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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 Monrovia Certified Farmers' Market is not only a source of fresh produce but also a family festival and street fair that includes food, crafts, and kiddie entertainment. On a cool Friday afternoon in April the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, journeyed to Monrovia in northeast Los Angeles County to investigate and report back to their eager and curious fans on one of the most successful enterprises in the area.

Z: Driving up Myrtle Avenue, we couldn't miss the giant banner stretched across the street. The message said it all: "Old Town Monrovia Family Festival and Farmers' Markets." The hub of the festival is the intersection of Olive and Myrtle. Most of the action is on Myrtle, but the farmer stands are on Olive, a half-block on either side of the main street.

R: As we walked from our parking spot on Walnut Street, the southern terminus of the market, we passed one of the major attractions, the children's fun area. Typical of festival markets, this one featured a train ride, petting zoo, carrousel, and giant inflated apparatus for jumping sliding and crawling.

Z: By the time we left the market, one could barely navigate through the crowds who were lining up for ticket purchase or waiting to participate in one of the attractions. The kids were having a ball, and when the kids are happy, the whole family has a good time.

R: At the intersection of Olive and Myrtle we paused to listen to the Jeff Winters Trio, one of a group of performers we heard that afternoon. They're a versatile group playing a bit of soft rock, contemporary sounds, and country music.

Z: Because the market was stretched out over 4 large city blocks, it was possible to have other performers without overlapping sounds. I was totally entranced by the sounds of Jose Davila of Peru. He was accompanying his own CD's with his numerous bamboo flutes of various sizes.

R: He had a great sound system and a rhythm machine for percussion, but his dynamic flute playing attracted a number of people at the eastern end of Olive Street. As he played one instrument that was made up of 25 bamboo pipes, he bounced, jumped, and danced with his eyes closed and a happy smile on his face.

Z: Jose, who received his musical education at the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, plays here every Friday. Before we continued on our way, we dropped some money into a container labeled "propinas." As he stopped to play his metal guirro, we noticed his sign listing that he plays at weddings, parties, festivals, and other events.

R: Since we're discussing entertainment, I should mention the acoustic guitarist singing and playing mournful songs in Spanish. Mary White, singing and accompanying herself on the guitar, was attracting an audience at the north end of the market at Lemon Street. She performs locally at the Gem City Grill.

Z: But there's more to this family festival than kiddie rides and entertainment. The emphasis here was on crafts. Almost eighty-five crafters were displaying their wares that afternoon and into the evening. Much of Myrtle Street was lined on both sides with booths and tables with soaps, candles, jewelry, handmade clothing, wood sculpture, stained glass, and more.

R: We had to stop and examine Teresa Chen's traditional Chinese handcrafted creatures made from palm leaves, and then lacquered. Zel was particularly attracted to the dragon and those grasshoppers.

Z: In addition to the palm leaf creations I liked the bonsai made from wire and beads. The one I particularly liked had 939 beads incorporated into a small plant. If only I had taken the man's card. With a smile, he told us he learned the art from a little old lady from Pasadena. Then he said, "seriously."

R: I had to pause briefly to look at the battery jewelry that flashes in the dark. I'm not much of a jewelry person, but I was curious to see how it worked. I had to rush Zel past the face painting booth and the temporary tattoo table just in case she was tempted.

Z: Be serious or I'll buy you one of those Herbal Comfort Pacs for people with arthritis, sore muscles, headaches or cramps.

Avocado R: Then I'll retaliate with one of those "hair scrunchies" to do whatever they do to your hair. But seriously, we need to tell the folks about the farmers and what they offered. That day there were 17 growers that included six offering plants and cut flowers. Six farmers offered citrus and avocados and six were selling what I would call cooking and salad vegetables. Three displayed strawberries while there was only one apple vendor, Ha's from Tehachapi with some wax-free Fujis.

Z: How come that doesn't add up to 17? Of course, some of them were in more than one category. Rosendahl Farms from Caruthers, Pay Produce from Fallbrook, Louis Farms from Ontario, Mulholland Farms from Fresno, Bernard Ranches from Escondido, and California Organic Fruits from Fallbrook all offered citrus items.

R: In addition to their usual dried fruits and nuts, Rosendahl was the only farmer to display oro blancos and pomelos at this market. They also sold huge navels, blood oranges, and tangelos along with artichokes.

Tangerine Z: Mulholland Farms was Mandarin heaven. They had one item--just Mandarins. Pay Produce had three kinds of avocados: Hass, Pinkerton, and Fuerte along with lemons and Satsuma tangerines. Louis Farms displayed navels, avocados, grapefruit, and kumquats. At Bernard Ranches you could buy bags of oranges and lemons or individual lemons, grapefruit and avocados.

R: When we saw the sign California Organic Fruits, we noticed a man sitting on the tailgate of a truck. Speaking to him, we soon learned he was a student who had joined with three other students to purchase a ranch in Fallbrook a year ago. Victor Gonzalez from Paraguay met the other three at Cal Poly Pomona.

Z: The quartet, one from Bolivia, another from Ecuador, and two from Paraguay teamed up to purchase the 32 acres from a farmer who wanted to retire. Victor received his bachelor's degree in Agriculture in a Protected Environment at Osaka University in Japan. When he is not tending to the ranch, he is working on an advanced degree in agribusiness at Cal Poly Pomona.

R: That afternoon he was selling Hass, Fuerte, and Zutano avocados and had a few moments to describe the attributes of each type. He also sold minneola tangerines and Eureka Lemons.

Z: Veggie lovers could find cooking and salad stuff, but very little organic produce. Green Farms, now known as Sun Coast Farms, from Lompoc showed beautiful heads of cauliflower and broccoli and bunches of young asparagus, the thin ones. Valdivia had a great assortment of baby squashes and squash blossoms, snap peas, fresh fava beans in the pod, vine-ripened tomatoes, green tomatoes, and strawberries.

Nopales R: They also featured nopales cactus pads. Zel has never shaved those spines and cooked them but gave it some thought. "Next time," she said. Cervantes Farm from Santa Ana had heaps of giant heads of green leaf, red leaf and romaine lettuces for only $1, half the price of the supermarkets. They were not affected by the frost that troubled growers farther north. Their radishes were almost the size of baseballs. They also marketed broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, asparagus, artichokes, and strawberries. Berumen Farms from Westminster also displayed giant radishes along with onions, cabbages, carrots, and lettuce. Berumen has the good fortune to enjoy the volunteer services of Natalia, a patron who shows up every week to help them sell strawberries. A native of the United Kingdom, Natalia, with her charming British accent, raved that these were the best strawberries at the market.

Z: Gama Farms specialized in potatoes and onions. They had the baby Yukons and our favorite Peruvian purple potatoes. We discovered that flowers and plants played a major role at this market, like 1/3 of the vendors. As we stopped to look at the potted plants at Gonzalez Nursery from Monrovia, one lady saw us and exclaimed, "I bought 3 rose bushes from him. They're beautiful."

R: Denham Nursery from Carpinteria had some spectacular cut flowers. Their mixed bouquets looked like still-life paintings. Those gorgeous flowers with a bright red throats and pink and white tips the seller was calling stargazer lilies were really amaryllises.

Z: The blue hibiscus caught my attention as we looked at the plants by Worldwide Exotics from Lakeview Terrace. But we both paused to examine the Japanese Maple Tree and the Chinese Redwood. They were about 2 1/2 feet tall and would eventually reach 20 to 25 feet.

R: Tarika Thompson from Sylmar showed her orchids but two of her plants were attracting curious potential patrons. The underwater bananas looked like tiny bunches with each mock banana no more than an inch in length. The money tree, a three-foot-high plant, had four thin trunks artfully intertwined.

Z: We looked for Lloyd Fujiwara, the market manager, but he was busily away doing what managers do. Instead we spoke to Dave Gayman, President of Family Festival Productions, Inc. The organization operates festivals in Montrose and Northridge in addition to Monrovia. At the end of this month they are opening Wednesdays in Uptown Whittier, and in June they are launching Thursdays in West Covina.

R: Dave opened this venue in 1990 as a farmers' market only. In 1992 he saw the success that San Dimas was having with the family festival concept. Two months later he decided to emulate San Dimas and has not regretted the move. He estimates the festival attracts 1/4 million visitors a year. That evening he guessed between 4,000 and 4.500 people were in attendance. In the summer the evening total has hit 10,000.

Z: That doesn't sound like exaggeration or wishful thinking. As we walked back to our car, we were dodging and zigzagging down the crowded aisles. Dave is owner of the local hardware store and is partners in Jake's Roadhouse Restaurant that operated a barbecue booth at the festival.

R: Since we found nothing we could or would eat from the eight food vendors, we asked Dave where vegetarians could dine locally. He introduced us to his son Dylan who does the bookkeeping for the organization and has been a committed vegan for the last five years. Dylan suggested a few Indian and Thai restaurants, and we headed off for dinner.

Monrovia Family Festival and Farmers' Markets
Myrtle Ave. and Olive St.
Fridays Jan. and Feb. 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Farmers' Market Only)
March through Dec. 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. (Family Festival & Farmers' Market)
Phone: 626-357-7442

Reviewed May 2002

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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