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Vegan for the Holidays

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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 Westchester Certified Farmers' Market is a bustling, small neighborhood market designed to draw people to the community's downtown area. Zel and Reuben, the two birds of paradise, zoomed down the 405 freeway one Wednesday morning in April to check it out and report the experience to their readers.

Z: I didn't realize how close we were to Los Angeles International Airport. If we kept on going south on Sepulveda Boulevard, we could have boarded a plane for some exotic locale. Instead, as we turned into the parking lot for Staples Office Store, we could see the tent-protected tables on two sides of the one-block area.

R: If we didn't know the market was there, we could have easily missed it. It was tucked away on 87th Street, a small one-block street behind the stores along Sepulveda and La Tijera. The street is the home of small businesses like a vacuum cleaner store, dry cleaners, a bakery, a deli, a dentist office and more. It was ironic to find a large produce market/grocery on the corner.

Z: We both wondered how much business the produce store did on Wednesday morning. But we noticed there were people coming out of the store. Entering the farmers' market from the east, we were greeted by the melodic sound of steel drums. Francis, who is from Trinidad, was accompanied by a rhythm machine and played some nostalgic old standards on his two steel drums. With pride, he announced that he had made the drums himself and had been playing steel drums and the saxophone since he was18.

R: That's quite a long time since he boasted he had just celebrated his 66th birthday. We could hear the steel drums throughout the market area as we examined the offerings of the vendors. Although the market did not have a large number of vendors, we found an abundance of organic produce. One woman shopper told us she comes every Wednesday to load up on a week's supply of organic broccoli.

Brussels sprouts Z: When a market has Tanaka Farms from Irvine and Nakamura Farms from Oxnard, you know you can find a great selection of fresh, organic produce. Even Smith Farms from Irvine divided their tables into two sections: left side non-organic, right side organic.

R: Both Nakamura and Tanaka featured Chandler strawberries. Maui onions are now in season and were available at both stands. Tanaka had the Maui reds that were white with reddish purple stripes. Both had a variety of lettuces, radishes, carrots, beets, cabbage, broccoli, and peas.

Z: The Smith Farms people also had some of the greens, but they were the only ones selling Brussels sprouts that morning. They also showed large artichokes, leeks, and asparagus. In fact, asparagus was quite easy to find. Zuckerman Farms had asparagus along with their baby red, Peruvian, and Yukon potatoes.

R: Green Farms from Lompoc also had asparagus and snow peas. By the time we reached their stand, they were sold out of broccoli and cauliflower.

Z: The market reflected an interesting season for citrus. You could still find navel oranges, but Valencias are now available as well. More and more we're finding new varieties of grapefruit like the giant size Oro Blanco and pomelo. Three of the vendors offered the "white gold" Oro Blanco's that are white inside : K and K Ranch from Orosi, Lilac Valley Orchards from Valley Center, and Crown 12 Ranch from Corona. Only K and K had pomelos whose inside color is ruby red.

Pomelo R: And what pomelos! June Kashima (one of the K's) showed us two of the big p's that were about 8 inches in diameter. She and her husband (the other K) have a 20-acre ranch in Orosi where they grow Kadota and Mission figs, cherries, apricots, jujubes (Chinese dates), and citrus. They also grow ume plums used to make umeboshi (a fermented version that is sour and salty). People on macrobiotic diets seek out these plums.

Z: She shows up with ume plums for two weeks in the summer, and they're snapped up very quickly. She and her husband were both born in Hawaii, but they met and married in the United States. We were surprised when she told us she lived in Torrance, because their ranch in Visalia is a four-hour drive from their home.

R: No market report would be complete without describing the flowers and plants available. "All my life I've been Henry," teased the vendor of Henry's Evergreen Bonsai. Henry began as a hobbyist but moved on to selling at farmers'markets two years ago.

Z: I couldn't take my eyes off his tiny bonsai Australian tea tree. The plant was no more than 4 inches tall. Its delicate five-petal pink flowers surrounded an abundance of tiny pink buds that was so full it gave the impression of a single cluster of pink. The bonsai Japanese maple plants were also breathtaking. For those not interested in bonsai plants, he had a large assortment of lucky bamboo. All of these are grown in his backyard in Torrance.

R: Tanya from PM Orchids in Panorama City proudly showed us dendrobiums, lycasts from South America, and aseda from Thailand.

Z: The aseda really grabbed me. What a beautiful plant! Each of the flowers looked like a tiny clutching hand, ivory in color with a red throat and red speckles. West Flower Growers of Oxnard offered another flower display that stopped me in my tracks. Their fuschia and blue delphiniums were gorgeous. Their pink Canterbury bells were quite lovely, but the asters really called to me. There were two varieties: purple and pink, both with yellow centers.

Aster R: If I wanted plants to take home for the garden or yard, I would definitely purchase ones offered by Environmental Arts of Gardena. We met Peter at the Culver City market where he described how he grew his seedlings on leased land under the power lines. As usual his offerings were quite inexpensive. He had his great selection of herbs, flowers, and vegetables, all ranging in price from $.50 to $1.00.

Z: We had an opportunity to chat with Aki Tanaka, the market manager. The market has been in existence for about 7 years, but Aki is approaching his one-year anniversary as manager. He also manages the El Segundo Farmers' Market on Thursday afternoons. We recognized him because we had met him before in another role.

R: Yes, he was giving samples and selling olives at the Culver City market. He and his daughter have a company called Ciara West that markets olives and cheese. They sell at 6 farmers' markets, but not this one.

Z: The market is sponsored by Westchester Vitalization, a non-profit community organization that began the market to bring more people to the downtown shopping area. The market includes approximately 14 farmers with 2 or 3 more during the stone-fruit months of summer. Aki hesitated when we asked for a weekly attendance number, but he did note that someone had counted about 500. It certainly was an active place that morning.

Westchester Certified Farmers' Market
7000 W. Manchester Ave. Intersection of Lincoln Blvd. and La Tijera
Across from Otis College
Wednesdays 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Phone: 310-568-9095

Reviewed May 2001

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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