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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

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 warm, breezy Thursday afternoon in April the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their colorful VIP tee shirts and headed to the South Bay area to discover the fresh produce delights of the El Segundo Certified Farmers' Market.

Z: El Segundo means the second in Spanish, but I wouldn't use the word "second" to describe this market. As far as I'm concerned, it's a first class market. Immediately apparent is that the city of El Segundo is committed to making this market a successful enterprise.

R: The market has been in its new home on Main Street between Holly and Pine for only a few months. Previously, it was in the nearby park, and before that it was one block farther south. Being one block farther south was a disadvantage because it faced the civic center that included the fire station. Since the market could not obstruct the fire station, it could not occupy the entire block, thus limiting vendor spaces.

Z: The temporary move to the park was necessary while the city did a makeover of the street and sidewalks in a three-block area along Main Street. The result was an attractive ambience on the city's principal thoroughfare.

R: TV isn't the only place for makeovers these days. Cities like El Segundo are making efforts to revitalize their downtown shopping areas. The wide sidewalks and street crossings they installed have a cut stone look created by a stamped cement process. On one major crossing quarried stone was used instead of stamped cement. In both instances they have added attractive features to the downtown street.

Z: All along the street were planter islands in free form shapes instead of the familiar rectangles. They were appealingly landscaped with flowering shrubs and gingko trees. With the newly resurfaced street minus potholes, this was quite a pleasing backdrop for a bustling farmers' market.

R: Our first stop was in front of the table of YK. The large banner explained that YK represented the Yasukochi Family from San Luis Rey and the Kitagawa Family from Thermal. That day their combined efforts produced Gaviota strawberries, snap peas, vine ripe and grape tomatoes, romaine, eggplant, string beans, and artichokes.

ArtichokeZ: As we stood in front of the table, we began talking to Florence McSwain. Florence, who is 97, comes to the market every week. That afternoon she was quite excited about the beautiful YK artichokes. She even offered us her favorite recipe for preparing artichokes. Her recipe begins with cutting off part of the stems and standing them upright. Then she slices a clove of garlic and inserts the slices into the artichoke leaves. Next she adds one tablespoon of vinegar and one tablespoon of olive oil for each artichoke. With her recipe, you don't need any butter.

R: Wow, that's a vegan artichoke! Because she was hard of hearing and did not have a hearing aid, communicating with her was a challenge. But it was worth the effort. It was delightful to meet this energetic nonagenarian walking around the market.

Z: While you're talking about difficulty in communication, I have to mention Mee Mova from Fresno. Eliciting answers to our questions was a challenge. We did manage to learn they came to this country from Laos. Here again, the communication efforts were worth it. One of the first things I noticed was the beautiful bunches of beets with leaves that would add a bright touch to a tossed salad or just steamed as a side dish.

R: They also had many of the greens that appear in markets visited by an Asian clientele including mustard greens, spinach, Japanese spinach, broccoli rabe, baby bok choy, and red and green chard. Peas were in abundance with both snow and snap varieties, and even shelled peas for those who wanted the ready-to-eat convenience. Mova also offered zucchini, turnips, carrots, daikon radishes, broccoli, leeks, and red onions with the stems.

Z: When we stopped at the table of Crown 12 from Corona, we received a mini education on how urban sprawl is affecting farming in California. Talking to Dave Strandberg, we learned that he has the only citrus orchard left in Corona. All of the others have sold off their land to developers of housing tracts. Strandberg, who has been a grower all his life, originally had 50 acres that is now down to 35. He admits that if he receives a good offer for his land from a housing developer, he will find it difficult to refuse.

R: Strandberg had a few minutes to tell us about the Pinkerton avocados that he was selling, "They're a cross between a Haas and a Fuerte," he explained. "Most of them are shipped to Israel." This avocado is unique because when it is cut, it will not turn black when stored in the refrigerator. The Pinkerton avocados we took home were not only creamy and flavorful, but they also refused to turn black. On his table he also had both Valencia and navel oranges, lemons, pink grapefruit, and kumquats.

Z: Rosendahl Farms from Caruthers also had citrus and their usual selection of dried fruits and nuts. That day we found navel oranges, tangelos, Fairchild tangerines, pink grapefruit, and our favorite Oro Blancos. They also featured Fuji apples and giant artichokes. Come to think of it, there were five vendors that sold artichokes.

R: Since you're counting, there were 3 farmers offering asparagus. One of the three was Gama Farms from Arvin. Gama had their usual assortment of potatoes including Russets, red potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes. The big surprise was to find cherries in April. Cherries usually make their appearance at the end of May and the beginning of June. This Royal K variety from Arvin has definitely beaten the competition.

Z: Bender Farms from Santa Paula was the only grower showing cut flowers. Very enticing were the mixed bouquets that featured yellow Asiatic lilies, blue iris, hot pink carnations, purple statice, and large yellow sunflowers. I was especially attracted to the giant Gerbera daisies in a variety of colors: red, ivory, yellow, magenta, orange, pink, and coral. They also displayed roses, gladiolus, snapdragons, carnations, and birds of paradise.

R: Unique growing plants were created by Na's Bonsai from Torrance. Na, who emigrated to the US from Seoul, Korea, had some striking lucky bamboo offerings. One plant was in a bowl with a water wheel and a house on stilts. Another featured a plant adjacent to a waterfall. A third had the lucky bamboo in a shell with steam emerging from the base.

Money Tree Z: Na had more unique bamboo arrangements, but I focused on the braided money tree plants or pachira. The bonsai braided money tree is made up of individual plants with trunks that have been twisted and braided. This indoor plant is recommended by Feng Shui masters and practitioners because it is supposed to bring wealth and good fortune to any household or business.

R: The plant has five green leaves at the end of each of its thin branches. These leaves are symbolic of the five fundamental Feng Shui elements: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. This tree will serve to supplement or activate missing or weak elements in any space. The plant can grow as tall as 7 feet and as wide as 3 feet. When we pointed to one of the braided money trees that was approximately 3 feet tall, Na told us it was 10 years old and was selling for $35.

Z: While we were strolling around the market, we could hear the sounds of steel drums from Island Breeze, otherwise known as Francis Lynch. We knew Lynch looked and sounded familiar because we had encountered him when we visited the Westchester farmers' market. He is one of the performers who appear at this market every week.

R: Since this market was from 3 to 7 in the afternoon, there were a variety of foods to entice the public. Ordinarily, most markets are carnivore heaven, but this one had foods that vegetarians, even vegans, could eat. We noticed roasted corn, baked yams, baked potatoes, and vegetarian tamales.

Z: The Happy Inka with Peruvian cuisine prepared Saltabo de Vegetales, a mixture of onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots seasoned with Peruvian spices along with rice. Allicaters, purveyors of Mediterranean and Latin American foods, had a mushroom epanada and an eggplant empanada. They also sold two unique sauces: Chimicuhurri and Guajitomatillo (a combination of roasted guajillo chile and tomatillo).

R: We paused for a taste of Mark and Stephen's unique mustards. Mark and Stephen from Culver City bottle 7 kinds of mustard, 15 varieties of jams and marmalades, 2 cooking oils, and 2 types of vinaigrette. We tasted and we had to buy.

Z: I just couldn't resist the Ancho Chili Jalapeno Mustard. What a wild and spicy flavor! There were other temptations among the crafts offered at the market. Those colorfully bright soft scarves from Katmandu and some of Lisa's candles and soap bombs offered buyers many temptations. Lisa's pastel color candles inside those long-stemmed glasses seemed ideal for a romantic dinner for two.

R: Pausing to chat with market manager Lee Ostendorf, we learned the market is almost 5 years old. They will be celebrating their 5th birthday July 1. Although she has functioned as market manager for the last 3 years, Lee is officially the Special Events Coordinator for the city of El Segundo. She also manages the San Pedro Farmers' Market.

Z: She estimated that 1000 people come through the market each week during this time of year and many more during the summer months. The market's 16 growers will expand to 24 during the summer months. Presently there are 9 crafters, but that number will probably be reduced as more farmers appear. "Farmers are king over crafts," says Lee. Shoppers are now being fed by 11 hot food vendors.

R: Speaking of hot food vendors, we were not aware that they must have a fully charged fire extinguisher on hand. As we watched, a city fire inspector was ready to close down one of the food vendors with a fire extinguisher that was not charged and would be inoperable in an emergency. Fortunately, one of Lee's assistants was able to obtain a charge for the extinguisher and prevent the shutdown. The vendor was warned to come prepared with an operable fire extinguisher the next week.

Z: "People in El Segundo look forward to each Thursday," Lee told us. "It's an event. People come for the feel of it. It brings business downtown. The store owners love it."

R: As we walked back to the car with our purchases, we both commented on the positive aspects of the market. The city had created an attraction to bring people to its newly refurbished downtown, and the people were responding by showing their support of the market.

Z: Although the market offered us many dining temptations, we decided to investigate Papillon, a new vegetarian restaurant on Main Street in the same block where the farmers' market is held.

El Segundo Certified Farmers' Market
Main St. between Holly Ave. and Pine Ave.
Thursdays 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Phone: 310-535-0432

Reviewed May 2004

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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