small theaters, plenty of restaurants for both casual and fine dining, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the historic El Portal Theater, a subway terminal to take passengers to downtown Los Angeles (the Metro Red Line), and a bus terminal (the Orange Line) to deliver riders to the West Valley. What's missing?

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market R: Until very recently there was no farmers' market. That problem was solved at the end of October 2011 when the NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market opened for business. Since that time, the market has been in four different locations, finally settling at Bakman Avenue between Magnolia Boulevard and Chandler Boulevard.

Z: Persuading city officials to close down a street for a farmers' market is no easy task in Los Angeles. In fact, it took 2 1/2 years to bring the market to fruition. Market Manager Carol Wyner, who is a member of the Midtown NoHo Neighborhood Council, worked relentlessly with the Mid-Town North Hollywood Neighborhood and the Business Improvement District to create the market. Carol wears other hats like being on the boards of Hands for Hope charity and Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission.

R: Just when the market moved to Bakman Avenue, the city installed parking meters that could be a deterrent for potential shoppers. Market shoppers don't need to feed parking meters because the south end of the street from Weddington Street to Magnolia Blvd. is barricaded for car parking. Carol explained that the market had to give up half the vendor space on the street to accommodate free parking.

Z: To make it easy for us that morning, three people guided us to a parking spot. As we parked, we could hear sounds of lively jazz music. That day and every second Saturday of the month it's jazz time at the market.

R: We were impressed with Gabby Friedman, only 15, who delighted the passers by with renditions of jazz standards. Cathy Segal Garcia, Linda Smith, and Cynthia Askew also entertained the audience with their sparkling vocal talents. Under the auspices of California Pop & Jazz Council, seven vocalists displayed their unique styling that day. Serge Kasimoff on the keyboards and Leslie Baker on the bass provided the energetic swinging accompaniment. In the weeks without the jazz vocalists other entertainers make appearances.

Z: But entertainment is only a small part of the market experience. Most people show up to purchase farm fresh produce and perhaps indulge in freshly prepared food.

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market R: This time of year is especially exciting for market shoppers because of the launch of the stone fruit season. Avila and Sons from Hanford, Ken's Top Notch Produce from Fresno, Salem Ranch from Lucerne Valley, and Gama Family Farm from Arvin provided tasty choices. Avila and Sons sold cherries, apricots, yellow and white peaches, and white nectarines.

Z: Their table was also filled with a wide assortment of dried fruits and nuts. Dried fruits included both Mission and Calmyrna figs, peaches, apricots, prunes, nectarines, plums, pears, and a variety of fruit medleys.

R: They offered both raw and flavored pistachios. The seasoned ones included tempting flavors like jalapeno, garlic, chili lemon, and barbecue. Their display also featured raw and roasted almonds, raw walnuts, pecan meal, and corn nuts.

Z: What we liked about Ken's Top Notch Produce was not only their all-organic and tasty stone fruits we sampled, but also their well-labeled varieties. For example, they sold Arctic Sweet Nectarines, Yummy Beauty Pluots, and Angel Kiss White Peaches. The delicious yellow peaches must have been generic and did not have a variety name.

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market R: Gama Family Farm, known for their potato assortment, showed up with Tulare Cherries and Kitten Cots Apricots. Along with brown onions, sweet onions, and garlic, they displayed potatoes galore: baby Yukon Golds and reds, as well as full size fingerlings, Yukon Golds, Russets, and reds.

Z: Stone fruits were only a part of the Salem Ranch inventory. John Lee told us that this three-, going on four-family farm was started by his uncle 10 years ago. The 20-acre farm produces all organic crops. When the stone fruit season ends, they'll be here with apples and pears.

R: Their stone fruits included white and yellow nectarines, white and yellow peaches, and apricots. Alongside the stone fruits were raw almonds, baby spinach, Korean melon, vine tomatoes, bell peppers (red, green, yellow), zucchini, cucumbers, green onions, and spinach.

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market Z: The big surprise to me was how involved this farm was in growing jujubes or Chinese dates. Their farm has 1500 jujube trees. They not only sell the dates at farmers' markets, but they also supply them to Asian markets throughout the Southland. We tasted jujube juice that they touted as a cure for insomnia. Jujubes can also be brewed as a tea with numerous health benefits. We learned that Along with being a sleep inducer, the tea rejuvenates the liver and is a digestive aid.

R: Citrus seekers would find their desires met by Rancho de Rigos from Piru and Meno's Farms. Leticia and Jackie Trinidad told us about their 14-acre farm started by their father Rodrigo Trinidad and were happy to sell us and everyone else Valencia oranges and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Z: Meno's Farms from Riverside also sold Valencia oranges, but rounded out their citrus display with grapefruit and lemons. In addition to Hass avocados, they also featured a variety of root vegetables and leafy greens. On the table were bunches of giant red beets, golden beets, carrots, radishes, red onions, green onions, string beans, broccoli, red leaf lettuce, romaine, and spinach.

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market R: You should mention that Meno's was squash and kale heaven. The squash inventory included zucchini, round zucchini, yellow zucchini, plump Mexican squash, and pattypan squash. Zel almost shouted, "Hail to the kale" when she looked down to find the regular curly kale flanked by both dinosaur and Russian kale varieties.

Z: And don't forget to mention that Meno's is all organic and was one of three farmers to sell Albion strawberries. Albion strawberries could also be found at New Era from San Luis Obispo. New Era's table also displayed plump blackberries and blueberries.

R: Albion strawberries were just a small part of the display of Joe's Produce from Riverside. Their tables could be labeled a vegetable delight with green beans, beets, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, radishes, red and yellow bell peppers, Mexican squash, zucchini, romaine, and iceberg lettuce. They also sold celery, parsley, kale, spinach, basil, and vine tomatoes. That morning they were the go-to place for cantaloupes and seedless watermelons.

Z: I'm always intrigued with farmers coming to sell a large variety of Asian greens. Yee Vue Farm from Fresno offered me a chance to learn about and try vegetables we had never experienced before. Cheng Xiong told us about his uncle's 14-acre farm that's a 3 1/2-hour drive to North Hollywood. His uncle, wife, and five kids, along with Cheng, work the farm and sell at farmers' markets.

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market
R: We're well acquainted with many of the vegetables they sold, like Korean white sweet potatoes as well as daikon radishes, red onions, green beans, long beans, baby bok choy, cilantro, Thai basil, sweet basil, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bitter melon, lemongrass, Chinese broccoli (Gai lan), Chinese eggplant, and Italian parsley.

Z: I thought I knew about some of the Chinese greens, but there were a few I had not seen before like Shanghai bok choy, moqua, yuchoy, kangkong, bitter melon leaves, and yam leaves. Cheng was our guide identifying and telling us how they're prepared.

R: In some research of our own we discovered the Shanghai bok choy, one variety of Chinese cabbage, has greener stems than the regular bok choy because it is less mature and harvested sooner. Shanghai bok choy is also called mei qui choi. Moqua is the fuzzy or winter melon that looks like a fuzzy cucumber. While the melon is still fuzzy, it's sweet and mild tasting. When it loses its fuzziness, it also loses the sweetness but is still edible. Yu choy is an edible rape plant whose leaves taste like spinach. Kangkong or Chinese water spinach frequently finds its way into stir-fries and soups.

The leaves of bitter melon, a wrinkly bitter-tasting squash, are used medicinally. First, they are dried and then steeped in hot water to make a tea to treat malaria, hypertension, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and diabetes. Bitter melon has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetic mice as well as to reduce insulin resistance. Yam leaves are also used in stir-fries.

NoHo Arts District Farmers' Market Z: No wonder the Asians, who devour so many of these greens, are so healthy. As we approached Jazzy Sprouts, we looked for Dexter Scott, who brings his clarinet or soprano sax to the market and plays while he's marketing his 22 varieties of sprouts. His assistant David Story told us Dexter would be along shortly.

After tasting the sprouted peanuts, I fell in love with their ultra-sweet flavor and made sure we took some home. Soon we heard some familiar saxophone sounds and found Dexter accompanying the jazz vocalists. He recognized our yellow shirts and greeted us warmly. "Sprouts are vegetarian caviar," he proudly announced to all within hearing distance.

R: As we passed Libby Orchids from Alhambra and oohed and aahed at their butterfly orchids and epiphyllums, our stomachs signaled a desire for food. At this market we were fortunate to discover several tasty vegan choices and finally settled on Pumpkin Bolani from East & West Gourmet Afghan Food. The Bolanis come in four flavors: spinach, pumpkin, potato, and lentil. They might be described as delicious cheeseless quesadillas.

Z: As we journeyed through the prepared foods section, we couldn't resist tasting a bread sample from Titus De Silva Gourmet Breads. Titus featured innovative varieties of whole-grain breads. Our curiosity also led us to try California Mad Popper's Frozen Popcorn. The crazy corn folks were sampling four varieties of their air-popped corn that day: cinnamon, caramel, coconut, and dirty laundry (oreo). We tried and liked the coconut.

R: We also tasted kale chips from Simply Conscious Foods. They market three varieties: Cheesy Garlic, Jalapeno Garlic, and Chocolate Coconut, all gluten-free, dairy-free, raw, organic, and vegan. These delicious kale chips are made in West Los Angeles.

Z: After juggling locations and hours, the market seems to have arrived at a comfortable place in the community and convenient shopping times. It has a good mix of farmers, foods, and crafts. If the public continues to turn out and support the effort, the market's success is guaranteed.

NoHo Arts District Certified Farmers' Market
Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Bakman Ave. between Magnolia Blvd. and Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood
Phone: 818-314-1312
Website: http://nohomarket.org

Reviewed July 2012

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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