Z: Finding the market was a bit of a challenge because Park Plaza Drive loops around and intersects Towne Center Drive at two places. When we approached from the north, we saw no signs of the market at the first intersection.
R: That's why they tell people its northwest of 183rd and Shoemaker, close to the Trader Joe's store. When we approached the second intersection, we noticed the familiar cupolas and awnings that are trademarks of all the markets. Unlike some markets, this one had ample room for parking and vendors on a sizable parking lot in the shopping center.
Z: We begin our visit by checking in with the market manager and identifying ourselves. We learned the efficacy of this procedure years ago when a market manager accosted us and wanted to know what we were soliciting. That morning we were greeted by David Gaines who was filling in for market manager Dale Whitney who was attending a conference.
R: This market is one of five markets managed by Whitney and sponsored by the South Coast Ecumenical Council and the First Congregational Church of Long Beach. The other markets are in Huntington Park, Signal Hill, Long Beach, and the Alamitos Bay Marina. Each is on a different day. That morning there were about 35 farmers, down a dozen from the summer months when stone fruits are in season.
Z: What impressed me was the amount of literature available at the market manager's table. In addition to The Four Seasons Newsletter announcing market activities and produce, there were Top Ten Reasons to Shop at Farmers' Markets, Healthy Shopping at a Certified Farmers' Market., and What Is a Certified Farmers' Market. This information and much more may also be found at the Harbor Area Farmers' Market's attractive and comprehensive website at http://www.harborareafarmersmarkets.org
R: On the website they feature stories about their farmers. Currently they have a Producer Profile about Karl Nejely written by David Gaines. We had an opportunity to chat with Nejely, a retired schoolteacher who now farms six acres in San Diego County. That morning he was proudly displaying his avocados, kumquats, limes, sapotes, and cherimoyas.
Z: Avocados and cherimoyas make up the bulk of his crops. He has 135 avocado trees and 77 producing cherimoyas. Not on his table that morning were his other crops: pomegranates, lemons, oranges, tangelos, guavas, macadamia nuts, mulberries, and loquats.
R: Nejely, who holds a General Secondary Life Teaching Credential, also has a credential for teaching the learning disabled. He began farming in 1980, well before he retired from teaching in 1995. Sub-tropical fruits thrive at the top of his hilly property overlooking Mount Palomar because the dense cold air flows downhill away from the trees. He holds the distinction of being the only farmer selling mulberries at the five Harbor Area Farmers Markets. All of his mulberries come from one prolific tree on his property.
Z: I love the creamy custardy taste of cherimoyas even though they're a bit pricey. We took one home and were not disappointed.
R: Not only is Zel a cherimoya fan but she is also enamored with cacti and succulents. She was in her own kind of heaven when she saw Captain Cactus, otherwise known as Mark Likowski who does his growing in Long Beach. The captain grows 257 species.
Z: Of the 30,000 different cactus plants, Likowski prefers the ones that flower and produce fruits. He would like to see more people using drought resistant plants for landscaping instead of planting lawns. The captain has a treasure trove of knowledge about the medicinal qualities of succulents. For example, the Brazilian Firestick is an effective treatment for warts and ingrown hair while Chinese Jade is good for fever and cold sores.
R: Speaking of medicinal treatments, what about mushrooms? One of our favorite vendors, Lili Bih Shan from Riverside, had her usual great assortment of mushrooms at very reasonable prices. That morning she featured two varieties of Reishi, Turkey Tail and Tsuga, both with medicinal qualities. Turkey Tail is great for the respiratory system while Tsuga treats the liver and the cardiovascular system.
Z: Lili explained that the mushrooms are not eaten, but instead boiled to create a tea. Drinking the tea will boost your immune system, increase your energy, soothe your respiratory system, improve your digestion, reduce stress and cholesterol, improve circulation, and eliminate toxins from your body.
R: She also had her delicious shiitake and oyster mushrooms as well as her pea sprouts. Chu's Family Farm from Cerritos also offered pea sprouts in addition to chard, daikon leaves, and beets, all organically grown.
Z: There were many choices when it came to fresh vegetables and salad greens. RS Farms from Riverside had the cutest baby turnips as well as spinach, broccoli, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, onions, radishes, carrots, cilanto, romaine and red leaf lettuce. JRB from Elsinore had almost the same assortment with the addition of leeks, cauliflower, celery, and garlic. Rivas from Vista had similar items as well as tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and snap peas. Smith Farms from Irvine offered vegetables similar to the others with the exception of those long Mexican radishes and asparagus.
R: Strawberries were ubiquitous. Five vendors sold either Camorosa or Ventana varieties. They included Tamai of Oxnard (in addition to their vegetables), JRB, RS Farms, Smith Farms, and Rivas. Fresh apples were still in season with Granny Smith available from Mark Boujikian of Fresno; Fuji, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith from Ha's of Tehachapi; and Pink Lady and Fuji from Jim Van Foeken of Ivanhoe.
Z: Anyone searching for unique potatoes would have been in luck that Saturday. Gama Farms of Arvin and Weiser Farms of Bakersfield both offered organic varieties. Weiser's selection included Yukon, Peruvian. Santana (baby white), jumbo fingerlings, Purple Peruvian fingerlings, French fingerlings (pink), Russian banana fingerlings, banana fingerlings, and baby fingerlings. They also offered a spaghetti squash that looked like a delicata on hormones. Gama had red, white rose, Russet, purple Peruvian, Yukon, and baby reds along with onions carrots, garlic, and turnips.
R: We received our lily instruction by talking to Jack Kohara of Shigeru Nursery of Oxnard. Kohara explained the distinction between Asiatic lilies and Oriental liles. Asiatic lilies are not fragrant while Oriental lilies do have a pleasing fragrance. Oriental lilies have larger blooms and will last a week. He only grows pink and white variations of Oriental lilies. When we asked about Stargazer lilies, he said they are easier to grow than Oriental lilies but do not last as long. He does not grow Stargazer lilies. The business was started by his father 25 years ago and includes a greenhouse on five acres.
Z: Paula's Ranch from La Habra Heights offered avocados that morning. Paula's sister Sherry promised they would have mangos, longans, peaches, plums, apricots, oranges, pomelos, and calamondins later in the year. Calamondins are small, spicy oranges that come from the Philippines. The longan is a native of India and is closely related to the lychee and rambutan. When ripe its orange skin turns brown. The transparent white flesh inside is juicy and sweet.
R: As we walked the aisles, we stopped to listen to the music of Paco and Arby. Paco plays the guitar and is accompanied by Arby who plays the harmonica and the tambourine. Noticing our VIP shirts, they played their version of "Junk Food Junkie."
Z: As we were leaving, we stopped to watch Brian McClelland doing his Mug Murals face painting. McClelland had a flower painted on his hairless head. On his table he had a screenplay he has written. As we walked to our car he ran over to us and handed us a summary of his screenplay.
R: Carrying our purchases to the car, I kept thinking about the market's statement of purpose. "We exist to help Market communities, encourage cross-section interaction of the population, support low-income and oppressed populations, and offer a venue particularly focused on maintaining small family farms. We promise interaction with others of similar mind and development of stated purposes."
Cerritos Certified Farmers' Market
Other Harbor Area Farmers' Markets
Downtown Long Beach Certified Farmers' Market
Alamitos Bay Marina Certified Farmers' Market
Signal Hill Certified Farmers' Market
Huntington Park Certified Farmers' Market
Phone: 1-866-GOOD-VEG (1-866-466-3834)
Reviewed March 2004