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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.

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One overcast Wednesday morning in March the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, zoomed along the 10 to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. What follows is their experience at the largest farmers' market in Southern California.

Z: Largest is not the word to use. Humongous is more like it. We were amazed at the size of this market. Not only size, but we found this market was more serious than the others. It didn't have the carnival atmosphere. The focus was on farm fresh produce.

R: I noticed that immediately. There were no street musicians or people selling crafts or clothing. The only non-agricultural booths were the two bakeries and the fish vendors. All the others were farmers with tables loaded with fresh-picked fruits and vegetables. Before we go any further, we should tell everyone where to find this agricultural oasis.

Z: The market is on Arizona between Second Street and Fourth Street. It actually goes a bit beyond Second Street. At Second it goes off a half block in each direction. With approximately 85 vendors the choices were great. I couldn't believe the size of the strawberries. They were as large as plums. Harry's Berries from Oxnard had Seascape and Chandler varieties. There were many tables featuring Fuji apples with wedges we could taste before we bought. As usual, the prices were the same if not better than the markets.

Strawberry'>

<B>R</B>: And citrus galore. A few of the stands had oranges, blood oranges, tangerines and tangelos, grapefruit, and pomelos.  One vendor had bags of navels available. Before we left we scooped up a five pound bag of navels.

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<B>Z</B>:  I was intrigued by the oriental vegetables. There were Chinese cucumbers and huge daikon radishes. They also had daikon sprouts and komatsuma (mustard spinach or Japanese spinach). I looked at the mitsuba, but I ended up putting mizuna and tat soi into my canvas shopping bag.

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<B>R</B>: You mean shopping bags. Mine was starting to get heavy, so I took it back to the car. I found out later that we could have parked free for two hours at any of the four municipal parking structures on Second and Fourth Streets. I fed the meter and came back to continue. When I rejoined Zel, she had already bought her root stock avocados from Herbal Organic Citrus located in Fallbrook.

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<B>Z</B>: While you were gone I bought some of the cutest little tangerines the size of plump radishes. Speaking of radishes, I couldn't resist the bunches of multicolored varieties selling at three for a dollar.

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<B>R</B>: You also couldn't pass up those green tomatoes for the pasta sauce you've been promising to make. There were a few places with asparagus which also found its way into your bag. I got back just in time to see you snap up a bunch of giant kohlrabi.

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<B>Z</B>: I also bought some carrots and beets for one of my roasted vegetable recipes. Since we enjoyed the Tahitian squash from the last farmers' market, I had to buy another large chunk.

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<B>R</B>: I'm glad you resisted Simply Worms. Chris Wilson from Playa Del Rey was selling worm farms and bags of worm castings to use in the garden. She described how to make worm tea that's brewed with the castings. My fear was that you'd buy some and serve it as an after-dinner drink. 

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<B>Z</B>: Oh, Reuben! Be nice. I enjoyed talking to Gary and Penny Tremper who sell jojoba oil in all kinds of attractive bottles. They have this seed oil expeller machine that weighs all of 1600 lbs. Gary says the oil is good for acne, eczema, mosquito bites, whiteheads, poison oak itch, and more. Their slogan is R: Speaking about talking to people, I found Jack Bezjian of Bezjian's Bakery quite interesting and very passionate about his breads. He started selling imported foods in 1966. The following year he opened his bakery that produced pocket pita breads. When his oven broke in 1985, he rethought his bread-making process and through experimentation came up with his natural wild yeast process. His breads have no preservatives and natural wild yeast rather than baker's yeast.

Z: We took home some spelt bread and a whole wheat bread, but there were so many other tempting choices.

R: As we visit these markets we learn quite a bit by talking to the managers. We began by introducing ourselves to Ted Galvan, the assistant manager. He's a city employee who works part time and has been with the market for seven years. He introduced us to Vivian Spadafore, a volunteer, and Laura Avery who is the market manager. The three of them run the Wednesday market.

Z: Laura has been market manager for 17 years. She told us that the mayor and city manager started the market in the summer of 1981. They wanted to do something for the senior citizens and revive business on the Third Street Promenade which had fallen on hard times. The market had 23 vendors from the start and was quite successful, so much so that they sought a manager. Laura signed on the second year and has been in charge ever since.

R: The Wednesday market now has up to 90 vendors in the summer and is the largest agricultural market in number of participants in the state of California. They used to go to 3:00 p.m. but the farmers complained about getting on the road at that hour. The hours are now 9-2. The Saturday market, managed by Mort Bernstein, is much smaller.

Z: Laura described how the chefs from the finest restaurants in the Los Angeles area shop the market for fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the chefs tells people that the best day to come to her restaurant is Thursday after she has been to the Santa Monica Market. "Farmers at this market grow things just for the customers they meet here, " she says.

R: Really exciting to her is the Santa Monica School District purchases of produce for salad bars at eight area elementary schools. "Salad bar consumption at those schools has increased eightfold, " she says. "The kids are eating more salads. The teachers are buying more salad bar lunches."

Z: She described how bus loads of kids are brought to the market on field trips. The kids tour the market and have an opportunity to meet the farmers who grow the vegetables for the salad bars.

R: The market visit was not complete until Zel could make a few more purchases from all those dried fruit possibilities. The biggest and sweetest golden flame raisins from Peacock Family Farms in Dinuba went into the bag along with those honey dates from DaVall Gardens in Coachella.

Z: I was happy because at Coleman Family Farms I got the black kale I missed at the last market. They even had beautiful Sierra lettuce, and bunches of fresh pea shoots that provided wonderful variety to our salad that night.

Santa Monica Farmers' Market
Arizona Avenue between 2nd Street and 4th Street
Wednesdays 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Saturdays 8:30 to 1:00 p.m.
Open rain or shine.

Reviewed April 1999


Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews


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