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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.


Only in existence since July 1999, the South Pasadena Certified Farmers' Market has become a special weekly activity in the community. The two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, visited the market one Thursday afternoon in February and share their experience in the following dialog.

Z: My first impression of the South Pasadena Farmers Market was a small neighborhood market that did not compare in size with some of the others we've visited. It was only one city block in length. What I didn't realize was the number of vendors and the diversity of offerings available on that block.

R: When we circled the block searching for a convenient parking spot, I had a similar view. The market is on Meridian Avenue between El Centro Street and Mission Street. Meridian Avenue has a center median strip with grass and trees. The vendors were backed up against the median in what looked like an oval loop.

Z: What I noticed immediately was the variety of fresh produce offerings that were available in February. I was surprised to find strawberries this early in the year and to see three vendors selling them. New Hope Farm, Kelly Farms from Ontario, and Gueverra Farm from Santa Maria had Camarosa strawberries. When we tasted the ones from Kelly Farms, we were sold.

Strawberry R: Those Camarosas were so sweet we devoured the entire box that evening. The Camarosas should be available through June. Some of the farmers will harvest as many as six different varieties of berries during the season. Kelly Farms will have Chandler and Gaviota berries very soon, perhaps next month.

Z: Windham Farms from Exeter, Sycamore Hill Farm from Fillmore, and Rosendahl Farms from Caruthers all had a good selection of citrus fruit. Jerry Windham was eager to tell us about his Mellow Gold pomelos that are a hybrid, half grapefruit, half pomelo and his Caracara navel oranges, that have only been available for two years. Jerry, who travels to five farmers' markets each week, has approximately 100 acres planted. When we asked him how many trees he had, he just laughed and said, "I never counted them." The Caracara navels were exceptional; the color of the flesh was closer to that of a blood orange, the flavor had a hint of grapefruit with the typical sweetness of a navel orange.

R: Sycamore Hill Farm was the only source for lemons at the market. They also displayed bags of navels and Haas, Bacon, and Fuerte avocados. Rosendahl Farms sold blood oranges, pomelos, and two varieties of tangerines. Kathy Rosendahl was a bit confused about the names of the tangerines. She informed us that her husband, Chris, would know; he's the farmer. Her expertise is being the mom of two boys, Clint and Sam, ages 4 and 6. After checking her list of the seasonal produce they grow, she smiled and said, "Those are Satsuma and Fairchild tangerines."

Orange Z: Rosendahl also sold Fuji and Pink Lady apples and Asian pears. Their pears are the sweetest and juiciest of any I've ever tasted. But the highlight for me is their dried fruit, especially the raisin mix, the plumpest and sweetest you could ever imagine.

R: Rydell Family Ranch from Paso Robles and Sherrill Orchards were also selling apples. Rydell had Fuji and Pink Lady. Sherill had their Lady Williams that they described as "sweet and sour." They also have their selection of juices, apple mixed with just about anything else you could think of like cherry, pomegranate, peach, and more. Their juices are available in many farmers' markets.

Z: We haven't mentioned organic. If you are a person whose focus is on organic produce, you could find an array of items at this market. Watkins Farming from Carpinteria sold broccoli, celery, green and savoy cabbages, collards, and green, red, butter, and romaine lettuce. New Hope sold Haas avocados, red potatoes, celery, baby bok choy, Chinese spinach, lettuces, daikon radish, collards, turnips, kale, white and red chard, and kabocha squash.

R: That's quite a list. Are you sure you didn't leave something out? I guess you wanted to emphasize the variety available. Since we're discussing organic, we need to mention Beylik Family Farms from Ventura County. All of their tomatoes are hydroponic and organic. They offer green, premium, Japanese, yellow, plum, and big beef. We brought home a few of the Japanese variety and found them exceptionally sweet.

Z: Maggi's Farm had their usual assortment of fresh organic herbs, lettuce mixes, mesclun, baby spinach, beet greens, and chard. They were quite busy so we did not have an opportunity to ask about the Frisee Hearts.

R: If you find edible flowers appealing, you could have a great time dining on edible pansies or their Stellar Mix, a combination of baby greens and edible flowers.

Z: We were disappointed when we reached the Jazzy Sprouts table. Our disappointment was not with their usual fine assortment of sprouts, but the absence of Dexter who serenades customers with his jazzy clarinet and saxophone riffs. He must have been at another market or busy sprouting.

R: The market did not lack music or entertainment. That afternoon there were performers in three areas. Tony Black and students from the Los Angeles Music Academy, a jazz trio, played in a lawn area behind the information booth. King played his Caribbean music on the guitar and harmonica, but the high spot for us was Hisao Shinagawa.

Z: Hisao is one of those people you meet and never forget. He writes songs and plays them on the guitar and harmonica, sometimes playing both instruments at the same time and singing in Japanese and English. As he performs, he is constantly dancing around to keep the beat. The acoustic guitar looks like it has weathered many a storm, and so has the smiling Hisao who has been in the United States for 27 years.

R: Hisao, wearing overalls, a gray tee shirt over a sweat shirt, and a brown straw hat, is all of 4 1/2 feet tall. He comes to the market each week with his instruments and a notebook containing the 248 songs he has written, ones he describes as "social justice and consciousness songs."

Z: When he asked if we would like him to sing one of his songs, we couldn't refuse. He proudly announced he was going to perform number 227 for us, a song he calls, "California." When he finished, we applauded vigorously and dropped some money into his guitar case. We noticed that he had three of his cassette tapes for sale.

Ranunculus R: Switching from music to dates is quite a jump, but I have to mention the Bautista Family Farm from Mecca. Alvaro Bautista told us about the 22 acre ranch where his family grows seven types of dates. He made us a twofer offer we couldn't refuse. We went home with a package of Zahidi and another of Halawy. We couldn't find our favorite Medjools or Barhi, but if we wait until August, they'll be freshly harvested.

Z: No farmers' market tour would be complete without mentioning flowers and plants. Thomas Lee from Ontario proudly displayed some from his 200 variety collection. This orchid hobbiest presented Wildcat, Dancing Lady, Dendrobium, Oncidium, and Spider orchids. "The Spider orchid doesn't bite, it doesn't run, and it doesn't spin a web," he joked.

R: Benagas Flowers from San Diego showed a colorful selection of cut flowers. This was ranunculus season with bouquets of red, yellow, pink, and purple flowers. Gerbera daisies in red, yellow and orange were almost overshadowed by large orange-tipped yellow sunflowers. C and C Flowers from Saticoy also had giant sunflowers and ranunculus, along with purple delphinums, snapdragons, and huge white calla lilies.

Z: We spoke to Jude Helfman who has been managing the market since October 2000. She also manages the Brea Farmers' Market. She's assisted by Bob Weister, who proudly announced he is a vegetarian and an avid gardener who loves heirloom vegetables.

R: "This is a community driven market," says Jude. "Right now we have about 24 farmers and 10 food vendors. In the summer we'll go up to 26 or 27 farmers." She takes pride in their special programs the first Thursday of the month. February's program was a giant Chinese New Year celebration. Two raffles are held each Thursday when ten lucky people go home with baskets of produce.

Z: Speaking of food vendors, I noticed that vegetarians like us would be able to find something at this market. Corn Maiden was there with their tamales. There were other vendors like Nana's Chips and Salsa who had guacamole, salsa, and homemade corn and flour tortillas. And I shouldn't forget the roasted corn and baked potatoes.

South Pasadena Certified Farmers' Market
Meridian Avenue between El Centro Street and Mission Street
Thurdays 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.,
4:00 to 7:00 p.m. January and February
Phone: 213-244-9190 ext. 19

Reviewed March 2001

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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