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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
The Great Produce Hunt

For a complete current list of farmers' markets click on Certified Farmers Markets in Los Angeles County.


On a drizzly, Saturday morning in November the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their colorful VIP tee shirts and headed to Santa Monica Airport to visit one of Santa Monica's four farmers' markets. Their investigative mission was to learn about the fresh produce available at the Santa Monica Pico Certified Farmers' Market and share their findings with their readers.

Z: I wonder how many farmers' markets can lay claim to being at an airport. This one is a Saturday presence in parking lot C, south of the airfield. On that dreary, drizzly morning we drove south on Bundy Blvd. and turned right at Airport Ave.

R: Seeing the familiar awnings and cupolas that filled the parking lot, we immediately recognized that this was a sizable market with a large number of vendors. That number turned out to be 45 farmers.

Z: On all of our market visits we usually begin by introducing ourselves to the manager and explaining our mission. Unfortunately, that was not possible that morning because market manager Ted Galvan was enjoying his vacation in Italy. Assisting Ted, as she has for the last 12 years, was Cece (Cecelia Bradley) who has been a volunteer since the market's inception.

R: Cece is a bundle of energy bouncing around the market providing assistance where it's needed. She was a great source of information about the history of the market going back to being a participant in the community meeting that started the project. Cece explained that this market, usually situated in Virginia Park at Pico and Cloverfield, was moved here a little over a year ago while the park is "getting a facelift" including a new gymnasium. But the Pico Market will return to its original location sometime next year.

Z: The weather that morning made us conscious of the challenges faced by farmers who want to sell at these markets. Some travel from as far north as the Central Valley of California, while others journey from almost as far south as the Mexico border. Travel time for some exceeds four hours. Since the markets operate rain or shine, farmers have the added challenges of arriving and setting up during a downpour.

R: Occasionally, water would come cascading down from one of the tented roofs and just miss the patrons. By midmorning the drizzle had stopped, and by the time we left, the sun made its welcome appearance.

Z: One of the tables that caught our attention was not filled with fruits and vegetables, but instead contained test tube vials filled with sugar. These contained varying amounts of sugar to demonstrate how much sugar is available in common foods like breakfast cereals and soda pop. There was also a model of a pound of fat and indications of how much fat is contained in different food items.

Persimmon R: I should mention that the sign above the table read "Ask the Dietitian." At the table were five students in the dietetian program at Cal State Los Angeles who offer their expertise and answer questions the second Saturday of each month to spread the gospel of healthy eating. That morning the group led by Maria Galvan (no relation to the market manager) was distributing samples of persimmon quesadillas and recipes using persimmons.

Z: This being the peak of the persimmon season, there were a number of vendors offering both Fuyus and Hachiyas. The Fuyu is eaten while still hard, while the Hachiya must be squishy-soft to be palatable. For more information on persimmons, you may want to read our Highest Perch article at http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch210.html

R: Harry Nicholas from Fresno was one of the persimmon purveyors that had both types. He also sold Autumn Royale grapes, kiwis, Asian and Yali pears, and American-grown chestnuts. Since so many of the chestnuts available in supermarkets are imported from faraway places like Korea, China, and Italy, those grown in the U.S. are a rarity.

Z: Summer Harvest Farm, an organic producer from Dinuba, also displayed both persimmon varieties along with both Red Flame and Thompson Seedless grapes. This was their last appearance of the year at this market. California Organic Fruits also joined the persimmon parade with both types and also presented Fuji apples, pomegranates, heirloom tomatoes, Eureka lemons, and pineapple guavas.

R: Avila from Hanford featured a giant assortment of dried fruits and nuts along with some, you guessed it, bright orange fresh Fuyus and Hachiyas. Dried fruits, both sulfured and unsulfured, included golden and mission figs, prunes, plums, peaches, apricots, and apple rings. They also offered shelled and unshelled walnuts and pistachios as well as raw and roasted almonds. Roasted peanuts were available in flavors like plain, garlic, and lemon garlic. We opted for the plain unsalted ones that turned out to have up to four small round peanuts in each shell and are quite addictive.

Z: I was amazed at the number of types of apples that were available at one market. Moessner Orchard from Tehachapi grows 12 to 14 varieties of apples. That morning they sold Granny Smiths, Galas, and Fujis as well as 6 kinds of baby apples: Winesap, Red Delicious, Mutsu, Fuji, Rome Beauty, and Golden Delicious. These are all grown on 15 acres of their 50-acre farm.

R: Mike Moessner informed us that his father Paul Moessner is a retired chef who happens to be a vegetarian. The family not only sells the fruit, but is also heavily involved in producing juices, jellies, jams, marmalades, vinegars, sauerkraut, sauces, ketchup, and pastries like apple strudel, apple turnovers, and apple scones.

Z: Windrose Farm in Paso Robles also featured apples we had never seen before like Spitzenburg that owner Bill Spencer described as Thomas Jefferson's favorite. Spencer and his wife Barbara have been growers in Paso Robles since 1962. Their current farm is 70 acres. Another apple he showed us was the Pink Pearl that can be used to make a pink applesauce.

R: One variety that was yellow with a light red blush was called Caville Blanc d'Hiver. Another was Bramley's Seedlings, a cooking apple loved by the British. Completing his apple assortment were plain old Jonathans and Granny Smiths.

Z: I must digress to talk about Windrose's Tiger Eye beans. Never before have I experienced a better tasting bean. Cooked with one chipotle chile that Spencer threw into the bag, these nutty flavored beans virtually melted in our mouths.

R: Because Spencer has been involved in farming for over a half century, he has seen many changes in California agriculture. "Corporate agriculture has taken over in California," he says. This takeover has been made possible by government subsidies. "There is no sustainable local food system," he says.

Squashes Z: Although his farm is registered organic, he had an interesting explanation why many farmers do not go organic. It's not so much the cost in dollars as the record keeping. Organic farmers also need to do extensive composting and spend half the year replenishing the soil. Selling to market chains is a problem because "the wholesale market is brutal," he says. " Because organic food is expensive, it tends to go to the affluent."

R: One surprising fact that he revealed was that 97% of vegetables are transplanted from seedlings. There are 6 to 10 billion transplants yearly. There are no row crops, other than corn and cotton, grown from seeds.

Z: Not only was Spencer knowledgeable about farming as an industry, but he was also wise to grow and sell crops that would appeal to adventurous people like us who were willing to try new foods. In addition to the apples and Tiger Eye beans, he was selling cranberry red potatoes and all blue potatoes as well as most of the 14 varieties of squash he grows at Windrose. We had a choice of Spaghetti Squash, Kabocha, Hubbard, Queensland Blue, Butternut, Buttercup, Red Curry, Blue Curry, Hourglass, and gourds. The Hourglass was too tempting to pass up.

R: Two other vendors, Trevino Farms of Lompoc and Weiser Farms from Bakersfield, offered great selections of winter squashes. Trevino showed Wintermelon Squash (tan qua) that had a mottled green and white surface with white flesh inside. Mario Trevino showed us the golden Tahitian Squash and described the Wilcol squash as sweet with red flesh. Also on the table were Mexican Green Pumpkins and Acorn and Butternut squashes.

Z: Trevino's table was also pepper lover's heaven with red, green, and orange sweet peppers as well as Anaheim, Serrano, and Jalapeno chiles. The tomato selection included cherry tomatoes, green tomatoes, and heirlooms of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Weiser Farms can be counted on to bring their numerous varieties of organic potatoes to so many farmers markets, but on this morning they showed even more versatility with their winter squash selection. The choice included Delicata, Butternut, Acorn, Curry, Buttercup, Sweet Dumpling, Golden Nugget, Futsu, and Baby Kabocha. If we didn't have potatoes at home, we would have purchased some of the German Butterballs, Peewee French Fingerlings, or Russian Bananas. Instead I chose the baby beets with the burgundy tops.

Wreath R: One highlight for us that day was our stop at the tables of Rodriguez Ranch from Escondido. Their organic offerings featured five kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, collards, turnips, and rapini. But it was impossible to leave the without purchasing one of their handmade wreaths that were fashioned from plants they grew. At least, it was impossible for Zel not to take one home to grace our table during the holiday season. The wreaths emphasized what looked like tiny pumpkins but turned out to be mini orange eggplants. Joe Rodriguez said the wreaths would last up to a year.

Z: We could say much more about this market and possibly add a thousand more words, but instead we'll include a few mini scenes:

  • The patron standing in front of Venegas Nursery from San Marcos and exclaiming, "Flowers from here last for weeks."
  • The vendor who will remain anonymous telling us that all vegetarians looked "pasty" because of their diet.
  • The contrasts at Valdivia Farms from Carlsbad: gourmet baby vegetables along side giant heirloom tomatoes.
  • Mill Road Orchard from Paso Robles with winegrape juice squeezed from cabernet grapes.
  • Pudwill Farms from Nipomo with huge raspberries and blackberries raised in their greenhouse.
  • Rancho Mexico Lindo from San Diego County with Mexican guavas and Bearrs limes.

R: If we sound overly enthusiastic about this market, we should be. With its four farmers' markets Santa Monica proves that community planning and support ensures success. Over the last few years we have visited all four. Each is unique, and all are successful. Moving to this location obviously did not harm attendance or participation. Success breeds more success. As we departed, I remarked that even the weatherman had smiled on this market. The sun was shining, and no rain had fallen during our visit.

Santa Monica Pico Certified Farmers' Market
Saturdays 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Santa Monica Airport
Airport Ave. at Bundy Blvd.

Other Santa Monica Certified Farmers' Markets:

Wednesday / Arizona & 2nd / 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Saturday / Arizona & 3rd / 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Sunday/ Main St. and Ocean Park/ 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Phone: 310-458-8712
Website: http://santa-monica.org/farmers_market/

Reviewed December 2004

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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