Z: The big surprise is how successful this market has become in such a short time! It's only been up and running for eight months. The people in the south end of the San Fernando Valley really support this market.
R: Yes, I was aware of a bustling crowd. The first impression is how compact the market is, Ventura Place from Laurel Canyon to Radford Street, just one city block crammed with fifty to sixty vendors depending on the season.
Z: This month's visit put us right at the beginning of the summer fruit season. One of the stands was so fragrant with the aroma of apricots and peaches you could smell them as you passed by.
R: It became a familiar aroma with so many farmers selling apricots, nectarines, peaches, and cherries--all kinds of cherry varieties. We had an opportunity to taste Brooks and Coral varieties. They were all sold out of the Tulare. We learned so much about cherries in talking to James Gama from Gama Farms in Arvin near Bakersfield. His family sells at 23 markets during the summer season and 12 during the winter.
Z: They have 115 acres devoted to cherries and 80 for vegetables. That sounded like an awful lot of cherries to sell at farmer's markets, but James told us that most of their cherries are exported to Asia. The Japanese pay premium prices for cherries, like $20-$40 a pound. I guess we can't complain about $3 - $4 a pound.
R: I didn't realize that it took five years for a cherry tree to produce a good crop. The trees have to be maintained all year for that special three-week harvest. Last year's El Nino was devastating, but this year is a good one, except the crop is late because of the cooler weather. The farmers in the Bakersfield area seem to beat everyone else to market with their cherries.
Z: While you were tasting cherries, I couldn't help noticing the vendors of cut flowers and plants. Skyline Flowers, who we've encountered at several other markets, had their usual colorful display. This month they featured cornflowers, Bells of Ireland, kangaroo plants with burgundy and crimson blossoms and brilliant yellow sunflowers. Then there was Garden of Eva with a variety of potted plants, but what caught my attention was a striking bromeliad with a tall stalk of pink and lavender blossoms. I thought about that bromeliad all during our market visit.
R: Yes, I remember you couldn't stop talking about the bromeliad. So we had to take it home for our yard. I also noticed you were taken by the bonsai plants and all the bright cut flower bouquets and especially those gaillardias. They're the ones with the yellow button centers and red petals, tipped in yellow.
Z: I admit the flowers certainly do add color to the market, but I was really excited about the fresh vegetables. I keep marveling at the fresh organic and no-pesticide vegetables at prices the same or less than the supermarkets. I was enthralled by the lettuces at Culinary Farms of Reseda. Many varieties of hydroponic lettuces and lettuce mixes were new to me, including one with edible flowers. They had romaine, red and green butter, red and green leaf, and red and green batavia. I had never seen red batavia lettuce.
R: Not only did you see it, you bought some. It was interesting to talk to Shigeyuki Okano who not only grows and sells his lettuce but who told us a little bit about the New Hope Foundation that teaches people to grow their own crops. We hope to gather more information on the foundation and present it in a future issue.
Z: The next booth had beautiful certified organic produce from Tanaka Farms. The radishes were so large I thought they were beets. Speaking of beets, we noticed they had golden beets with bright green leaf tops along with sugar snap peas, large artichokes, plump zucchinis, and dark green pattypan squash. These were some of the most beautiful squashes we've seen.
R: Definitely a far cry from the old days when organic usually meant unattractive, bug eaten, and not as appealing as the stuff that was sprayed with who-knows-what. The farmers have brought this fresh, pesticide-free stuff almost to our doorstep.
Z: We had an opportunity to talk to Polly Ward who has managed this market from its beginning in September of last year. In less than a year it's become a quite a successful enterprise.
R: In fact, Polly showed me statistics revealing that this market was number three last year in average amount of sales per farmer. Some of that was because of their smash opening day when the farmers sold out by 11:30.
Z: We learned that the market has between 40 and 50 agricultural booths including produce and flowers, 10 food booths, and arts and crafts vendors, space permitting. During the summer months, when the stone fruits come in, the arts and crafts are cut to make space for the farmers.
R: On market day the manager starts quite early. Polly is there every Sunday at 6:30 a.m. to organize and assign spaces to the vendors. She's a paid employee working 20 hours a week, but she confesses that at the beginning the work week stretched to 70 hours. The market is a joint effort of the Studio City Residents Association and the Chamber of Commerce. Being an active member of the residents association and a retired financial analyst, she was a natural for the job.
Z: It also helps that she is very personable and quite enthusiastic about what she is doing. She sees her job as keeping both the farmers and the public happy. Keeping the farmers happy includes giving them tips on how to make their booths more attractive and encouraging them to be friendly to their customers to increase their sales.
R: The community seems quite happy. In fact, Polly says, "They love it." The attendance averages between 2000 and 2500 on a Sunday. She has a roster of thirty volunteers with 10 who are quite active.
Z: One of the market's neat innovations is the black tote bags on wheels with their farmers' market logo. They're a $40 value that they sell for only $20. Since February they've sold 150 of them.
R: When we reached the end of the farmers' stands close to Radford Avenue, we noticed a little area devoted to families with children. Before we left we watched the kids having a good time on the train ride and some of them in the jumping booth. We resisted having our faces painted or getting balloon animals from Heart Throb the Clown or buying a giant bag of popcorn from Ma and Pa Kettle Korn.
Z: I did have an opportunity to pick up a few breads from Bezjian's Bakery, some great oranges and avocados from Lilac Valley Orchards, and some exotic dried persimmons and berries from Orchard's Best from Reedley. As Betty Kennedy from Orchard's Best says, "We take home what we don't sell fresh, and dry it on Monday." I also bought some baby bok choy and tat soi from a farmer who sold Oriental vegetables.
R: Don't forget we also passed up those giant cookies and sugar-free muffins offered by Arcadia Cafe. We did succumb to purchasing some delicious manzanilla olives from Adam's Ranch in Strathmore and finishing our day with two vegan tamales from the Corn Maiden stand that seems to be at nearly all the farmer's markets we've visited.
Studio City Farmers' Market
Reviewed June 1999