Z: After a rainy season that has already dumped over 34 inches on Southern California, it was a real delight to spend a sunny morning in Long Beach looking out at the boats anchored in the blue water of Alamitos Bay Marina. What an idyllic setting for a farmers' market!
R: The long narrow parking lot, lined on two sides with tables and tented awnings, was crowded with shoppers examining and purchasing a diverse variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Strawberries were available from eight vendors, but only the Camarosa variety.
Z: We quickly learned that Camarosas are a hardy strawberry that can survive the rains and don't rot like some of the other types. Normally, Chandler and Gaviota varieties start making their appearance this month, but many of these were ruined by inclement weather conditions.
R: Jessica Berumen, a high school student whose uncle owns Berumen Farms in Westminster, told us the rain damaged many vegetables and led to a loss of flavor in the strawberries. Jessica took a few minutes to tell us she was preparing for a career in criminal justice in preparation for police work. In addition to strawberries her table offered carrots, beets, sweet onions, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, celery, and romaine-- crops that managed to survive the rain.
Z: What's special about the farmers' markets is that the growers are always introducing new items. One item that's beginning to show its face in Southern California is Cara Cara. In Spanish it translates as face face. In English it means one of the most delicious oranges you could ever eat.
R: There is a bit of confusion about its origin. The people from Gonzaga Farm said it originated in Venezuela. Melissa's World Variety Produce says this navel orange with bright orange peel and pink-raspberry colored flesh began at Hacienda de Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela. That doesn't agree with The Great Citrus Book by Allen Susser who says that this orange is probably a cross between Washington and Brazilian Bahia navels. As we've learned in our research of fruits and vegetables, tracing their origins becomes quite challenging and often riddled with conflicting opinions.
Z: We took a few home and had no regrets. They had to be the best oranges we had ever eaten. Gonzaga from La Habra had other fruits worth noting, like giant pomelos, super giant pomelos and blood oranges that are often a bit too tart for our taste buds. Shoppers had another choice for loading their shopping bags with Cara Caras. Jones from Visalia offered them along with asparagus.
R: Jim Van Foeken from Ivanhoe also sold a tempting variety of citrus choices that included lemons, navels, Fairchild tangerines, mineolas, and Mello Gold grapefruit, a hybrid pomelo. Alongside the citrus items were mounds of Fuerte avocados and cherimoyas. The cherimoyas were a bit pricey, but if you haven't tasted one, you're missing something very special. It's like eating a creamy custard dessert.
Z: Quite special for me were the Nantas carrots grown by Weiser Farms from Lucerne Valley. Imagine a carrot that's sweet as a fruit, is not as crunchy as the typical ones, and doesn't have a tough center core. And they're quite shapely with unusual bulges and curves. You're not likely to find them at the supermarket because this carrot will snap into pieces when harvested commercially. Weiser farmers harvest them by hand`.
R: In addition to growing of all types and sizes of potatoes in all colors, Weiser displayed some unusual heirloom varieties of cauliflower. That morning they were selling three colors, green, purple, and orange. By the time we were ready make our purchase, the orange Cheddar were all gone, but we bought the purple Graffiti and the pale green Romanesco, both originating in Italy. The Romanesco is a cross between a broccoli and a cauliflower with a head that consists of cone-shaped florets.
Z: I was curious about the Satina potatoes that are similar in taste and appearance to the Yukon Gold. Hearing they were more buttery and flavorful than the Yukons, I had to take some home so that Reuben and I could conduct our own taste test. Tasting them, we felt they were definitely a step above the regular Yukons with an almost creamy consistency.
R: What makes some farmers' markets unique is the presence of backyard growers. These people have large yards or small plots adjacent to their homes where they produce crops to bring to a market. At this market we met Paul Chu of Chu's Family Organic Farm in Lakewood who has a 5000 square-foot lot where he nurtures garlic, ginger, Swiss chard, and sugar cane.
Z: Chu, who emigrated from Taiwan three years ago, was anxious to educate us about Chinese herbal medicine. He handed us a sheet titled "The Story of Chinese Herbal Vegetable" that discussed Chinese herbs and vegetables and the role they play in preventing illnesses and providing cures.
R: As we walked around the market we found a good selection of apples available from Ha's and Johna's both from Tehachapi. Ha's had only Fuji's while Johna's sold Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, bright red Gala, Fuji, and Sumutsu, a variety we had not encountered before. A diligent search on the internet could not lead to any more information on the Sumutsu. Perhaps, it's a variation of the Mutsu apple.
Z: Anyone seeking herbs could find a good selection from ABC Rhubarb from Downey. Their offerings included rosemary, thyme, lemon grass, and fresh chamomile. The chamomile was in bloom with white petals and yellow buttons that resembled miniature daisies. We were puzzled by the name ABC Rhubarb because there was no rhubarb on the table. We'll have to wait until the fall when they harvest their rhubarb crop. But we did find anise or fennel bulbs at Nakamura Farms from Oxnard. This organic grower displayed a full line of vegetables that included lettuces, beets, salad greens, broccoli, and cauliflower, but their crunchy, licorice flavor anise is one of our favorites.
R: Flower lovers had great choices from two growers, Skyline Flowers and Shigeru Nursery from Oxnard. Both displayed freesia bouquets with brilliant white and lavender blossoms. Skyline had fragrant sweet lilacs and colorful ranunculus in yellow, orange, red, and magenta.
Z: My attention was drawn to the tiny mums at Shigeru's. They were bright yellow and chartreuse and barely an inch in diameter. When Reuben called them mini mums, owner Jack Shigeru laughed.
R: Shigeru's also displayed a dazzling array of meteor asters. The throats of the flower were bright yellow with either pink, purple, or lavender petals. Words are inadequate to really describe their beauty.
Z: The floral highlight of the day was the strawflower bouquet. Strawflowers remind me of miniature sunflowers, but their colors are much more dramatic. These had fiery yellow/orange centers with bright orange tips that faded into yellow. Some were burnt orange fading into a yellow green at the base. I was so beguiled by this brilliant display of color I had to take a bunch home to adorn our dining room table. Jack Shigeru described an easy method for drying the flowers by hanging the whole bunch upsidedown, a method that would preserve them and help retain their original colors.
R: Before ending our market tour, we had to visit Kowalke Sprouts from Topanga for some kitty grass for Fuzzy, our beloved black cat. We ended up leaving the table with samples of pea and mung bean sprouts. We also had to visit Bih Shan from Mira Loma for some delicious shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Lily Bih Shan, who remembered us from another market, greeted us warmly.
Z: Our market visit concluded with a brief conversation with market manager Dale Whitney, an ordained minister who now spends most of the week preaching fresh fruits and vegetables to his flock at five different farmers' markets. Dale has managed this market since 1989. It's the most successful of all of the Harbor Area Farmers' Markets that he supervises. The organization's history began with the opening of the Downtown Long Beach Certified Farmers' Market on July 4, 1980.
R: The Harbor Area Farmers' Markets are sponsored by the South Coast Interfaith Council that includes religious groups in the Greater Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor Area and West Orange County. Co-sponsoring the market is the First Congregational Church of Long Beach that provides office and meeting space, printing services, and vehicle insurance. Their stated purpose is quite impressive: "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."
Z: Whitney has some able assistants to help him in this massive operation of running five markets. One that drew our attention was Paul Haak, webmaster/assistant manager who has designed their fantastic website that's loaded with information. The colorful website gives information on each of the markets and includes the vendors. Quite helpful to us in navigating this market were the maps showing the locations of the vendors at each market.
R: Along with profiles of the participating farmers, the site includes Top Ten Reasons to Shop at Farmers' Markets, a crop calendar, a comparison of farmers' market prices to supermarket prices, a list of organic growers at each market, detailed information about them and even contact data, and much more presented in a droll manner.
Long Beach Southeast Certified Farmers' Market
Other Long Beach Farmers' Markets
Cerritos Certified Farmers' Market
Downtown Long Beach Certified Farmers' Market
East Long Beach Certified Farmers' Market
Huntington Park Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2005