Z: Finding the market was quite a challenge. We knew the market was in a mall at 7th and Figueroa Streets, but we were not sure which corner and where to park.
R: When we approached other farmers' markets, we would notice awnings, cupolas, and tents and see signs that would indicate the presence of a market. In this case we saw no signs and no indications of the market. We knew there was parking for the 7 + Fig mall, so we drove into the parking structure.
Z: We asked the attendant about a farmers' market in the mall. When he answered that there was none, we assumed we had the wrong place.
R: We drove around the block a few times trying to figure out where the market could be. Finally, we stopped to ask a pedestrian. He answered by pointing toward where we had originally attempted to park. This time there was another parking attendant. We didn't bother to ask, but continued in and found a parking place on Level 9 after spending 40 minutes trying to locate the market.
Z: We took the elevator down to the ground floor and walked through a long corridor that connected the parking structure with the mall. When we emerged from the corridor, we were in the 7 + Fig International Food Court.
R: This outdoor area resembled a geodesic dome with a large circular opening at the top. Ten palm trees planted in the food court poked their way through the opening. The food court was filled with tables where people sat chatting over coffee, snacks, or meals they could buy in the mall and enjoy in this outdoor downtown oasis.
Z: The first question that came to me was, "Where are the farmers?" Looking around the circular perimeter of the court, I noticed a table with few bunches of grapes: a pile of green grapes and a mound of black grapes. Across the way was a vendor with a table filled with peaches, nectarines, and more green and black grapes. Between the two was a flower grower with an extensive display of striking cut flower bouquets.
R: Those were the only agricultural products being sold. Food vendors included Yummy You Love Crepes, Corn Maiden Tamales, Hulapop Kettle Korn, and Fruit Patch, a packager of dried fruits and nuts.
Z: There wasn't a vegetable in sight. We couldn't hide our disappointment. We had visited farmers' markets that were struggling to survive or that ceased operation after our visit, but they all had one thing in common--they offered more produce choices than this one.
R: We had an opportunity to talk to Katalin Antal whose title is Property Assistant Retail for the Trizec, the corporation that owns the mall at Ernst and Young Plaza and the skyscraper where their offices are located.
Z: Kat, as she's called by her Trizec associates, has her office on the 18th floor of the skyscraper. She's in charge of managing the mall with its 42 retail businesses. One of her duties is managing the farmers' market that takes approximately one hour of her time each week.
R: She explained that one problem farmers face is not being able to bring their trucks closer to their selling spaces. They must leave their trucks in the parking structure and move their produce to the food court. The one exception would be for trucks that are too large. They could park at the mall's loading dock.
Z: Kat told us that market had been in operation for about ten years, but she was not certain exactly when the market began. She has been the manager for three years. She did point out that in 2002 7 + Fig was listed in the Zagat survey for farmers' markets.
R: This market has no crafts because they would compete with mall stores. On that note, Corn Maiden is not permitted to sell their burritos because they would be in competition with a mall food outlet. The food vendors have been with the market a long time, but no new ones will be added. Like other farmers' markets the vendors pay a commission on their sales. The 7 + Fig Market puts this money into an account and at Christmas time donates it to a selected charity.
Z: Trizec sets up a 25 to 30 foot Christmas tree and has a party and tree lighting ceremony complete with celebrities. That's when a check is presented to the charity.
R: What surprised me was the parking validation. None of the vendors of the farmers' market could validate the parking ticket. It could only be validated when you made a purchase from one of the mall stores. Kat was kind enough to validate our parking ticket.
Z: After speaking to Kat, we returned to the food court. By this time we were feeling those hunger pangs. So were many others. The tables were almost all filled. The line for crepes was quite long. About 20 Corn Maiden fans waited patiently to place their orders.
R: Before joining the Corn Maiden throng, we stopped at the table of Lim's Orchards from Tehachapi to buy a white peach and a white nectarine for our dessert. They also offered both green and black grapes.
Z: We knew we could find a few vegan choices at Corn Maiden. That day they had one of our favorites, green corn with sweet yellow corn as well as a spinach, artichoke hearts, fresh corn, and chipotle tamale we had not tasted before. A splash of tomatillo salsa went on the green corn, while black bean and cilantro sauce graced the spinach tamale.
R: As usual they were excellent. Before we leave a market, we usually make our own purchases in an effort to support the farmers by bringing home some fresh organic produce and some unusual fruits or vegetables. In this market we focused on Cho's flowers. We had met the family at other markets. Daughter Tiffany Cho, a student at CSUN, told us the family has a 20-acre farm in Somis and has been in the flower business for 20 years.
Z: Earlier I had spotted a Teddy Bear Sunflower bouquet that was breathtaking. The sunflowers were 4-inches across and had a light green center button surrounded by a thick, feathery spray of slender yellow petals tipped with orange. Solidago, Oriental lilies, and statice completed the bouquet. When we returned they were all sold out. I had to settle for a beautiful bouquet with variegated orange and yellow gerbera daisies and purple statice.
R: As we walked back down the long corridor to the parking structure, we did our own postmortem on the market. Neither of us felt this could honestly be called a farmers' market. It was a farmers' market trying to be a farmers' market.
Z: In our discussion with Kat, she assured us that everyone knew it was there, but without prominent signage, how would newcomers know it existed. Many successful farmers markets have banners lining the streets near the market location.
R: Farmers need easier access. They want and need their trucks close to their selling spaces. Without a representative number of growers, you don't have a true farmers' market. I have one suggestion to Kat to attract more farmers and patrons. Move the market to the sidewalk along Figueroa. Let the farmers park where the taxicabs pull up to the plaza. In that way the market would be visible from the street, and farmers would have easier access.
7 + Fig Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed September 2003