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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise
The Great Produce Hunt

For a complete current list of farmers' markets click on Certified Farmers Markets in Los Angeles County.


One breezy Sunday morning in February the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, winged their way along the 405 to the Encino Farmers' Market. This is the hair-raising description of their experience.

Z: Hair-raising is one way of putting it. The wind was so gusty that morning Reuben was having trouble taking notes. It was a good thing the notepaper was securely attached to the clipboard. We soon noticed that this market is not as large as the Hollywood or Torrance markets we visited, but it's well laid out and has a delightful character all its own. The market has an L-shaped arrangement and is located in the parking lot next to the building that houses an alzheimer's day care center and a preschool. Both are sponsored by O.N.E., the Organization for the Needs of the Elderly.

R: That's the same group that organized and sponsors the farmers' market. They do so many things to help senior citizens, and they're really doing a community service for all ages by bringing fresh produce to the community.

Z: When we entered from the paved parking area, I noticed the sign that said, "Parking Lot Donated by National Charity League San Fernando Valley Chapter, June 1996, with love and admiration for our friends at Organization for the Needs of the Elderly." We later found out the League paid $32,000 for the paving of the parking lot.

R: We turned left and began to explore the non-agricultural area.We noticed a small trailer with the sign Rocky Roast. Standing in front of it were people waiting to buy freshly brewed specialty coffees and espresso. If you didn't care for coffee, you could have a number of fruit smoothie combinations with bananas, berries, or mangos. Rocky Rhodes himself proudly showed us his variety of freshly roasted bagged coffee beans. On his recommendation we bought a half pound of beans called Huehuetanango from Guatamala as a gift for one of our friends.

Z: We talked to Bea Dubow and Betty Zimmerman at the O.N.E. table that featured handmade knitted items from the senior knitting class. Bea proudly displayed one of the beautiful pastel baby afghans she made.

Zucchini R: Bea told us that their class was able to donate between $4,000 and $5,000 a year to O.N.E. from their knitware sales. It was obvious they felt rewarded by their contributions.

Z: I was drawn to the colorful blocks of natural, soaps in the Djana booth. They're all handmade by Frank and Natalie Estrada who told us their soaps are made from natural oils with essential oils added for fragrance. I couldn't help noticing the variety of fragrances and beautiful pastel colors. Frank describes his product as "internatural soaps." I sniffed each of the different fragrances and couldn't leave without having a slice of their dessert essence. I've never bought a slice of soap before.

R: In that same area were different tables with organic shampoos and conditioners, purses, clothing, magnet therapy, hats, incense and decorative bottles, food choppers, and a donation swap-meet-style booth.

Z: For the hungry there was much to gorge on. Kettle Korn popcorn and Corn Maiden tamales seem to be at a number of farmers' markets. Baked goods were supplied by Melrose Baking Company, St. Moritz Bakery, and Daisy Cakes. The Melrose people had quite an impressive variety of breads that contained no sugar, oil, eggs, milk, or preservatives, except for their egg bread.

R: Next to Ciara West, that features all kinds of olives, we discovered Cary Brown's Vegan Foods. What an oasis in the desert! Cary was giving out samples of his calamata olive sauce, chunky chili, and Texas barbecue. Each of them was very tasty, and Zel couldn't resist the chunky chili which she fed me for lunch that day. Cary told us that about eight years ago he began a vegan diet for health reasons. He was able to lose 50 pounds, lower his blood pressure 20 points, and lower his cholesterol dramatically. Cary has his own vegan restaurant in the San Fernando Valley. It's called Healthy Discount (818-606-3595). Now Cary has many plans to distribute his vegan food line in natural food markets. We wish him lots of success. During our conversation, he told us about a California prison where some of the convicts are fed a vegan diet. The prison found that the convicts on a vegan eating program never rioted, but those fed a carnivorous diet were more prone to rioting.

Z: In the Great American Jerky booth we had a preview taste of meatless soy protein jerky which should be available in April. It was delicious! Unfortunately, it's the only nonmeat jerky they make.

R: We finally got to the agricultural section starting with Sprout Time that had pea greens, spicy clover, sunflower greens, alfalfa, onion, and broccoli sprouts. There were also several different kinds of flavored hummus we can recommend from personal experience. At the Givens Farms table Zel spotted a unique green called dinosaur kale, also known as black kale. She should have bought it then. When we came back it was all gone.

Z: I really wanted that black kale. It's loaded with calcium. Well, next time I'll buy it early. Across the aisle we talked to Del Pace from Desert to Jungle Nursery. She collects and propagates plants from all over the world. We looked at a euphorbia lambii and melianthus major, both beautiful plants. A while back we bought two varieties of Justicia plants from Del. Both are thriving and bloom regularly.

R: You were in seventh heaven with all the plants and flowers at this market. There were all kinds of colorful cut flowers, and I noticed that the prices were quite reasonable.

Z: The Skyline Flowers people were here. We were initially impressed when we saw their display at the Torrance Market. One florist had giant proteas: some pastel pink, some a deep rose, and some a pastel pink with black feathery tips, all very striking!

R: Along with the beauty of the plants and flowers, the shoppers were entertained by two Peruvian musical groups featuring flutes and guitar. Los Angeles Incas and Sikkus were at opposite ends of the market filling the air with delightful folk melodies. We had the feeling we were walking in an outdoor market in South America. In each booth you could take home a cassette or CD version of what you were hearing.

Z: As we approached the booth that sells honey roast almonds, almond butter, almond flour, and almond brittle, we noticed that they're made by Nuts About Reading that donates the proceeds to LARP (Los Angeles Adult Reading Project). It's a literacy program to teach adults to read.

R: We'll have to find out more about those groups and share the information. The next booth had the giant Moroccan and Tahitian Squash. These were the largest squashes we've ever encountered! The fellow from the McGrath Family Farms cut a piece of organic Tahitian squash for us, and he even scooped out the seeds. Zel baked the squash that night, and we were both licking our chops--it was so sweet and light.

Z: Don't forget the flavored pistachios. There were the Oriental flavor, garlic and onion, and the Persian flavored choices. We couldn't resist. Reuben is nuts about nuts. As the morning progressed, so did the wind. It was interesting to see some of the farmers hold on to their canopies with one hand and make change with the other.

R: I'm surprised you could pass up the baby zucchini and squash blossoms. Maybe they were too pricey. The same could be said about the hydroponic tomatoes, although they looked plump and juicy.

Cherimoya Z: I couldn't resist the cherimoyas from Vista del Mundo Farms or the baby Yukon potatoes labeled "Baby Z's" and baby red potatoes we bought from Zuckerman Farms. I was also tempted by the mountain of beautiful asparagus featured at one booth. Asparagus is just coming into season when its flavor is most succulent.

R: I found it interesting to talk to Eugene Etheridge who operates Etheridge Farms in the Fresno area. He has twenty acres in between Dinuba and Orosi. We were surprised to learn that he's a high school principal in Orosi. He lost about $80,000 of fruit in the recent four- day frost. He was telling us how they submerge the oranges in water to see if they are damaged. The ones that float up to the top are damaged and unsalable.

Z: He's at the market most of the year with his navel mandarins, Late Lane summer navels, grapefruit, lemons, limes, apples, cherries, figs, mulberries, and pomegranates. He has all kinds of plums and a unique fruit called plucot, a combination plum and apricot. When he showed us his list of crops, I counted an impressive 42 different varieties.

R: The great surprise about this market and the others is the reasonable price of produce. In some cases we were able to purchase items at prices less than or equal to those in the supermarkets. Organic lettuce was fifty cents a head and and some were even three for a dollar. Our visits to several farmers' markets have made us aware that fruits and vegetables free of pesticides cost the same or less than at chain markets.

Z: What this says is people can come to a farmers' market and not pay exorbitant sums for good looking organic produce. O.N.E. deserves a lot of credit for bringing this market to the Valley.

R: Quite a bit of credit should go to Jane Allen, the market manager. We had an opportunity to talk to her as the heavy winds whipped all around us. Jane has been manager for the last two years. The Encino Farmers' Market will celebrate its fifth birthday in June. Jane plans a festive jubilee with sheet cakes, pinata games for the kids, a jumbo shrimp circus, and food demonstrations.

Z: Jane is the market's only full time employee. Helping her regularly to set up and tear down are a part-time assistant manager and two Sunday workers. There are between 12 and 20 dedicated seniors who pitch in each week to help out. "I'm here every Sunday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., " she says. Jane has a background in food marketing and advertising that has helped her double the size of the market in the last two years.

R: She told us the market has 35 farmers and 25 non agriculture vendors this time of year. By May the number of farmers will increase to 40, and there's even a waiting list to get into the market. We learned that some of the farmers come from as far away as Redding in the north to Carlsbad in the south. One-third of the participating farmers are organic.

Z: Jane explained that the market is more than just self-supporting. It actually makes a profit that goes to O.N.E activities. Part of that profit comes from farmers and non-agriculture vendors who pay a percentage of their sales. Attendance each Sunday continues to grow and ranges from 2500 to 3200 shoppers. The paved parking lot has space for 175 cars. At the conclusion of our three and a half hour exploration, we were starving. We simply had to have some of the roasted white corn on the cob so many shoppers were chewing on. We enjoyed every kernel. With our cloth bags overflowing with the morning's harvest, we headed homeward.

Encino Farmers Market
17400 Victory Boulevard between Balboa Boulevard and White Oak Avenue
Sundays 8:00 a.m.to 1:00 p.m. rain or shine

Reviewed March 1999

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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