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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

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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 cool Saturday morning at the end of October the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, donned their colorful VIP sweatshirts and cruised down the 405 to Wilson Park in Torrance. Their investigative assignment was to revisit the Torrance Certified Farmers' Market and update their readers on one of the largest and most successful farmers' markets in Southern California.

Z: Three words aptly describe the Torrance Farmers' Market: Success! Success! Success! Back in the days when Vegetarians in Paradise was a newborn on the internet, we began our visits to farmers' markets with a survey of the Hollywood, Santa Monica and Torrance markets. We thought all farmers' markets were like these three. Numerous forays into markets since have convinced us that Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Torrance are the exception rather than the rule.

R: Our original report on the Torrance Market appeared in our February 1999 issue and chronicled our January market experience. We found a bustling market with approximately 65 farmers offering a wide array of fresh produce and flowers as well as food vendors to satisfy shopper hunger pangs or tempt non-shoppers who were enjoying Wilson Park. Fast forward to 2005 and there are still about 65 growers and almost two-dozen food vendors to cater to the six to eight thousand shoppers who visit on a typical Saturday.

Z: Wilson Park has loads of parking spaces and plenty of room in the parking lot for numerous vendors to display their offerings, but that Saturday there was a bit of competition for parking spaces because this was the middle of flag football season. Our first impression was that the market had become so successful that searching for parking was like participating in a treasure hunt. As we looked around, we noticed the crowds who were enjoying the park experience and not shopping at the market.

R: Mary Lou Weiss, who has been market manager for 15 years, has become one of the elder statesmen, or should I say elder states women of market managers. People planning to start farmers' markets will often consult with her to learn the secrets of her success. "Visibility and parking are the two most important things," she says.

Persimmon Z: She also counsels patience. "It takes 3 years for a market to develop," she says. She might add that she does have community support and what business professionals talk about: location, location, location.

R: Mary Lou confessed that she had a market failure in 1991. The Torrance Tuesday market had been in existence for six years when she initiated a Thursday afternoon market. In spite of the great location, visibility, and parking, the market only survived for six months. It was virtually blown away by the cool afternoon sea breezes. She listened to the community that was requesting a Saturday morning market and opened this market in March 1992. The Saturday market is now more successful than its Tuesday cousin.

Z: As a full-time employee of the city of Torrance, Mary Lou also manages the city's 250 community gardens. Residents can sign up for 20 x 20-foot plots to grow their own garden vegetables. The city even provides the water.

R: There's another whole story there that we'll have to explore sometime. On this market visit we were immersed in persimmon heaven. Everywhere we turned we were faced with either a mound of Fuyus or hill of Hachiyas, but mostly Fuyus with 10 farmers featuring Fuyus while 6 offered Hachiyas.

Z: People reading our persimmon article can learn more about this delicious autumn fruit. Fuyus have come to dominate the market because they hold up better and are less messy to eat. People seem to prefer the Fuyu crunchy texture instead of the mushy Hachiya.

R: We were surprised to find that stone fruits were still available this late in October. Ken's Top Notch Produce from Reedley sold pluots (plum and apricot hybrids) along with persimmons and Asian Pears. Arnett Farms from Fresno also had green and red pluots as well as purple Angelina plums. Their table also displayed Pink Lady and Fuji apples, pomegranates, both varieties of persimmons, and jujubes.

Z: No not that tiny fruit-flavored candy with the gelatin texture! Jujube is the name given to Chinese or red dates. This fruit is the size of an olive and usually has a leathery skin that can be red, reddish brown, off-white, or black. The yellow flesh tends to be dry and crunchy.

R: Anyone wanting a taste can reach into the bowl on our dining room table. K and K Ranch in Orosi also had jujubes as well as Angelina and red plums, both kinds of persimmons, walnuts, pomegranates, black grapes, Fuji apples, and guavas.

Z: More stone fruits were in evidence from Garcia Farms from Kingsburg. Again, we were surprised to find yellow peaches and Angelina plums. They also sold champagne and black grapes, Fuyus, Fuji apples, tangerines, and three kinds of sweet potatoes: jewel, garnet, and Japanese.

Castilla Squash R: The Japanese sweet potatoes are the ones I like so much. They're usually creamy yellow and intensely sweet. There were other vendors like Thys' Ranch from Fresno that sold more than one variety of sweet potatoes. H and R Citrus from Orange Cove had both Bette Ann red plums and the Angelina purples in addition to yellow peaches. They offered a great selection of grapes that included Red Ruby, Thompson Seedless, Sweet Crimson, and Autumn Royal black. Their table contained pomegranates, Fuji apples, and Asian Pears. H and R was also the only source of figs--the beautiful, plump Black Mission variety.

Z: I'm so amazed by all these stone fruits still available. One of the growers attributed this late crop to the heaviest rains in over 70 years followed by many summer days that were over 100 degrees. Scattaglia Farms from Littlerock had late crop yellow nectarines along with Fuji and Black Arkansas apples. We were surprised to learn that the Black Arkansas has only a two-week harvesting season. They're a bit more tart than most apples and are ideal for baking.

R: There were a number of vendors offering tomatoes but Valdivia Farms from Carlsbad offered quite a selection of heirloom tomatoes culled from their 75-acre plot. While I wasn't looking, Zel filled her bag with at least one each of Bellmato, Ox Heart, Green Zebra, Brandywine, Pineapple, Cherokee Purple, Golden, and Pineapple White. The Bellmato is quite a unique heirloom and could easily fool one into thinking it is not a tomato. Its shape resembles a yellow bell pepper and but its flavor is unmistakably tomato.

Z: Since we're talking tomatoes, Valley Heights Ranch from Oceanside had Romas and green tomatoes as well as Japanese tomatoes. Their sign trumpeted the low acid content of the Japanese tomatoes. Valley Heights also had a great display of pumpkins and gigantic, fluted, sweet Castilla winter squashes.

R: Melons were available from three farmers: Z Ranch from Costa Mesa, Tanaka Farms, and Smith Farms from Irvine. Zubair from Z Ranch displayed cantaloupes, Galia melons, French Charantais, and Honeydew, and promised orange-flesh Canary melons in a few weeks. Tanaka also had French Charantais, while Smith Farms sold baby round watermelons about 4 to 5 inches in diameter.

Z: While you mentioned the melons of Z Ranch, I kept thinking about the organic cranberry red okra he was selling. They were more slender than the familiar green okra and had a shiny glow. He described the flavor as sweet and nutty. Also on Zubair's table were Rawaza, the small, round Indian eggplant about the size of my fist. Both of these had to come home with us along with a Galia and a French Charantais. Zubair proudly tucked a recipe into our bag for Indian Eggplant Stir-Fry developed by Zebunnesa, his wife. Zubair

R: Always on the lookout for the unusual, we discovered an avocado we had not seen before. Crown 12 from Corona was offering the Teague variety that will not likely be found in the markets because it's easy to poke holes in the skin. The Teague is a cross between a Fuerte and a Duke. A few avocados on the table had skins that were already cracked, a distinguishing feature of this variety.

Z: Both Weiser Farms from Bakersfield and Zuckerman Farms from Stockton had their usual displays of small potatoes. Zuckerman had their colorful assortment bag while Weiser sold fingerling varieties. Weiser featured the Roman Candle Tomato that was irregularly striped with green, red, and yellow and stretched to almost three inches in length. They also sold stubby Nantes carrots and jujubes.

R: At the height of the apple season Ha's Farm in Tehachapi pulled out all the stops. They had the best selection of apples we have seen at any of the markets. Their assortment included Fuji, Golden Delicious, Tsugaru, Mutsu, Winesap, Granny Smith, Gala, and Red Delicious. They also offered Asian pears, dried apples, syrups, jams and apple cider vinegar.

Z: Flower lovers had plenty of choices that morning. Turner Seaside Farms had an attractive display featuring giant yellow sunflowers, gerbera daisies, and alstromeria. Skyline exhibited those great orange and yellow chili pepper bouquets along with celosia and Asiatic lilies as part of the arrangement. Their brilliant orange paper lantern bouquets were showstoppers. For me the flower highlight of the day was the jumbo white and yellow mums at West Flower Growers from Oxnard. Their huge white mums measured up to 5 inches across. They claim to be the only ones at the farmers' markets to grow giant mums.

Giant Mums R: Quite striking and beautiful were their spiky safflowers in brilliant hues of golden yellow and orange. Also memorable were the bright red and burgundy Asiatic lilies with names like Monte Negro and American. Speaking of names, I was taken by the cuphea plants from C Stars Nursery in Gardena. The Cigar Plant with its tiny cylinders of bright red flowers and the red and purple Batface were both eye catchers. The plants were as intriguing as their names.

Z: We were both impressed with Henry's Evergreen Bonsai from Torrance. Henry Kim does a wonderful job with his gorgeous bonsai plants. That morning he showed quite a few lucky bamboo plants that have become a common item locally. He also had rows of money trees and an unusual plant he called a Lucky Leaf, also known as alocasia cuculata.

R: As we walked to back to the car we observed the food vendors offering diverse choices, not many with vegetarian items. We could have enjoyed a Corn Maiden tamale or corn on the cob, but decided to seek-out a nearby Indian vegetarian restaurant recommended by one of our readers.

Torrance Certified Farmers' Market
2200 Crenshaw Boulevard in Charles H. Wilson Park
between Carson Street and Sepulveda Boulevard.
Tuesdays 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Saturdays 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Phone: 310-618-2930

Reviewed November 2005

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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