Z: When we approached the market at the corner of Venice Boulevard and Venice Way, I noticed the tents towering over the low block walls surrounding the parking lot. I thought of the word "cupola" when I saw the tent tops, but they were more like caliph's tents in one of those old movies.
R: I also noticed the tents and pictured an oasis in the Sahara, but reality brought me back to this triangular-shaped lot filled with great produce offerings. That day the Santa Ana winds really created a problem for the farmers who literally had to hold on to everything including their canopies. The gusts also tended to dry the produce quickly. We also noted that there was no problem parking on the paved and well landscaped lot.
Z: My first impression was that this was a small market compared to some of the others we have visited, but it was a busy enterprise well supported by the people in the community. I noticed about 20% of the vendors offered flowers and plants. The Kohara people from Oxnard displayed an impressive array of cut flowers including gladiolas, tulips, Dutch iris, ranunculus, straw flowers, and birds of paradise.
R: While we're talking about flowers, we should mention Treewind Farm in Carpinteria which featured mostly white cut flowers. There were giant calla lilies, chrysanthemums, iris, gladiolas, French tulips, and stargazer lilies---all white.
Z: I thought Emma was cute with her small table of flowers she had raised in her yard. She had cactus, orchids, bromiliads, and a Chinese evergreen plant. I also had to stop at Lim's from Gardena to pick up some more lucky bamboo. We had purchased some when we visited them at the Westwood Market. In addition to the bamboo, they displayed bonsai plants in quite attractive miniature landscapes.
R: Jim Wells from the Orchid Garden in Torrance specializes in cymbidium orchids. He explained that his plants are able to grow outside at temperatures down to 28 degrees.
Z: Two growers offered potted plants. Ipatzia from Moorpark sold peach, yellow, and coral Reger begonias. Their cyclamens were gorgeous in their bright pinks, reds, and lavenders. The dwarf calla lilies were an elegant dusty magenta and white. The also had a number of attractive color bowls, but I was most taken by the bridal veil hanging plant. It was very reasonable at $6.
R: You almost took it home, but you did your plant shopping with Environmental Arts from Gardena. Their 4" pots of herbs and vegetables at $.75 to $1 were a good buy and less expensive than those sold at Home Depot. They proudly mentioned they don't use pesticides or sprays on any of their plants. In addition to sweet basil, thyme, and several varieties of sage, they had some less common herbs such as creeping thyme, catnip, and lettuce leaf basil. Some of the vegetable plants included tomatoes, soybeans, string beans, artichokes and a number of tomato varieties.
Z: From the way we featured flowers, our readers might get the idea flowers dominated the market. Not so. There was ample produce. Top Veg from Carson, present at a number of markets, was here with their large variety of vegetables. Their bunches of celery were huge. So were their radishes. They sold a variety of lettuces, including the red oak, and offered tat-soi (Chinese spinach). No other vendor had kabu (pure white Japanese turnips with long tails) or fennel bulbs that we enjoy so much.
R: The fennel bulbs came home with us along with a raft of vegetables from Tanaka Farms in Irvine which is registered organic. They also have a presence at a number of markets. They displayed a variety of lettuces including red romaine, beets, carrots, celery, spinach, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, and two kinds of radishes. We purchased a three pack of strawberries. After reading that strawberry growers used the most pesticides, it was reassuring to buy the organic fruit. Zel also had to have their Japanese snow peas that are thicker, curlier, and a darker green than the usual ones. I must admit, they're pretty tasty.
Z: I had a difficult time choosing between the two vendors selling apples. Lim's from Tehachapi had the no wax Fujis which ended up inside our canvas bag. Rosendahl Farm from Fresno had Fuji and Pink Lady apples and giant artichokes that were irresistible. They also offered dried apricots, raisins, peaches prunes, black figs, and a fruit mix.
R: Harvest Pride from Reedly also sold dried fruits and nuts. I was intrigued by the navel orange slices and the dried Asian pears. Shelled walnuts and pecans were also offered here, but what found their way into our canvas bags were a pound of almonds in the shell, including their outer covering as well.
Z: I couldn't leave without purchasing some of the specialty potatoes from Weiser Farms. They also sell at a number of markets. That Friday they had Baby Red Rose, Yukon Gold, and Peruvian Purple. Kinny explained that the Peruvian was the first potato cultivated anywhere in the world. Hearing him, we knew we had to have some of those old potatoes as well as the Russian Banana Fingerlings, one of the tastiest we have ever eaten.
R: Polito Farms from Valley Center was the only citrus stand at the market. They had a half dozen varieties of tangerines, navel and valencia oranges, Persian sweet and Meyer lemons, Oro Blanco grapefruit, and two kinds of avocado: Fuerte and Haas. We asked which of the tangerines were the sweetest and were encouraged to enjoy a variety, all at the same price. We've been enjoying them, and can affirm the sweetness of every single variety which included Primavera, Clementine, and Satsumas.
Z: Sproutime also sells at a number of markets. We had seen Will before at another market. He told us about their 10 types of sprouted pastas with names like Peppy Lemon, Smoky Chipotle, Yin Yang, and Green Dream. The Sprouted Wheat Spirals we bought had an amazing 9 grams of dietary fiber. They made a nice dinner that night with a tangy green tomato sauce.
R: The plump, tart green tomatoes from Wong Farms in the Salton Sea area made the perfect sauce. They also sold a variety of tomatoes and will offer yellow tomatoes later in the season. Valdivia from Carlsbad also had tomatoes, the large beefsteak type. They also featured baby squashes and squash blossoms and fresh nopales (cactus pads).
Z: Since we are hooked on cherimoyas, we had to buy a few from Vista del Mundo from Santa Barbara. They also sold avocadoes, potted plants, and cut flowers.
R: We had an opportunity to talk to James Murez, the market manager who has been operating the venture since its inception 11 1/2 years ago. He told us about the Venice Action Committee, an association of about 280 business owners and homeowners that sponsors the market.
Z: The parking lot that houses the farmers' market is owned by the city. The Coastal Commission permitted the lot with the condition that the market would be located on the lot. On a typical Friday morning there are 25 farmers participating with 5 non-agricultural vendors. There are no crafts and very little prepared food. We did notice Espresso Experience as we entered.
R: Murez estimates 2,000 average attendance each week. That morning the vendors were so busy it was difficult to ask them questions. We asked about the early opening time of 7:00 a.m. He said many shoppers come before they go to work, and frequently patrons arrive as the vendors are setting up. One man was there that morning at 5:45.
Z: Between 9:30 and 10:00 moms with their kids arrive. We noticed all types of strollers as we walked around. "The market caters to the diversity of Venice, " says Murez. " There's a close community feeling in the market, " he added.
R: When he is not working at the market, Murez, a programmer and systems designer, is developing web sites. One that he is proud of is http://www.farmersmarket.org. He is active at the state level working with the Department of Agriculture on projects dealing with farmers.
Venice Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2000