R: The question we have often asked is, "What makes a farmers' market successful?" The Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market obviously has the answers. The community shows that it wants this market and will support it.
Z: To that you might add that it has an interesting mix of farmers who can supply a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables with a representative amount of organic selections. Then there's location. It's in the heart of the community's downtown shopping area.
R: They couldn't close down the main street like many small communities because there would be howling protest if they tried to barricade Sunset Boulevard, a main artery to the Pacific Ocean. Instead they blocked off Swarthmore Avenue between Sunset and Monument Street.
Z: Swarthmore is a wide, tree-lined street with retail businesses on both sides. Along the sidewalks, attractive lightposts display colorful hanging baskets filled with seasonal plants. The Sunday brunch crowd was sipping coffee and enjoying a European-style brunch at sidewalk tables facing the local cafes. The setting added a distinct charm to the farmers' market shopping experience.
R: Don't forget publicity. In this case the publicity mission has already been accomplished. Approaching its fourth year of operation, this market is well-known. By noon on that day the aisles were quite crowded with people of all ages who were eager to take home the fresh produce.
Z: And, of course, good management is also important to a market's success. Jennifer McColm, owner/manager has demonstrated her ability to create a thriving Sunday shopping experience for the community. Standing in for her that day was Assistant Manager Fernando Oxa, who has been an employee of Skyline Flowers for the last six years.
R: Skyline Flowers, a fixture at many markets, always offers unique bouquets of cut flowers. The surprise that morning was to find bunches of peonies in brilliant magenta, shocking pink, and perky white. Peonies don't often make an appearance at farmers' markets because of their short 1 1/2-month growing season.
Z: I was attracted by the uniquely shaped cockscombs, also known as celosia, that resemble the configuration of the human brain. They showed both yellow and crimson ones along with intensely colored orange-pink gerbera daisies, variegated lisianthus, gladiolus, and pale green Bells of Ireland.
R: Adjacent to Skyline was the greenery of Began in the Garden from Idylwild. Cheryl Conover sells fresh organic herbs in pots. Patrons could choose from 6 varieties of thyme, 3 kinds of basil, sweet herbal geraniums, and frais de bois, commonly known as mountain strawberries. Her most unusual item was the Garden to Grow, a bench formed from willow. The seat of the bench was transformed into an herb garden containing approximately ten varieties of plants including basil, cosmos, sage, and mint. For $100 we could have one constructed for our yard.
Z: Two other flower growers offered colorful bouquets. Westland Flowers from Santa Barbara had some gorgeous matsutomias, purple flowers with yellow centers and green petals surrounding each of the blossoms. All Seasons from Nipomo featured large sprays of snapdragons and gladiolus as well as long stalks of white-throated purple delphiniums.
R: But enough of this flowery talk. We need to turn our focus to edible fruits and vegetables, especially since we are in the middle of the prime time stone fruit season. Cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, pluots, and apriums were available from many vendors.
Z: Sunday shoppers could buy cherries from Rosendahl Farms from Caruthers, Scattaglia Farms from Littlerock, Smith Orchards from Linden, Zuckerman Farms from Stockton, Remick Farms from Reedley, Andres Jones from Orosi, and Winner Circle Farms from Palmdale. Rosendahl, Scattaglia, Andres Jones, and Smith Farms had both Ranier and Bing cherries while Zuckerman Farms and Winner Circle offered only Rainier that day. Remick Farms sold only Bing cherries.
R: Lesley Miller of Winner Circle explained that they grow the purple Lapin cherries "that are often passed off as Bings." Lesley and her husband farm five acres on which they grow 19 varieties of peaches, nectarines, apriums, and pluots. They describe themselves as "high density growers" with their trees planted very close together. At the conclusion of our brief conversation, Lesley extended an invitation to visit their Palmdale farm.
Z: I counted seven farmers offering stone fruits other than cherries. Three of them, Rosendahl, Boujikian Farm from Fresno, and Remick had those cute flattened donut peaches along with plums, white and yellow peaches, and white and yellow nectarines.
R: The market offered an amazing selection of fresh vegetables that day. One standout for us was Givens Farms, an organic grower from Goleta. Their tables displayed three kinds of beans: wax, French, and string along with yellow and red cherry tomatoes and vine-ripe tomatoes. Other offerings included dinosaur kale, rainbow chard, green and yellow zucchini, red and green cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet onions, leeks, anise, lemons, Seascape and Camarosa strawberries, celery, beets, pickling and regular cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, and both orange and yellow carrots.
Z: I can't forget those yellow carrots. They're the sweetest carrots I have ever tasted. I could kick myself because I only bought one bunch. The beets, cauliflower, and green cabbage all were flavorful additions to our dinners the following week.
R: Another standout for us that day was Suncoast Farms from Lompoc that exhibited some of the largest artichokes we've ever seen. The one we bought measured 5 inches in diameter, weighed 1 1/3 pounds, and had a stem measuring 6 inches in length. They also showed asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and stunning purple artichoke blossoms.
Z: Memorable to me was our brief talk with Kris Olsen of Cahuilla Farms from Aguanga. He specializes in organic heirloom vegetables and fruits, including 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. We met him at the Malibu Market where he was selling his heirloom tomatoes, garlic, onions, melons, and squash. I still remember the taste of that heirloom pineapple tomato we purchased from him that day. On this Sunday he was offering three varieties of soft-neck garlic: Italian Lars, Italian Sweet, and Polish, a unique garlic with a strong spicy flavor. He had narrowed his garlic types down from the 40 he had grown previously. Other items on his table that day were dinosaur and Russian kale, Blue Hubbard squash, Vidalia sweet onions, scallions, and French lavender.
R: Z Ranch, an organic grower from Santa Barbara, had the melon market all to themselves that day. Their assortment included watermelons, cantaloupes, and the delicious Galia melons. Other items offered were okra, tomatoes, small round Indian eggplant, and both yellow and white corn.
Z: Pudwill Farms from Nipomo did not have the berry business to themselves, but they displayed raspberries in three colors: red, orange, and yellow. They also marketed blueberries, blackberries, and figs.
R: Zuckerman Farms of Stockton and Weiser Farms from Bakersfield dominated the potato scene, both offering great selections. Weiser created attractive signs so that patrons like us would know the names of each of the potatoes. As we walked in front of their tables, we spotted Huckleberry Red, Russian Banana, Red Thumb, French Fingerlings, Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings, Russian Banana Pee-Wees, All Blue Pee-Wees, and Santina (like Yukon Gold). Most people don't realize there are so many varieties of potatoes available for purchase and that farmers' markets are at the forefront in introducing new varieties. Rounding out Weiser's totally organic offerings were garlic, sweet onions, and 3 types of lettuce: oak leaf, curly green, and red leaf.
R: One great discovery that day was Gourmet Soup Kitchen that prepares 16 varieties of vegetarian soups, 13 of them vegan. Partners Amy Caplan and Daniel Tout have been selling their frozen soups at farmers' markets for the last 3 1/2 years. The soups are packaged in 16-oz. plastic containers and provide two servings. They sample three of their soups at the market each week. We savored the Indian Yellow Curry, Old World Lentil, and Country Vegetable, giving them all a hearty recommendation.
Z: Walking back to our car, we paused to hear the soft, mellow sounds of the Season of Us, a flute and guitar duo. We remembered hearing them at other farmers' markets. We were amazed when we looked at our watches; we had spent over 3 hours exploring the market.
Pacific Palisades Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed July 2004