Z: When I recollect our visit to the Motor Avenue Farmers Market, the vision I think of is the Cara Cara orange as a metaphor for this market. The orange and the market share a very special common quality -- sweetness. It was Palms Elementary School Day at the market with the children in the spotlight.
R: Who could resist watching and listening as the children showed off their music and dancing skills in performances by the Bollywood Dance Team, Las Palmas Grupo Folklorico, and the Palms Elementary Orchestra. And to add to the mix, they brought plants from their school garden to sell to the market goers.
Z: Market sponsor, Motor Avenue Improvement Association, plays an important role in the Palms neighborhood community, advocating for trees and landscaping, pedestrian-oriented street lighting, a bicycle infrastructure, trash and recycling receptacles, and improved street landscaping.
R: Market Manager Diana Ionescu explained, "The market is very much focused on the local neighborhood. It's part of the goal of making the neighborhood more walkable and livable. The local businesses are very supportive. Some even participate in the market."
Z: Diana became involved with the market early on as a graduate student at UCLA working on a master's degree in urban planning. As an intern with the Motor Avenue Improvement Association, she participated in the slightly more than a year planning and organizing of the market. "We wanted to locate the market in a parking lot, but surprisingly, it was easier to close the street," she says. Diana is assisted by other UCLA interns, especially Katharine Skupsky who initially invited us to visit the market.
R: The street closure was National Boulevard between Motor Avenue and Mentone, but since their original application said Motor Avenue, they kept that name. Because the bordering streets have metered parking, the market operators made an arrangement with Iman Cultural Center for shoppers to enjoy free parking in the lot that's a convenient half-block away.
Z: Let's get back to the interesting tale of the Cara Cara oranges and the metaphor. Cara Caras, bright orange seedless navels with a red flesh, were named for the place where they were first discovered in 1976: Hacienda Cara Cara in Venezuela. The Sunkist people describe them as "exceptionally sweet flavor with a tangy cranberry-like zing." This low-acid orange is a cross between the Washington navel and the Brazilian Bahia navel.
R: Wow! great job of telling the Cara Cara story. What I'd like to add is that this has to be one of the sweetest oranges we've ever experienced. Along with the Cara Caras, Ken's Top Notch Produce from Reedley sold other citrus like mandarins and golden nugget tangerines. They also featured Asian pears.
Z: A variety of citrus was also available at the table of Garcia Farm from Riverside. They displayed navel oranges, Ruby Red and Oro Blanco grapefruit, lemons, and limes. Their offerings included Hass avocados and Albion strawberries. Albion strawberries predominated the seasonal offerings and were very abundant at this market.
R: In addition to Garcia there were four other growers selling strawberries. Rodriguez Family Farm from Oxnard had only strawberries, while Esquivias from Ontario sold cauliflower along with the strawberries.
Z: Gama Farms from Bakersfield normally is the go-to table for potatoes in the numerous markets they attend. In this market they also sold strawberries along with their red, Russet, and Yukon Gold potatoes. Their other offerings featured yams, shallots, garlic, and red and brown onions. Plunked in the middle of their table was a container with a mound of delicious red flame raisins.
R: Buma Farm and Castellanos Farm, both from Riverside, win my personal award for having the largest variety of produce at this market. Buma had plenty of green veggies from red, green, and romaine lettuces to Brussels sprouts, scallions, broccoli, snow peas, spinach, zucchini, Swiss chard, leeks, celery, cabbage, and two varieties of kale: curly and ornamental. Radishes, beets cauliflower, carrots, and brown onions rounded out their impressive selection.
Z: Those plump radishes really called to me. They ended up in my shopping bag along with the leeks and cabbage. But my personal award goes to Castellanos Farm from Riverside. All the produce on their tables looked so fresh and inviting. What is so amazing is that Robert Castellanos grows all of these crops on his five acres.
R: Robert had a few minutes to educate us on artichoke plants. When we oohed and aahed about the giant artichokes on his table, he explained that each plant has one giant artichoke that grows on the tall center stalk and maybe 10 or 12 smaller ones surrounding it. We couldn't resist. We bought two large artichokes that were almost a meal by themselves.
Z: I was able to quiz Robert between sales to customers and learned he was a cook for seven years. When that business closed, he worked on his brother's farm for a year to learn about farming. He's had his own farm for three years now and says, "It's nice to be outside and watch the plants grow and to pick fresh vegetables." Robert is in four farmers' markets. From Monday through Thursday he works the farm and sells at the markets on weekends. He's a busy guy. Standing next to him was his young daughter Samantha who helps with the sales.
R: In addition to artichokes, Castellanos sold Albion strawberries, broccoli, asparagus, celery, and two types of radishes: traditional red and French Breakfast, a variety that stands out with their scarlet bases and white tips. He also displayed zucchini, Mexican squash, carrots, turnips, purple and green cabbage, cilantro, scallions, spinach, vine tomatoes, red leaf lettuce, romaine, and three varieties of Swiss chard: green, red, and rainbow.
Z: When I examined the beets on the table, I saw red and golden, but there was one white bunch that looked like turnips. When I asked Robert if they were turnips, he responded negatively. They were white beets that showed up in his red beet patch, and he couldn't explain why. They must have been an aberration or mutation. No matter, I had to take them home for my next cooking adventure.
R: Your further cooking adventures included curly kale that found its way into my shopping bag. Castellanos started the day with three varieties: curly, dinosaur, and ornamental. I would have purchased the dinosaur kale too, but the bunches were all gone by the time we made our purchases. I did buy Brussels sprouts and some tasty snap peas.
Z: This market had a few vendors with prepared foods we tasted and enjoyed. Love Lentils sold a variety of dips and spreads featuring lentils along with baked garbanzo and nopal cactus chips. Their lentil hummus was especially delicious. Mom's Products offered different flavors of hummus as well as "taboule" salad, olives, and pita chips.
R: And if shoppers wanted a sit-down lunch, they could find a fine meal at Vegan Joint at the Mentone end of the market.
Z: I second Reuben's remarks about Vegan Joint, a good place to dine whether you're vegan or not. I also want to mention one crafter we discovered that day. Julie Peek calls her company PaPeeYay! (phonetic version of the French word "papier" that means paper). She makes good use of junk mail by fashioning it into containers, wastebaskets, coasters, giant bows, and more. She's the ultimate recycler who creates beauty out of junk.
R: Speaking of beauty, the market featured a glitter parlor where kids could have glittery tattoos painted on their faces, arms, or hands.
Z: The kids enjoyed other attractions like the petting zoo and pony rides. They could also hang out at Fluffy's Doggy Service, a place where patrons could have their dogs cared for while they shopped.
R: The Motor Avenue Farmers' Market has been in operation for six months and shows signs of robust success. By involving the local schools, the market attracts more visitors who relish the kids' entertainment and then stay to make purchases from the farmers. Everybody wins.
Motor Avenue Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2013