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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

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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.


The Santa Monica Sunday Certified Farmers' Market is a family festival experience instead of being wholly devoted to farm-fresh produce. On a cool Sunday morning in October the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, journeyed to the beach community to investigate and report back to their eager and curious fans.

Z: We approached the market from the parking lot area along Nielson Way. You might say we came in through the back way. The "real" entrance is on Main Street between Hill and Ocean Park Boulevard right between the California Heritage Museum and the Victorian House. The area between the two structures is Heritage Square, a plaza lined with date palms and avocado trees and facing Main Street.

R: What struck me immediately was the emphasis on making the market a family experience. Robert Downs was seated at his pottery wheel and forming pots to give to the children. Contraband, a trio, performed jazz selections for an audience surrounding the patio in the area between the two buildings. Young children were having their faces painted or enjoying the pony rides or the pumpkin crafts.

Z: Of course, there was plenty to eat and drink, including our favorite Corn Maiden tamales, but the real excitement for us was the number of farmers who were offering organic produce. We counted 8, and the variety of items they offered was a vegetarian's dream.

R: Weiser Farms from Bakersfield was one of the organic group displaying their usual assortment of potatoes. Zel thinks they have the best Peruvian purple potatoes. They make the most creamy mashed potatoes because they're so moist. Along with the purples they featured the Yukon Golds, baby reds, and white and brown onions. They also showed Korean melons, orange flesh honeydews, and canary melons.

Pomegranate Z: Nakamura Farms from Oxnard usually provides a wide assortment of greens, cooking vegetables, and strawberries. They seem to have strawberries all through the year. That morning they were showing large bell peppers, plump radishes, baby spinach, a variety of lettuces, broccoli, chard, carrots, beets, and zucchini.

R: While he was weighing items and ringing up sales, Gary Herbel of Herbel Organic from Fallbrook told us a little about his 33-acre family ranch that has between 3200 to 3400 trees, depending on who's doing the counting. He was selling Fuyu persimmons, Fuji apples, pomegranates, and pineapple guavas.

Z: The most unusual feature of his ranch is the 2000 rose bushes planted in memory of his great grandmother, Gladys Walton. He showed us a picture of this gorgeous woman who was a star of silent movies. Her most famous film was Second Hand Rose. Gary also told us about his family efforts to cross tangelos with grapefruit. He proudly boasted they had the sweetness of the tangelo. We'll have to come back for a first-hand taste when they're in season. Since he sells at all four Santa Monica Markets, we're fortunate to have our choice of days to return.

R: Organic apple lovers were in their own pleasure zone at the Kosmo Ranch table. That morning they featured 7 of the 9 varieties they grow along with yellow and white peaches. They were selling my favorite Pink Lady apples as well as Fuji, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious.

Z: Yang Certified Organic Farm drove in from Fresno to share their crops with their eager Santa Monica customers. They offered Chinese long beans, bok choy, bunches of You-choi, daikon radish, and Chinese eggplant. Their assortment included melons, tomatoes, herbs, potatoes, broccoli, garlic, onions, and scallions.

R: Smith Farms from Irvine, also organic, had one of the spiciest tables at the market. Their collection of chili peppers could heat up any room. Varieties included pasilla, jalapeno, habanero, Anaheim, Serrano, and those small yellow flame throwers. They also displayed cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, tomatillos, celery, Brussels sprouts, and three kinds of bell peppers: green, yellow, and red.

Z: Munak Ranch of Paso Robles, another organic farmer, had my kind of tomatoes, heirlooms. Anyone who has not tasted an heirloom tomato has missed a real taste sensation. My current favorite is the pineapple tomato. It has to be the sweetest, tastiest variety I have ever experienced. People who regularly purchase those tasteless tomatoes in the supermarkets will flip out when they bite into this one.

R: You got so carried away by the pineapple tomato you forgot to mention the Blancos Aires, Green Zebra, and White Wonders they had on the table along with red and yellow cherry tomatoes and their Ogen melons.

guava Z: One delightful experience was meeting and talking to the Neighborhood Guava Gal, Nozaria Tolentino, Noreen to her friends. Noreen, who retired from her job at GTE in 1985, has been selling her guayabales (guavas) since 1987.

R: She grows the yellow or tropical guavas, persimmons, and grapes on 4 lots in Santa Monica. She has 28 guava trees. Noreen even gave us a tip for eating the guavas while they're still green. Just sprinkle them with salt and lemon juice.

Z: The stone fruit season was not quite over. Scattaglia Farms from Littlerock had Harvard Sun plums and Last Chance peaches along with their Fuji apples and 20th Century Asian pears.

R: We had to stop to talk to Susan Elmasian who creates that wonderful Smokin' Garlic. We have a link to her on our Links We Love page. She's recently added a line of herb salts for seasoning soups, sauces, and stews.

Z: No farmers' market experience would be complete without talking about the flowers and plants. Bill Jenks of the Stinking Rose in Riverside was anxious to talk about his herbs in herb bowls. He had stevia, mint, lavender, curry plants, and varieties of sage and basil. Bill told us about one great use for rue. "It helps keep cats out of the garden because it stinks." Hopefully, the cats won't try to eat this attractive plant. As Reuben says, "They'll rue the day" because all parts of the plant are poisonous.

Tithonia R: Lance's Flowers from Santa Barbara mounted a colorful display of cut flowers. They showed marigold bouquets, golden cosmos, ranunculus, straw flowers, tithonia (see color picture), and saponaria. The saponaria had small pink blossoms and delicate light green leaves. The most striking flowers were the two kinds of sunflowers, the bright golden Teddy Bear and the huge Van Gogh. The Teddy Bear were the large golden variety that resembled pompoms. Some of the Van Gogh had brilliant orange petals with deep brown centers, and some had yellow petals.

Z: Manager Diana Rodgers had a few minutes in her busy schedule to tell us a little bit about the market that began operation in 1994. She wasn't on board that opening year but has been manager for 6 years. This was the last of the Santa Monica markets to open. Each week 25 to 40 farmers see approximately 2000 patrons, and there's paid entertainment, usually a musical group, and a craft artist for the kids. Also present are approximately 15 food vendors, numerous craft artists, and tables set up by local Main Street merchants.

R: As we headed back to the parking lot, we stopped at the table of Bautista Family Farm from Mecca. We just had to have a package of their delicious honey dates.

Santa Monica Certified Farmers' Market (Sunday)
Main Street and Ocean Park
9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Other Santa Monica Certified Farmers' Markets:

Wednesday / Arizona & 2nd / 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Saturday / Arizona & 3rd / 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Saturday / Pico and Cloverfield / 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Phone: 310-458-8712
Website: http://www.farmersmarket.santa-monica.org

Reviewed November 2001

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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