Z: Approaching the La Canada Flintridge market, we noticed the cupolas and barricades that usually announce the presence of a farmers' market. In this case Beulah Drive north of Foothill Boulevard is closed for one entire block on Saturday mornings. As we looked north, we could see the beautifully majestic San Gabriel Mountains providing a breathtaking scenic backdrop.
R: That sight was accompanied by the musical sounds of Seasons of Us with soft, melodic songs providing a contrast to the bustle of the market. We paused for a few minutes to listen to Bill on the guitar and Stephanie on flute playing "Over the Rainbow" followed by a bossa nova melody. When the group took a break, patrons could hear selections from one of their CD's that were on sale.
Z: For a market only open since mid-October, this enterprise had the feeling it would be in the community for quite awhile. We noticed a steady stream of patrons examining the wares of the 21 growers providing an ample variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
R: Not only ample but unusual items we don't find at every market. Rancho Santa Cecilia from Carpinteria offered sapotes, cherimoyas, and pineapple guavas along with the more common Haas avocados, and Satsuma tangerines. Of course, we had to have a cherimoya, that's also known as a custard apple. Three green sapotes also found their way into our canvas VegNews shopping bag.
Z: I love the sound of Rancho Santa Cecilia. The name has a romantic feeling of early California history. While you're talking about exotic fruits, pineapple guava is not really a type of guava, but a fruit whose real name is feijoa. Actually, names don't matter if they taste good, and they certainly did.
R: In contrast to all that sweetness, we found something with a spicy bite at Gama Farms from Arvin. What we thought were red carrots turned out to be giant Mexican radishes. Jason, whose father Gerardo operates the farm, explained that peeling the radishes would give you a milder taste. If you wanted the bite, just wash and eat. We discovered the giant radish leaves are also edible and add a nice spicy touch to a salad of greens. Along with beets, carrots, turnips, red scallions, onions, shallots, and navel oranges, they offered a selection of potatoes that included fingerlings, Yukon gold, Peruvian purple, White Rose, Red Rose, and Russets.
Z: I was impressed with some of the items at the Andres Farms from Orosi. Aurora remembered us from our meeting at the Melrose Place market. She was happy to tell us about what she called Lipstick peppers. They look like hot chile peppers but are sweet instead of the knock-your-socks-off kind. Reuben would not let me buy the bitter melon, but I did get some taro.
R: You had to buy them after she gave you her recipe. She steams them and then cooks them in coconut milk along with steamed sweet potato. Then she combines them with sticky rice and sugar, and voila! She calls the dish Ginatan. It's a Philippine dessert.
Z: Their table featured two kinds of string beans: Blue Lake and Asian long beans. Citrus selections were navel oranges, pomelos, and Satsuma tangerines. A box filled with mini Indian eggplants caught our attention, but when we returned to make our purchases, they were all gone. Fortunately, they still had bags of their roasted unsalted peanuts. We still remember the ones we bought from them at another market.
R: Anyone interested in greens would have had a great time at the table of Mee Farms from Fresno. All kinds of antioxidants are packed into bok choy, two kinds of baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, spinach, chard, rapini, collards, and something they called Yu Choi. They also featured anise bulbs, leeks, sweet potatoes, daikon, peanuts, and sugar cane stalks.
Z: One of my favorite tables at the market was Scarborough Farms from Oxnard. I counted 16 kinds of lettuce greens, the kinds they call field greens in those fancy restaurants. In fact, one of their selections is called "restaurant mix." The choice for me was quite difficult. Would it be frisee, radicchio, Mizuna, tatsoi, arrugala, baby spinach, sweet mix, spicy mix, romaine hearts, or golden pea shoots. I finally settled on the spicy mix and the golden pea shoots.
R: Living in California, we are fortunate to have a great choice of farm-fresh produce all year. Here it was December and we were finding fresh asparagus at Magarro Farms from Irvine. They also offered romaine, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, beets, and onions.
Z: Strawberries, another of those crops that once was thought of as a spring fruit, now seem to be available all year. Gaytan Farms in Riverside sold Camarosas while Cortez Farms offered Galinda and Santa Maria varieties.
R: All of the Satsuma tangerines seemed to be ripening at the same time. We counted four vendors at the market with these gnarled bumpy textured seedless mandarins. One of those vendors, Remick Farms from Reedley, also included Oro Blanco grapefruit and Meyer lemons in their citrus display. They also had the buy of the day: four Hachiya persimmons for a dollar. We overheard one lady complaining about how terrible these persimmons are. She obviously never read our Highest Perch article on persimmons that explains that this variety, unlike Fuyu, has to be mushy soft before eating. Otherwise they have an unpleasant astringent taste.
Z: We asked farm owner Kevin Remick about apple varieties. He explained that Fuji and Pink Lady apples are becoming dominant varieties because the public wants a sweet eating apple. Granny Smith apples are a bit too tart for most people, and Delicious apples seem to have lost their appeal. The Pink Lady was originally developed in Australia. They grow well in California, but have a redder skin when they come from Washington. The cooler winter seems to redden the skin.
R: Remick explained that many of the smaller farmers are going out of business because they can't make any money selling their crops to grocery stores. The three national chains that dominate the grocery business can virtually name their own prices they will pay for produce. He expects China to dominate the produce supply in coming years; meanwhile, the Chinese are planting millions of acres of apples.
Z: He also explained that Wal-Mart is responsible for killing off small farms. Looking for low prices, they go overseas to places like China to find their produce. We in California know about the Wal-Mart threat that is one of the reasons for our grocery strike with the big three market chains trying to cut benefits for union workers in order to offer stronger competition to non-union Wal-Mart.
R: Farmers' markets seem to be the salvation of small farms. Even though the farmers must drive long distances, they can receive fair compensation for their labors. One such farmer is Jack Spears of the Grove from Riverside. On that morning he had only organic avocados in three varieties: Bacon, Jim Bacon, and Zutano. He told us that none of these would hold up to the rigors of rough handling in the supermarkets. The most prevalent Haas avocados seem impervious to rough treatment. The price for our Zutano was less than what we would have paid at the supermarket.
Z: Spears explained that he formerly sold citrus to packinghouses, but now can't make any money following this avenue. He plans to be in more markets selling organic citrus and avocados.
R: Both of us were intrigued by the story behind the Santa Ynez Lavender Company. What started out as a hobby turned into a successful business. When we looked at their table, we saw bath and body oils, bath salts, potpourris, bunches of lavender, lavender in small pots, and a stuffed teddy bear with a sack of lavender on its back. In talking to owner Robert Baker, we learned the fascinating story of how the purchase of a 20-acre horse ranch led to this business venture.
Z: Because his wife, Kim Brown, wanted to grow flowers, they started the farm with 1500 lavender plants. Their decision was to sell their flowers at flower markets, but soon found this activity too intense and physically draining. Instead they opted to process the flowers to create lavender oil. To do this they had a commercial still created for them. This was the beginning of the Santa Ynez Lavender Company that has been flourishing for the last eight years.
R: They now have about 7500 plants. Along with marketing their lavender products, they are selling plants to other growers. Their hope is to promote a lavender industry in the United States.
Z: Speaking of flowers, there were a few growers we have encountered at other markets that had attractive specimens here that day. Lin's of Panorama City had some spectacular speckled orchids including one green variety with burgundy spots on two of its petals, burgundy stripes on the top petal, and an unusual burgundy pouch at the bottom of the flower. Cho's Flowers from Somis displayed some striking multicolored sunflowers and Gerbera daisies.
R: The sign "Organic Pet Treats" told us we had to stop. The large banner behind the table said, "Sugar Pie's Bakery." Lining the booth were colorful patchwork quilts, Christmas stockings, and doggie bandanas, all featuring dogs and cats in the fabric design. Packages of baked organic vegetarian pet treats were displayed on the table. Tami Link was happy to tell us about her bone-shaped treats, one of which is vegan.
Z: We stopped to talk to market manager, Dan Rochin, who currently manages four markets for Jennifer McColm, the owner of this market. Dan seemed pleased at the community response to the market. Throughout the morning we noticed him scurrying around the market picking up trash, watching tables for vendors if they needed bathroom breaks, making a market map, and performing all types of tasks to keep the operation functioning smoothly.
La Canada Flintridge Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed January 2004