Z: In our visits to farmers' markets we always try to identify the quality or qualities that make each market unique. Sometimes we even ask the manager, "What's special or unique about your market?" In the case of this market we didn't have to ask. After a few minutes the answer was obvious.
R: That's right. For South Gate it's Fannie Coates Earl. What a dynamo! Fannie, a retired elementary school teacher, makes this market work. It's an all-volunteer effort. The volunteers work four half-days each week at the food bank and farmers' market and receive 100 lbs. of food from the food bank for their efforts.
Z: Fannie and her four volunteer assistants are out every Monday morning. Fannie herself has been involved in the market since 1985 and has acted as manager since 1986. In addition to managing the market, she is executive director of the South Central Food Distributors, a food bank for the needy.
R: She inherited that job when her husband passed away. He had been the director since the food bank was formed in 1983 as a part of the Los Angeles Food Distribution Project initiated by California State Senator Bill Greene.
Z: In addition to assisting non-profit organizations supply food to the needy, another goal of South Central Food Distributors was to establish and sponsor a certified farmers' market to provide low cost, farm-fresh produce to communities surrounding South Central Los Angeles.
R: The market is a joint effort of the cities of South Gate and Compton. The city of South Gate supplies the park space at the southeast corner of South Gate Park in Parking Lot #3, and Compton's city attorney is the attorney of record for the market. Compton also provides space for the food bank in a school district warehouse.
Z: We would not describe the market as swarming with people, but that changed at noon. The 40 to 50 people crowded around the manager's table were looking at their ticket stubs in anticipation of the grand drawing. The farmers had donated thirty bags of items for prizes. To participate in the drawing, people received a ticket when they made a purchase from a farmer. There were many smiles as people walked away with bags of fruits, vegetables, flowers, or plants.
R: The market currently has 18 farmers, a fish vendor, and a bakery. There are no crafts. The 400 to 600 visitors each week contribute to market grosses between $7000 and $8000. This year the market will close in mid-December and re-open in mid-January.
Z: Fannie made a special effort to introduce us to Mary of Johna's Orchard in Tehachapi. Johna's is the only certified organic grower at the market. Mary, whose real name in Korean is Myung, proudly showed us her Fuji apples, Asian pears, Haas avocados, Fuyu persimmons, and clusters of vine tomatoes. The Last Chance Peaches were appropriately named. They were not going to be available the next week. Finding fresh peaches in October is quite a challenge.
R: Mary or Myung, who is also known by her nickname Ohungsu, told us that all the fruits were grown on the 20-acre family farm with eight people doing all the work. She introduced us to Jinni, her niece, who had her own card table loaded with grapes. Jinni, who came to the U.S. one month ago, was engaged in selling grapes to earn money to attend community college.
Z: Fruits, even stone varieties, were in abundance that day. Verni's from Clovis displayed yellow peaches and both red and yellow plums. They had Fuji apples and Red Flame and Thompson seedless grapes as well as shelled almonds and black and golden raisins.
R: We had difficulty communicating with Wan Suk Jung from Lancaster because of his limited skill with English, but his fruits spoke for themselves. He had both Haas and large round Reed avocados. The table included pomegranates, Fuyu persimmons, seedless oranges, and those Last Chance peaches.
Z: It was difficult not to notice the tablecloth used by Scattaglia Family Farms from Littlerock. The tablecloth was good enough to eat with its brightly colored plums, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and grapes. Since their stone fruit season was coming to a close at the end of the month, their table included only giant yellow peaches, black plums, and white nectarines.
R: Two vendors offered a variety of citrus fruits. J and C Ranch of Fillmore had Valencia oranges in bags from 4 lbs. up to 25 lbs. The table also featured red grapefruit, lemons, and Japanese cucumbers. Jim Van Foeken from Ivanhoe also displayed bags of oranges and rounded out his offerings with Fuji apples, Fuyu persimmons, pomegranates, and Yali pears.
Z: Rodriguez Farms from Selma had a great selection of fruits and vegetables including both Jewel and Japanese sweet potatoes. The Japanese variety with its red skin and white flesh has an almost chestnut flavor. Since these are one of Reuben's favorites, we had to take some home. Their table was loaded with different kinds of potatoes: giant Russets, White Rose, Yukons, baby reds, fingerlings, and purple Peruvians. Rodriguez was the only vendor selling both Hachiya and Fuyu persimmons. When we heard one patron exclaiming how sweet the purple tomatillos were, we had to have some.
R: Cervantes from Santa Ana had a multicolor display that included 7 kinds of chili peppers; three colors of bell peppers: red, yellow, and green; three types of onions: red, brown, and white; and three kinds of squash: yellow, Mexican white, and green zucchini.
Z: Celia Santillan of Santillan Farm from Seal Beach expanded our food repertoire that morning with nopales, those spiny cactus pads along with a squash she called Chilacoyote. The Chilacoyote was shaped like a spaghetti squash but had a more textured surface. She also sold aloe vera leaves with those sharp, saw-tooth edges. Celia had a few minutes to give me a nopales lesson. She showed me how to scrape the prickly spines from the nopales, and then instructed me in how to boil them and create a cactus salad by adding Mexican onions, cilantro, tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
R: Actually, Zel added her creative touch by marinating the cooked nopales in a vinegar brine overnight, then adding a little olive oil along with the vegetables the following day. I never thought I would eat a cactus salad, but I must say it was quite good. Jazzy Sprouts was present with their usual array of sprouts but without Dexter and his clarinet.
Z: We should mention the selection of cut flowers at such reasonable prices. My bouquet of bright red asters from Lord Nursery in Carpinteria was only $3. I could have chosen other colors like light or intense pink, fuschia, or brilliant purple, but I was in the mood for red. There were many other temptations. I thought statice only came in lavender but was surprised to see white, yellow, peach, and bright pink along with the traditional purple.
R: Evergreen Nursery had an assortment of potted plants that begged to be taken home. The Cape Honeysuckle with its lipstick red blossoms was in competition with the veronica with its bright purple flowers. The colorful baby roses, pansies, lobelias, and snapdragons were quite appealing.
Z: As we loaded our purchases into the car, we both commented on how a group of dedicated volunteers have contributed so much to their community by operating this farmers' market.
R: Retired after 23 years of teaching, Fannie Coates Earl continues to be an instructor in humanitarian educational projects in her new classroom--the South Gate Certified Farmers' Market.
South Gate Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed November 2002