Z: There we were headed back to high school after all those years. This was the first market we had visited that was located on a school campus. We later learned this was indeed a rarity for farmers markets.
R: Evidently Bender Farms that operates the market needs a zoning variance to have a farmers' market on the school parking lot. They lease the parking lot from Los Angeles Unified School District, but they pay fees to the high school, not the school district. The high school shares the profits with Bender Farms.
Z: Barbara Haskins, market manager, works for Bender Farms, a Santa Paula flower grower that is represented in 17 markets around Southern California. Barbara who does double duty as manager and flower vendor for her company, is a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a major in crop science and horticulture. Instead of being involved in growing flowers, she has been marketing flowers since 1998.
R: Looking around the market, we couldn't help noticing the colorful, giant banner announcing Bender Farms. The most striking flowers were the Solé Mio gerbera daisies in a variety of brilliant colors. We were especially drawn to the ones with the variegated orange center and orange-tipped bright yellow petals.
Z: I love gerbera daisies, but that variety was truly spectacular. They also had some pink ones with pastel coral centers. Tulips were in abundance in white, yellow, red, and a coral/yellow combination. They also offered Asiatic lilies and ranunculus in white and pink shades.
R: Don't forget the purple Dutch iris and the ultra-fragrant white and coral tuberoses. Those white mums with the yellow honeycomb centers had Zel exclaiming, "How beautiful!"
Z: The mums and the gerbera daisies were the most striking flowers in their booth. Those who wanted to grow their own flowers had some attractive, inexpensive choices from Vaca Nursery. Begonias, dianthus, and primroses were some of the inexpensive choices in 4" pots. Each pot was $.50, but a buyer could walk away with a flat of 16 for $8.00.
R: Wait a minute. The quantity price sounds like a good deal, but it still comes out to $.50 a pot. As we walked through the market, we could hear the sounds of a bluegrass group called Sometimes in Tune. Laura and Joel Garfield and Margee Schubert comprise the group that includes fiddle, guitar, and banjo.
Z: We're not bluegrass fans, but we felt the music added a festive air to the occasion. Besides, as far as we were concerned, they were always in tune. As the banjo player strummed away, we stopped to talk to David Yang of Yang Farm in Fresno. Evidently the family loads their truck and heads south for the weekend. They stay at a motel and the family divides up to offer their produce at different markets.
R: As David sold their wares here, other family members were presenting their vegetables at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. David told us their 11-acre farm is a job for his family of seven. They have 8 nieces and nephews that also pitch in. When he's not helping on the farm or selling produce, David spends his time at Sunnyside High School in Fresno. He's a senior and plans to study auto mechanics at Fresno State College.
Z: On his table we noticed two items we rarely see at farmers' markets: sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes and stalks of sugar cane. We asked about the sugar cane that he had in lengths from 5 to 8 feet. David instructed us on the proper technique for enjoying sugar cane; just peel off the outer bark, slice off a half-inch piece, and chew to get the sweetness. Because of its tough fibers, sugar cane is not completely edible.
R: We decided to take home one of the smaller stalks that cost us a dollar. The larger ones were two dollars. As we were talking to him about the cane stalks, other people stopped to listen. Soon he had almost sold out of cane stalks.
Z: On his table he also displayed red beets, daikon radishes, romaine, celery, green and red cabbage, Chinese broccoli, bok choy, bunches of lemon grass, and fresh ginger. We use the ginger to make our favorite ginger tea, a soothing beverage that cures a multitude of ills.
R: But we don't have a multitude of ills! Directly across from the Yang table was Gaytan Farms from Mira Loma. Along with their sweet Galinda strawberries, they offered vine-ripened and cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, broccoli, radishes, and Brussels sprouts.
Z: The Berry Best people from Oxnard were present with one item, Camarosa strawberries. We witnessed a disagreement between the two vendors of strawberries about price-cutting. One of the vendors approached the market manager to complain about the other lowering prices.
R: Fruits were available from Remick Farms of Reedley and Bay Produce from Fallbrook. Remick sold bags of navel oranges, Meyer lemons, and Pink Lady and Fuji apples. Bay Produce also had citrus with navel oranges, Minneola tangelos, and Satsuma and Clementine tangerines. Fuerte avocados, red flame grapes, and Asian pears rounded out their display.
Z: We were curious about the craft offerings at the market and stopped to examine the soaps, moisturizers and creams sold by Tracy's Touch. I was impressed by the handmade jewelry of MsdDragonGems especially a necklace of tigereye stone.
R: Robert Hughes of Therapeutic Body Work offered both of us massages, but we graciously declined. We did stop at the Taft Girls Soccer table to talk to Megan, Katy, and Annie. They were taking orders from a catalog called Chocolate Indulgences with all profits going to their team. When we announced we were Vegetarians in Paradise, Megan proudly told us she was one of us.
Z: As we were leaving the market, we stopped to say goodbye to Barbara Haskins who handed us a gift of two bouquets: tuberoses and irises. We thanked her profusely as we headed for our car with our market purchases. At home we put our flower bouquets in water and noticed the intense fragrance of the tuberoses seemed to fill a whole room with such a sweet aroma.
R: To stimulate sales Barbara issues forms to customers. When they make a purchase, the farmer signs for that amount. When the purchases reach $20, the buyer receives a coupon for $5 to be redeemed the following week. This and other promotions and advertising will hopefully bring more customers to the market.
Z: One step they are taking is to move the market to Saturdays to avoid heavier competition on Sundays. They also hope to attract some of the spectators coming to track meets at the school.
R: By the time our readers see this story, the market will be operating on Saturdays from 10 to 3. Hopefully, the community will support this market that is struggling to survive.
Woodland Hills -Taft Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed February 2003