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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

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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.


In a community effort to bring farm-fresh produce to an area that had no farmers' markets, the Central Avenue Certified Farmers' Market opened earlier this year. On a warm Saturday morning in July the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their colorful VIP tee-shirts and journeyed to South Central Los Angeles to engage in a thorough investigation of this new market and report their findings to curious fans.

Z: Apparently this market is important enough for the community to close down a one-block area of a major north-south thoroughfare and divert traffic to nearby streets. That block happens to be labeled the Historic Central Avenue Jazz Corridor.

R: As we approached the corner of 42nd Street, we stopped to read the sign that referred to this area as "Little Harlem." The corner building was the former location of the Down Beat Club where jazz reed player Buddy Collette led his Stars of Swing in 1946. The sign described the club as a "popular destination for Hollywood celebrities and upper class residents of Beverly Hills."

Z: Looking down the barricaded street, we could see that the market was small and fit comfortably into a one-block segment of Central Avenue from 42nd Street to 42nd Place. At 42nd Place another sign told us we were at Duke Ellington Square. We were standing in front of the Dunbar Hotel.

Dunbar Hotel
R: I almost felt there was jazz in the background, but I know it was my imagination. All the prominent jazz musicians played at jazz clubs along Central Avenue in the 1930's and 1940's, and they stayed at the Dunbar Hotel because they could not get accommodations anywhere else. Entertainers like Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Lionel Hampton could be seen walking along Central Avenue and entering this famous hotel. The Dunbar opened its doors June 23, 1928 and is celebrating its diamond jubilee this year.

Z: Fortunately, the hotel has been restored and is now maintained by the Dunbar Economic Development Corporation, one of the sponsors of the farmers' market. You weren't hearing jazz that morning, but if we had come two weeks later, we would have been present at the 8th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival in addition to the farmers' market.

R: Since you credited the Dunbar people as one of the sponsors, we should also mention two significant others: Councilwoman Jan Perry and Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA). SEE-LA, headed by Pompea Smith, manages this market and is responsible for the Hollywood Farmers' Market, one of the largest and most successful markets in Southern California.

Z: That morning we were able to talk to Pompea's two able assistants, Melanie Plies and Synovia Jones. As we approached the manager's table we watched Synovia cutting fruit for a fruit salad to be sampled by the patrons of the market. The sample salad cups were brimming with a colorful combination of fresh fruits supplied by the farmers: peaches, cherries, plums, oranges, almonds, raisins, coconut, and a squeeze of orange juice. This activity was part of the "Good Cooking" demo advertised in their flyer. The flyer also contains a $1 coupon toward any market purchase. The previous week they gave away free balloons, and invited everyone to participate in the free raffle of produce.

R: The week after our visit they scheduled "Ask the Dietician!" who will give nutrition advice and offer samples of a tasty recipe. And, of course, the week after that will be the Jazz Festival. When Synovia saw our Vegetarians in Paradise tee shirts, she proudly announced that she has been a vegetarian for over 20 years.

Z: She looked great in her attractive two-piece white gauze pants and top. When we complimented her on how great she looked, she told us that in addition to her veggie diet, she works out regularly. Synovia started her farmers' market career at the Hollywood market as a craft vendor. She has been there for the last 12 years selling her own clothing designs She now focuses on children's bibs and hats.

Carrots R: Melanie Plies, who just happens to be a VIP fan, joined SEE-LA as her first job out of college. She has helped at the Hollywood Market, the Sears Market on Santa Monica, the now defunct Media Center Market, and now at this market. She had a few minutes to tell us about how SEE-LA had organized farmer visits to schools where they talked about their farms and gave out samples of some of the items they grow. She told us that 13 farmers visited 80 schools in the Los Angeles Unified Schools District. Altogether there was a total of 200 visits involving 40,000 pupils.

Z: When we asked how many vendors participated in this market, Melanie responded with eight farmers and four food vendors. Synovia was quick to announce that Hollywood also began with eight farmers. Melanie reminded us of the relative newness of the market that began operating March 22, 2003 and will be four months old during the jazz festival.

R: In our survey of the produce that day we found an ample variety of fruits and vegetables. Two vendors emphasized citrus. Bernard Ranches of Riverside featured bags of Valencia oranges, Marsh and Ruby Red grapefruit, lemons and avocados while Jorge Ganto of Temecula offered Ruby Red grapefruit, Haas avocados, and lemons. When we asked about the variety of lemons, he responded that they were Lisbon similar to Eureka.

Z: Cervantes of Santa Ana arrived with white and bicolor corn, green beans, pickling cucumbers, Mexican squash, zucchini, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, romaine, and red, brown, and white onions. Fruit lovers could find strawberries and cantaloupes on the table as well. Those who want to add a bit of fire to their favorite dishes could purchase chilis like jalapenos, serranos, and hot yellow peppers.

R: Asking about the name of the yellow peppers led to a discussion as two of the vendors finally settled on chili huero. But the one item you didn't mention in that long list was the carrots, those short, fat, stubby things we carried home. Those funny looking carrots turned out to be surprisingly sweet. Z Ranch of Costa Mesa also had jalapenos along with tomatoes, sweet onions, cantaloupes, beautiful white corn, and those baby seedless watermelons you described as "darling."

Z: The vendors featuring fruits had some irresistible temptations. The fruits we find at farmers' markets are generally much more tasty than those tasteless things sitting in the bins at many supermarkets. Tenerelli Orchards from Littlerock had a giant sign that said "duraznos" above their yellow peaches. They also featured cups of Rainier cherries.

Fig R: The fruit highlight for both of us was at MB Farms of Fresno. They had their usual great display of dried fruits and nuts, but that morning we were plum taken aback. What we normally call black plums and Santa Rosas turned out to be Show Time and Prime Time. What tasty plums! They were proof we were in Prime Time. They also sold yellow nectarines and doughnut peaches.

Z: And the fresh figs were to die for. I haven't tasted a fresh fig that sweet in a long while. A green basket of figs had to find its way into our shopping bag. After tasting them at home we regretted not buying two baskets.

R: As we walked back to our car, we both almost simultaneously expressed the hope that this market is successful in attracting the support of the community. We wanted the Central Avenue Farmers' Market to make its own history in a community that possesses so many historic traditions.

Central Avenue Certified Farmers' Market
Central Avenue at 42nd Place
Saturdays 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Phone: 323-463-2309

Reviewed August 2003

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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