Z: When we began publishing Vegetarians in Paradise in January 1999, we thought it would be a good idea to visit farmers' markets and report back to the local vegetarian community about the wonderful fresh and even organic produce available. We wanted to encourage people in the community to take advantage of this opportunity and to support the farmers at the same time.
R: In our second issue we reported on the Torrance Certified Farmers' Market which at that time was the third largest market in Los Angeles County. Hollywood and Santa Monica occupied the top two positions. Incidentally, our first market report in January 1999 was the Hollywood Certified Farmers' Market. We covered Santa Monica in April 1999.
Z: When we approached the Torrance market in Wilson Park on that windy Tuesday morning, we were surprised by the absence of cupolas and awnings that usually announce the presence of a farmers' market. We soon learned that the gusts were so strong they would have wreaked havoc with the awnings.
R: The farmers were at quite a disadvantage because the sun and wind were drying out the produce. We learned that the weather had a pronounced effect on the market during February. It had rained on two of the Saturdays that month. On those days the market was forced to close early.
Z: Mary Lou Weiss and her intrepid volunteers greeted us. Mary Lou has been manager for over 11 years. She is assisted by her 14 loyal senior volunteers whose ages range from 65 to 87. Funny, when we visited the market in 1999 the range in ages was 73 to 87.
R: Those seniors are extremely loyal. It's like a job to them. They show up every week, rain or shine. In fact, the farmers and volunteers all seem to be one big family. Mary Lou pointed out a park bench that had been dedicated to one of the volunteers who had passed away.
Z: There was sadness at the market that day because one of the vendors had passed away after a struggle with cancer. Margaret Saavedra, founder and President of Beautiful Soap Company, died on March 14. Flyers announced a gravesite service in her honor at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth.
R: There has not been much change in the number of vendors in recent years. It seems to hold at about 65 farmers on both Tuesday and Saturday. The market has a different flavor on both days. Mary Lou describes Tuesday as "lots of seniors and mommies with strollers," while Saturday is characterized as "the family crowd and the singles,"
Z: The Saturday market is more successful and usually draws almost twice as many people as Tuesday. There are 12 organic farmers on Tuesday, while there are 15 on Saturday. On Tuesdays the farmers donate produce to be awarded as prizes in a special raffle.
R: There was both good news and bad news for the market that morning. The good news was the agricultural inspection. "You get 100% today. Everything was perfect," were the words of the inspector. There were no instances of farmers selling produce they had not grown. If a farmer sells produce that he has not grown, he can lose his certificate to participate. May Lou is very firm about evicting farmers who lie and cheat about what they are selling. She described an incident where she caught a farmer selling Turkish apricots. She was surprised that he thought he could fool everyone.
Z: That's bad news, but more bad news that morning was that the nutritionists were unable to do their once-a-month thing where they hand out recipes and answer questions. It was just too windy for them.
R: What we liked about this market was that with 65 farmers there was quite a diversity of choices. We counted 11 farmers who had arrived with citrus including navel oranges, pink grapefruit, tangerines, Mineola tangelos, blood oranges, sweet limes, lemons, Meyer lemons, pomelos, and Oro Blancos.
Z: We had discovered Oro blancos at the Westchester market a few years ago and then at the Palos Verdes Market last year. June Kashima of K and K Ranch in Orosi looked at our bright yellow shirts and remembered us from the Westchester market. She was selling giant pomelos, both pink and white fleshed. They weren't the world's largest, but were quite sizable. We had to take home a few Oro Blancos. Anyone who hasn't tasted one is missing a special treat.
R: As we noted in a previous article, Oro Blancos are a cross between a grapefruit and a pomelo. They're the sweetest grapefruit you'll ever taste. In some parts of the country they're called "sweeties." K and K was also selling the last of the season Mineolas, and black and gold raisins.
Z: Thys from Fallbrook also had a representative assortment of citrus that included Star Ruby grapefruit, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, Oro Blancos, pomelos, tangelos, tangerines, navel oranges, lemons, and sweet limes that had yellow skins. They were one of two vendors offering kumquats, and one of three selling cherimoyas, also known as custard apples. It's been awhile since we've had a cherimoya, so we had the farmer pick out a couple for us to buy. Nothing compares to that unusually succulent sweetness and tangy, custardy flavor.
R: Rios Vista Ranch in Fallbrook also specializes in exotic fruits. They featured kumquats, pomelos, and cherimoyas along with navels, lemons, blood oranges, Mineolas, and two varieties of avocados: Reed and Haas. Vista Mundo of Santa Barbara is also involved in the exotic fruit scene with cherimoyas and tree melons in their inventory. They call it a tree melon, but it is really a pepino or pepino dulce.
Z: Pepino is Spanish for cucumber and dulce means sweet. This yellow-skinned fruit with streaks of purple is between four and six inches in length and is a member of the nightshade family along with peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes.
R: Pepinos grow on shrubs that reach a height of 3 feet. The plant has evergreen leaves and purple blossoms. It's difficult to understand how it ended up being named cucumber in Spanish. The inside contains a sweet orange or yellow flesh with edible seeds. We had seen Visto Mundo at the Redondo Beach market in December 2002. After we had surveyed the market, we returned to their table and found they had already packed up and left. What a disappointment that was! Now, four months later we finally have our opportunity to taste a tree melon.
Z: You mean pepino. I noticed Chandler Farms from Fresno still had grapes, but his season will be over the end of March. They sold seedless crimson and seedless ruby varieties, the only ones available at the market.
R: We noticed a large crowd around one of the tables. Standing in front of the group was Jim Weiss who was doing his annual orchid potting demonstration. Jim, who just happens to be the husband of the market manager, attracted a crowd of about thirty as he held up plants and described the process.
Z: Speaking of flowers, this market had a great selection of cut flowers and potted plants. We renewed our acquaintance with Peter Lee of Environmental Arts who grows his small pots of herbs and vegetables under the power lines near the Harbor Freeway. We learned his story when we visited the Culver City market a few years ago. As for cut flowers, I was drawn to the dramatic cinerarias sold by Ipatzi Nursery from Moorpark. They had bicolor varieties that were breathtaking: white with purple tips, red with white throats, dusty orange with white throats, or purple with white throats.
R: Their brilliant red and yellow Fire Island mums and the giant tulips in red, yellow and pink created a colorful visual oasis at the market. Nearby, Vaca Nursery displayed their stunning ranunculus in a rainbow of colors. Among their other potted plants were tree roses, begonias, impatiens, and Zel's favorite yellow and purple pansies.
Z: Strawberries and veggies were offered by a number of farmers. I counted seven vendors of strawberries. If anyone wanted sweet potatoes or yams, they could be found at Fetzner Farms from Paradise. Both Zuckerman Farms and Weiser Farms had their usual assortment of potatoes in all sizes and colors.
R: Ha's and Kosmo had their usual displays of apples. That morning Kosmo had a variety I had never seen before: Sundowner. It's a red-skinned apple with a tart, tangy flavor.
Z: A variety of salad greens and cooking vegetables were available from Tanaka, Tomai, Valley Heights, Rivas, and Nakamura, most of whom are represented at other markets in the Los Angeles area.
R: What we haven't seen at farmers' markets are kiwis. Jack Martin from Bakersfield had 2 lb. bags he was selling for $2.50. These were odd-shaped ones he can't ship around the country because they look weird and misshapen. Jack told us he's been farming for over 50 years. He'll be back in the summer with stone fruits he grows on his 600-acre ranch.
Z: Another unusual find was Papa Bono who grows macadamia nuts in Temecula. He was quite colorful in his straw hat with a band of macadamias around the brim. He wore a maclei (a macadamia nut lei) over his colorful Hawaiian shirt. Papa Bono, whose real name is Vincent J. Bonofiglio, had a few minutes to tell us his story.
R: I can't believe he's 83 years old. He bounces around the market like a young kid. Maybe it's because he eats macadamias. He told us about a study that said eating three a day reduces cholesterol. He was quick to point out that macadamias have the highest content of monounsaturated oil.
Z: We even heard proud Papa Bono's story. A World War II veteran, he settled in Hawaii and raised 6 children. He now has 17 grandchildren and 3 great grandkids. While in Hawaii he began growing macadamia nuts and markets them as Bono Macs of Hawaii. Information on Bono Macs can be found on the web at http://www.bonomacs.com
R: Of, course there was entertainment at this market. Right at the entrance we spotted a sign that read, "Support Live Music." Playing guitar and harmonica was our friend Hisao Shinagawa, who we have met at other markets. A prolific songwriter, Hisao was not singing one of his own songs at that moment. He was giving his own touch to "American Pie" in a combination of Japanese and heavily accented English. As he sang, this diminutive entertainer was bouncing back and forth and flashing big smiles at his audience.
Z: As we walked back to our car with bags filled with our purchases of fruit and vegetables, I kept thinking about one of the statistics Mary Lou Weiss gave to us earlier. There are 76 farmers markets in Los Angeles County today and over 400 in California. For those who love fresh fruits and vegetables, this is truly a vegetarian's paradise.
Torrance Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2003