The review below appeared in our February 2000 issue.
One cool, windy afternoon in January the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, cruised the 405 Freeway to West Los Angeles to explore the offerings of the Westwood Farmers' Market. What follows is their dialogue of that experience.
Z: The Westwood market has its own special flavor, a feeling you're in a small town with a main street closed down for shoppers. The white bark trees line the street on both sides, and the small strings of clear holiday lights that are wrapped around the tree trunks offered a festive flavor to the atmosphere. We learned later that the lights were not yet taken down from the holiday season.
R: The market is mostly on Weyburn, although a small section, mostly crafts, forms a T at Glendon. Weyburn's main attraction was a large Macy's (originally Bullock's) which is now closed. We noticed the many "For Lease" signs on the empty Glendon storefronts but learned that Westwood's business district is at the beginning of a revival trend. One store with a sink in front of it serves as the office of the market manager.
Z: We learned that the sink was required by law to provide the farmers with sanitation facilities, but it seemed strange and out-of-place to see a sink standing on the sidewalk. After the sun had set, we really noticed how the lights in the trees added charm to the market. The street was so well lit we could clearly see the vendors' offerings.
R: The weather that day was a bit brisk, but I shouldn't complain because people in some sections of the country are experiencing snow and chilling temperatures. They also can't go to a local farmers' market and find fresh strawberries and honeydew melons.
Z: I was surprised to see strawberries this early in the year. Berry Best from Oxnard offered two varieties, Camarosa and Gaviota. Mary Robles told us these were two of the eight varieties they're growing this year. We couldn't resist buying a three pack for $4.50 in their one hour sale. It was close to closing time and Mary was anxious to close out her stock.
R: I almost fell off my clipboard when I saw honeydews, lots of them from Z Ranch in Imperial Valley. The medium sized were 3 for $2.50. The larger ones were 3 for $4.00. They also offered the first of the season's asparagus. Zeba and Zubair told us they have a web site at www.zranch.com.
Z: There was an ample choice of both apples and citrus fruits. Polito Family Farms from Valley Center had bags of Valencia oranges, Satsuma mandarins, Clementine tangerines, Persian sweet lemons, and both red and white grapefruit. Eakin's Oranges from Perris had both navels and Valencias along with persimmons and pecans in the shell.
R: The Schletewitz Family Farm from Sanger sold oranges, grapefruit and red flame grapes. Their large sign announced Fruit Factory. They featured large navels which were the size of grapefruits. The 10-12 lb.bag of medium-size navels attracted Zel. So did Charles Davis, the handsome young man who sold them.
Z: Oh, Reuben! You always tell me it's O.K. to look, but--let's get back on track. Herbal Organic Farms from Fallbrook had lemons, avocados, and Fuji apples, but the big attraction for me was the persimmons. They had two varieties: Fuyu and Goshong. Fuyus, bright orange with a flat bottom, are becoming quite common. Goshong, a little lesser known, are bright red with a round bottom and have large brown seeds in them. Of course, we had to take a few of each home.
R: There was no problem finding apples. Sherrill Orchards are at most of the farmers' markets. They displayed Fujis and Lady William apples along with their apple juice blends. Ha's Farm also participates in a number of markets. They sold Snow Mountain Grown no-wax Fujis and dried apples and jams. Pudwill Farms from Nipomo is also represented at quite a few markets. They were selling Pink Lady and Fuji apples along with walnuts in the shell and kiwis.
Z: Weiser Farms of Lucerne Valley is also ubiquitous. At this market they had some unusual potatoes. In addition to Yukon Gold, they had mounds of Russian Banana Fingerlings, French Gourmet Fingerlings, Purple Peruvians, and Pee Wee Fingerlings. They also had a Fun bag with three colorful varieties I couldn't resist.
R: We learned quite a bit from Lynn Johnson who sells tillandsia, delicate looking air plants from Central and South America that she places in attractive shells and sells for $3 to $20. They don't need soil, just a mist spray of water twice a week. She even gave us information about tillandsea cyanea, the one we have at home. Ours is one of the few that is fragrant; most, we learned, are not. I'm surprised you haven't talked about the lucky bamboo and the flowers you're usually drawn to.
Z: Lim's Bonsai Garden did have my lucky bamboo with prices ranging from $2 to $15 for each stalk. The unusual, tall, spiral varieties were the most expensive and most appealing, but I decided to start with a three-stalk cluster of the small ones. Their bonsai plants were exceptionally beautiful, too. They were landscape art in miniature with bridges, Japanese lanterns, and beautiful rocks in pots that held attractively trimmed trees. Both Casitas Floral Farm and West Coast Flower Growers displayed large Oriental Lilies. Every trip to the farmers' market is an opportunity for discovery. Here, at the Westwood Farmers' Market we learned about lilies. The Asian lilies are non-aromatic while the Oriental lilies are the fragrant variety.
R: Don't forget the lisianthus, the Casablancas, and the stargazer lilies at West Coast Flower Growers. The Casitas Floral Farms people also featured jumbo roses, statice, baby's breath and long stems of blue-grey eucalyptus leaves.
Z: One highlight for me was the squash at Philip McGrath Family Farms of Camarillo. In addition to the kabocha and butternut, they sold Tahitian and Moroccan squashes. These giants grow up to 20 or 30 pounds and take 7 months to mature. They were happy to cut us a few pieces of their Tahitian squash and to sell us a bag of spinach labeled transitional; transitional because in a few months they will proudly be certified organic. They also had a variety of lettuces, baby beets, baby carrots, spinach, and long thin rutabagas.
R: Adding to the ambience and offering great musical sounds to the market is a four-piece jazz combo called Spreadin' Rhythm Round led by Don Allen. The group performs weekly with changing sidemen. Sidewalk artist Wang Yan Zhang executes while-you-wait colorful versions, Chinese style, of people's names with dragons incorporated into the letter representations. We recognized that Wang was a crowd pleaser by the large group gathered around his table to watch him at work.
Z: The craft area on Glendon had a diverse but small group of vendors. Biola displayed her framed art, greeting cards, and pencil portraits. Kid Korral showed their unique portable high chairs made from fabric. Moses Brown from Trinidad sold fine jewelry as well as handmade hats, purses and sandals.
R: Angela in her faux fur black hat told us about The Creative Ceed Company that features animal-free beauty products without sodium lauryl sulfate. Other items in the craft area included wooden children's toys, gel candles, quilts, jewelry, stained glass, and even decorated band aids. Of course, there was a line for the popular Frontier Kettle Korn that was sending tempting aromas along our path.
Z: We had an opportunity to speak to Aaron Shapiro, who has been managing the market since its inception five years ago. Aaron began as an intern in the Los Angeles City Planning Department. He became involved in the planning of the farmers' market, and eventually it led to a paying job with the Westwood Village Community Alliance. The market grew out of a project to revitalize Westwood Village. The farmers' market began first, followed a year later by the business improvement district.
R: Approximately 60 vendors appear each Thursday afternoon. Of that number 25-30 are certified farmers. In the summer months the total number of vendors increases to about 80. Aaron estimates about 5,000 people shop weekly. The streets are closed to traffic at noon, and eager shoppers arrive an hour before the market officially opens at 2:00. "This is the best winter we have ever had," Aaron says. "It's a great start to a new season."
Z: While Macy's was open, the store offered free parking to farmers' market shoppers. When they closed, parking became a problem. Parking in the village lots was expensive for many shoppers who became discouraged about attending the market. Finally, Aaron was able to negotiate a parking fee of $1 for three hours from the new owners of the Macy's lot.
R: Westwood also has a Sunday Farmers' Market that has been in place since September, but it has fallen on hard times. Presently it's open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Aaron feels the Sunday market would attract more shoppers if he shifted the time from morning to the 2 to 7 p.m. slot, just like the successful Thursday market.
Westwood Farmers' Market
Reviewed February 2000