Z: Rarely will you find the main street of a community closed down for a farmers' market. Montrose is one of those exceptions because market sponsor Montrose Business Park Association realizes the importance of bringing a farmers' market to its citizens and making them more aware of downtown businesses. And the people in the area respond by making the market one of their stops each Sunday.
R: Honolulu Avenue and Ocean Avenue is the hub of this market that alternates between closing the main thoroughfare along Honolulu in its Montrose Shopping Park either east or west of Ocean. Bright banners announcing the market greet shoppers at this intersection.
Z: Market manager Mark Sheridan, a veteran manager with 18 years of experience mostly in Santa Barbara, has brought his know-how to Montrose to help fashion this successful market that has between 18 and 20 growers and the support of four to five thousand visitors weekly. Since this was the peak of the stone fruit season, there were numerous choices of plums, peaches, nectarines, pluots, and even donut peaches.
R: This trip was far different from our July 1999 visit to the small Thursday evening market along the main street. See our story at http://www.vegparadise.com/producehunt7.html Of the participating farmers that day, one third were certified organic.
Z: Sheridan is aided by Assistant Manager Michael Minnes and Joe Torrez who delights in interacting with the children, especially by giving them balloons. Like so many of the farmers, Sheridan was on the road early that morning after his 4:00 a.m. wake-up call. He commutes to the market from his Santa Barbara home every Sunday except during December when the market is closed.
R: He wanted us to be sure to talk to three of his farmers: Fairview Farms of Goleta, Youngblood Farms in Littlerock, and Givens also of Goleta. Givens' tables, brimming with beautiful organic produce, were surrounded by a crowd of eager buyers, so many it was difficult to ply their seller with questions. We did manage to purchase a purple cauliflower, yellow crookneck, and pattypan squash from this farmer who has been an organic grower for more than 25 years.
Z: We had more luck with Youngblood Farms where Richard Youngblood was anxious to tell us about his u-pick operation in Littlerock. If you are reading this story during the beginning or middle of August, you are likely to find peaches available for picking.
R: Youngblood described how he uses his 1953 Ford tractor to pull a trailer full of peach pickers armed with picking poles who have driven out to his orchard at 7624 East Avenue U. In addition to the 250 peach trees, his farm has 250 Red Delicious apple trees. That morning he was selling White Lady peaches, Fancy Lady yellow ones, Babcock peaches, and Santa Rosa plums. Retired from 30 years in the aerospace industry, Youngblood devotes full time to his farming operation that began in 1983.
Z: He seemed delighted to introduce us to Penny Keaton who was inspired to use farm-fresh fruits in her pies. "If you want to bake a great pie, you don't go to the supermarket," Penny says. Penny teaches pie baking at Sur la Table, Williams Sonoma, and in private classes. She proudly showed us a pie she baked using Youngblood's peaches. Her secret for the crust: "safflower oil instead of shortening." And we agreed it was healthier, too.
R: Flower fanciers would have enjoyed the selection of brilliantly colored bouquets from Venegas Nursery of Vista. It was difficult to decide which bouquet would win my personal beauty contest: the giant crimson dahlias, the coral Gerbera daisies, or the spiky pink protea. While each of them was striking, the bright yellow teddy bear sunflowers won our personal grand prize.
Z: The blooming Chinese lantern plant from Gonzalez Nursery in Pasadena was the standout of that grower's selections. The chili pequin hot pepper plant with its small fiery red mini peppers caught my attention immediately. Two other standouts were the African mallow whose subdued pink blossoms appear most of the year and the lavatera with its gorgeous lavendar flowers with deep purple throats.
R: One of the highlights of the day for me was speaking with Julie Beumont-Potter and learning about The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens. Their market display of organic produce was one of the most attractive I have ever experienced at any farmers' market. Fortuitously, we remembered to bring our digital camera to capture the scene.
Since Julie was assisted by another seller, she had an opportunity to tell us about herself and her non-profit organization. Fairview Gardens sponsors cooking and gardening classes, workshops, farm festivals, tours, and lectures. Thirty people are employed in this enterprise that feeds approximately 500 families.
She is a French Canadian who met her husband in Paris. Following their marriage, they moved to Santa Barbara where he is both a stockbroker and an artist and she was introduced to Fairview Gardens. What truly surprised us was her description of her office: a Mongolian yurt.
Z: Fairview Gardens in Goleta, California has been a farm since 1895 and a non-profit enterprise since 1997. The farm grows 100 different kinds of fruits and vegetables on a 12-acre plot. As marketing manager, Julie is involved in selling at farmers' markets in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Ferry Plaza in San Francisco, and Montrose. Fairview, one of the first Community Supported Agriculture organizations on the West Coast, currently has 91 members in its CSA program with members picking up their produce once each week. Fairview also operates its own farm stand in Goleta.
R: Julie explained that Fairview grows 14 varieties of tomatoes. That morning their display featured six: Celebrity, Big Beef, San Marzano, Early Wonder, Italian Gold, and Orange Blossom. She encouraged us to taste fresh cannelini beans. Many people are unaware that some beans can be eaten fresh. Shelled, they revealed small white beans speckled with red. Other beans she showed us were Jade, French Filet, and Romanette. What we thought were tiny white radishes turned out to be Japanese turnips.
Z: Needless to say, our shopping bag was filled with green leaf lettuce, purple kohlrabi, San Marzano tomatoes, anise, basil, and Japanese turnips. At home later that day we checked the website at http://www.fairviewgardens.org that answered any questions we forgot to ask Julie. Anyone interested in learning more about Fairview Gardens can read On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm by Michael Ableman (Chronicle Books, 1998) or view the documentary Beyond Organic: The Vision of Fairview Gardens available from Bullfrog Films at http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/ .The film was produced by award-winning PBS filmmaker John de Graaf and narrated by Meryl Streep.
R: A memorable moment for me was stopping at the table of Johna's Orchard from Tehachapi. When we learned how many Fuji apple trees they had, we were dumbstruck. Their certification sheet showed 10,000 Fuji trees. In addition they had 600 Pink Ladies, 170 Gala, 150 Golden Delicious, 62 Honey Crisp, 20 Rome Beauty, 15 Granny Smith, and 10 Arkansas Black. Their property must stretch for miles.
Z: Not as spectacular but quite unique is Phao Thao and her Hmong family from Laos who operate the 15-acre Sunny Farm near Fresno. They sold some of my favorite Asian items that are appearing more frequently on American dinner tables, vegetables like Chinese broccoli, sinqua, opo, Thai basil, and bitter melon. Their eggplant selection that included American, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese varieties was too tempting to pass up.
R: While Zel was filling her bag with eggplants, I was negotiating a purchase of six white corn from Jose Navarro of Kelly Farms from Ontario. Navarro, who has worked for Kelly for 18 years, explained why they were growing only Camarosa strawberries. The climate in Ontario is just too hot for the tasty Chandlers that grow so well in the coastal city of Oxnard.
Z: When we first entered the market I spotted those giant artichokes from Sun Coast Farms in Lompoc. The one we purchased later measured 5 inches in diameter and was almost a meal for the two of us.
R: As we strolled around the market, we could hear the sounds of Dixieland Jazz. Investigating, we discovered a quintet of senior citizens who called themselves Gremoli and play at the market each week when they're not part of a gathering like the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival. The group consisted of a clarinet, trombone, trumpet, bass, and banjo. Anyone who enjoyed the music could purchase the four CD's available.
Z: I should mention that the market has a section Sheridan calls the thieves market that features antiques and collectibles. Included here were used books, clothing, quilts, jewelry, skin creams, and even bubble wand wire sculptures that were a sensation for the kids who were chasing the bubbles. The children's area had a mini gym with a trampoline, balance beam, and mini slides. To the delight of the young people a giant slide, bounce castle, and an obstacle course offered them an opportunity for physical activity. Conveniently located in this area were face painting and Hawaiian Shaved Ice, ideal for the torrid weather.
R: What really impressed me was that Sheridan provided free table space for three watercolor artists. "We are trying to encourage the arts," he told us. One of those artists was Jae who displayed some of her specialty paintings, animal portraits she renders from photographs.
Montrose Harvest Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed August 2005