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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.


The Chinatown Farmers' Market has the distinction of bringing farm-fresh produce to this downtown Los Angeles community for the first time. The two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben spent a warm afternoon in May visiting this market in its second week of existence to gather information to report to their eager and curious fans.

Z: As we drove down North Hill Street after exiting from the Pasadena Freeway, we noticed the signs in both English and Chinese. Directly across the street from Sam Woo's Café and the Chinese Arts and Gifts Company, we noticed the giant parking lot adjacent to the United Commercial Bank. We could see the farmers' tents and tables and knew we were in the right place.

R: Where to park? There were signs that said $3 parking all day. We learned later that you could pay that fee and receive a $2 rebate when you presented your ticket for validation at the market manager's booth. We decided to park on the street and feed the parking meter.

Z: As we surveyed the market, we noticed others with note pads and even cameras. Shortly, instead of interviewing farmers and gathering data, we were being interviewed by Kristin Friedrich of Los Angeles Downtown News. She had noticed our yellow sweatshirts and green hats labeled "Vegetarians in Paradise." She even asked us to pose for a picture.

R: We were also introduced to David Karp whose articles on farmers' markets appear in the Los Angeles Times food section. The market was receiving quite a bit of media attention that afternoon.

Z: The market was also receiving the attention of people in the community who were examining the wares and making purchases from the 15 busy vendors. There was obviously plenty od room for many additional farmers as the market grows. The traditional Chinese music coming from the public address system was the perfect touch to complement the market environment.

R: We stopped to examine the offerings of Kelly Farms from Ontario. Here we learned that Chandler strawberries, which are sweeter and more perishable than most varieties, are a rare treat. Because they are so perishable, very few farmers are growing them anymore. This is the first we've seen of them in two years. To taste was to know how special they are. These had to be the sweetest strawberries I have tasted in years. They also were selling sweet white corn, zucchini, and summer squash. Their white corn was superb as well. Strawberry

Z: Guevara from Santa Maria also had strawberries, the hearty Gaviotas, as well as a wide variety of other produce. Items for sale were red leaf, romaine, and iceberg lettuces, red cabbage, vine tomatoes, beets, scallions, red onions, fava beans in the pod, and squashes including zucchini, Mexican squash, crookneck, and yellow zucchini they were calling "goldzini."

R: Two farmers specialized in the Chinese greens they knew would be familiar items to the shoppers at this market. Visiting the tables of Yang Tao from Fresno and another Chinese farmer who called himself John Farmer, also of Fresno, was pure educational enlightenment in discovering how one culture will eat the parts of plants another culture discards.

Z: We were a little unsure about John's name. He was not fluently conversant in English. When we asked his name, he replied, "John Farmer." We are still not sure what his name really is or whether he was giving us the anglicized version of his first name and telling us that he was a farmer. Fortunately, all the greens on his table were labeled.

R: The dark green Chinese broccoli leaves had white blossoms. Next to them and looking quite similar to Chinese broccoli were the yu choi with their bright yellow blossoms. Also on the tables were squash leaves, bitter melon leaves, yum yum leaves, and samli, all ready to stir fry. More recognizable to me were the heaping mounds of green beans, pickling cucumbers, sugar peas, parsley, and squashes. He sold yellow crookneck, patty pan, zucchini, and light green round zucchini. Zel says they're an heirloom variety called Ronde de Nice.

Z: And they're tastier and sweeter than the familiar zucchini. Yang Tao also had different types of squash and similar greens. Wuo Her patiently identified the baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, bitter melon leaves, and the okra leaves. She also called our attention to the bunches of Chinese celery that we call lovage. The more familiar items included red and brown onions, leeks, fennel bulbs, scallions, cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers, green beans, white and red chard, spinach, and carrots. Fava beans are in season and this farmer offered them already shelled along with shelled peas for those busy cooks who wanted to save preparation time.

R: And for the cook who wants special flavors, they sold bunches of green and purple basil, mint, dill, parsley, and cilantro. Yang Tao offered one more special item that Zel simply can't resist. We had to go home with a kabocha squash.

Cherry Z: Poor Reuben. While he was lugging that big kabocha, I was edging over to see why a large crowd had gathered around one of the tables. Nicholas Farms from Orange Cove near Fresno was giving samples of his cherries. The deep maroon Garnet cherries were large and superbly succulent. One taste was enough to make one a customer. Harry also sold tree-ripened Poppy apricots that were exceptionally sweet and irresistible. We had to have some of each.

R: As we were leaving, Harry Nicholas's assistant, a mature woman, looked at my canvas bag with the big graphic tomato and asked, "Did you buy tomatoes?" As I pointed to Zel, I answered, "I brought my own special tomato." As Zel smiled and walked away, the woman said, "You're not so bad yourself. Don't tell her." Unfortunately, Zel's going to find out when she reads this story.

Z: While Reuben was flirting with that "older woman," I was looking at the citrus from Bernard Ranches from Riverside. They had the last of the navels for the season and lemons, avocados, and two kinds of grapefruit, Marsh White and Star Ruby.

R: We both descended on dahlia heaven. Lilo Enterprises from Alhambra assembled a dramatic collection of colorful giant dahlias ready to take home and transplant. They had pinks, magentas, yellow, coral, white, and even Chinese red.

Z: One of the plants had a blossom larger than my outspread hand. It must have been 7 to 8 inches in diameter and was quite striking. In among all the dahlias they displayed two miniature ornamental pomegranate plants with their bright red blossoms. I'm sure they're good luck.

R: We smiled at Tarika Thompson who remembered meeting us at the Monrovia market last month. She had her underwater bananas and adinium, an appealing euphorbia with bright red blossoms.

Alstroemeria Z: Cho's Flower Farm from Somis greeted market shoppers with colorful bouquets of gerbera daisies, statice, and sunflowers. They sold Asian lily bouquets and bunches of attractive flowers with bronze, gold, and peach blossoms. When we asked the name, Cho graciously wrote "alstroemeria" on our note pad. Alstroemeria is commonly known as Peruvian lily, I mustn't forget to mention the carnations in pinks and reds and, of course, the brilliant Chinese

R: We stopped at the market manager's table at the center of the market and watched as they blew up balloons for the children. The balloons had a picture of a horse with the year 2002. This is the Chinese year of the horse. The tiny print at the bottom read Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and Chinatown Business Improvement District.

Z: Jude Helfman, Market Organizer for the Southland Farmers' Market Association, explained that this is one of 22 markets in the group. Southland is sponsoring this market in conjunction with the Chinatown Business Improvement District. Jude was formerly the manager of the South Pasadena Farmers' Market.

R: She introduced us to Howell Tumlin, executive director of Southland, who had stopped by to see how the market was going. She also introduced us to Carolyn Davine who is the manager of this new market. Carolyn, whose background is in entertainment management, is learning about farmers' markets rather quickly. Carolyn describes this experience as "a fun Thursday gig."

Z: The plan is to have a formal grand opening on June 20 with the mayor and other celebrity guests in attendance. They expect to have food vendors including a roasted chestnut vendor by then and hope to feature Chinese calligraphy, knotting, and cooking demonstrations. The cooking demonstrations would feature chefs from local restaurants.

R: As we headed back to our car, we stopped to read the large sign with the title, "What Is a Certified Farmers' Market?" It answered these questions: "What is Certified Produce?' and "What Are the Benefits of Certified Produce?" The last line said, "Enjoy Your Chinatown Farmers' Market."

Z: We certainly did.

Chinatown Certified Farmers' Market
North Hill Street between Alpine and Ord
Thursdays 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Phone: 213-680-0243

Reviewed June 2002

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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