R: As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Los Angeles River driving north on Glendale Boulevard, we noticed a unique neighborhood community. The width of the main street seemed to tell a story of railroad tracks that once ran along the center but had been removed to create the present wide thoroughfare. An exploration into the history of the community revealed that there were railroad tracks in the area where the farmers' market is currently located.
Z: This community, a poppy field originally known as Atwater Park, was subdivided in 1912 and named for Harriet Atwater Paramore whose husband purchased the land. The community is located between Silver Lake and Glendale, not far from either downtown Los Angeles or Hollywood.
R: The farmers' market has a much briefer history, only open since June 2005. It's one of five operated by SEE-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles). SEE-LA strives to bring fresh nutritious food to areas with limited access as well as to educate the community about health, nutrition, and agricultural issues. One of SEE-LA's proudest achievements is the hugely successful Hollywood Farmers' Market described as "the front porch of Hollywood." Heading the organization is CEO Pompea Smith whom we met when we first visited the Hollywood market in 1999.
Z: On this morning Joyce Chan, assistant manager, cheerfully greeted us and answered our questions while busily stuffing red Chinese New Year envelopes with yellow certificates good for one-dollar purchases from the farmers. These were to be given to the children attending the market.
R: As we explored the market, our noses led us to a nearby table where a cooking demonstration was unfolding. Cynthia Agustin, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, was preparing Chinese Meat Dumplings and a Buddha's Feast that contained nine different vegetables as well as noodles, mushrooms, dried bean curd, lotus root, tempeh, peanuts, bamboo shoots, and lily buds.
Z: Of course, we were more interested in Buddha's Feast than the meat dumplings. The vegetables she used were all grown by the farmers attending the market. Their freshness and flavor were apparent in each bite of the samples she distributed to all of us in her audience. Cynthia, who has the title "Good Cooking" Program Coordinator/Instructor, offers demonstrations at this market monthly.
R: The farmers' tables are set up in the Wells Fargo parking lot the bank makes available each Sunday at no cost. Thinking about the market's future, Joyce noted there is plenty of space for the market to expand. Free parking for shoppers is available in adjacent city lots.
Z: Looking around the bank parking lot, we immediately categorized this as a small market, our personal classification for any that have fewer than a dozen agriculture producers with limited produce. But the number of vendors does not indicate the quality of the market. In this case shoppers could find a good selection of fresh produce provided by the participating growers. One of those growers was Chiuefu whom we had met at another market.
R: Chieuefu is a nickname he uses to spare people from mispronouncing his tongue twister of a real name, Chieufuerhganeng Her. He came to the US from Laos 25 years ago and lived in San Diego a few years before moving to Fresno in 1983. He currently farms his four acres in the Fresno area and has ambitious plans to double the acreage in the next few years.
Z: Truly amazing is the variety of vegetables that come from those four acres. That morning shoppers could find an array of greens that included green and red Swiss chard, Chinese mustard greens (gai choi), pea shoots, spinach, Thai broccoli, and baby bok choy. He also offered yams, russet potatoes, leeks, beets, carrots, romaine and red leaf lettuce, brown and red onions, and our favorite fennel bulbs. Reuben and I both love that crunchy anise flavor. Chieufu's produce is not organic because he can't afford the certification costs, but he informs everyone that he doesn't use pesticides.
R: On the other hand, Organic Only Farm from Fallbrook has gone through the certification process. Their table was filled with citrus including grapefruit, seedless limes, mandarins, Valencia oranges, colossal seedless lemons, Hass avocados, and green peppers. Jars of organic tomato paste and pickled mixed vegetables were there to tempt the Sunday shoppers. Citrus items, including pink grapefruit, lemons, and Valencia oranges, were also available from Bernard Ranches from Riverside.
Z: Not organic but "chemical and pesticide-free" was the information posted at the booth of Jaime Farms of Ontario. Their table displayed a few items even sophisticated veg shoppers like us rarely see. Labled Spanish radishes, the giant, foot-long deep red radishes that resembled carrots ended up in our shopping bag. Another unique item was Sierra lettuce, a plump head with long crisp leaves and ruby red tops that was a cross between romaine and red leaf varieties.
R: I was attracted to their rainbow chard that sported bright red, green, and yellow stems and veins and their spring onions in both burgundy red and white. Also available were both red and golden beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and two kinds of tomatoes: giant Beefmaster and petite Early Girl.
Z: Two of the vendors had strawberries that morning. Castellanos Farm from Riverside sold Camarosas while Gaytan Farms from Mira Loma had Ventanas. A tri-pack of colossal Camarosas came home with us. Other than strawberries, Gaytan offered a selection that included many of the same items sold by Jaime. Castellanos pretty much duplicated the same items with a few exceptions. They had bunches of kohlrabi, carrots that measured up to 15 inches in length, candy-stripe beets, asparagus, and bunches of alfalfa.
R: Alfalfa. I thought it was strictly animal food. Their advice was to juice it to create a drink that would cure many ailments. We had not encountered anyone selling alfalfa during any of our other market adventures.
Z: Vince Avila of Avila Sons from Hanford was happy to have us sample his roasted peanuts in the shell, especially the garlic ones we ended up purchasing. The family has been active in farmers' markets since 1983. Their 50-acre plot, where they grow mostly fruits and nuts, is an excellent example of crop diversity. His impressive selection of dried fruits included Mission and Calmyrna figs, white peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries, plums, prunes, apple rings, and apricots. The apricots were available either sulfured or unsulfured.
R: Their nut assortment featured pistachios and walnuts in the shell and shelled. The roasted pistachios in the shell came in flavors like jalapeno, chile lemon, chili garlic, salted and even plain. Bags of pecan pieces and pecan meal were also on the table.
Z: Cho's Flowers from Somis had a monopoly on cut flowers at this market. Benjie Cho, a family member, was happy to explain the difference between his Oriental and Asiatic lilies. We learned that the Asiatic lilies are recognizable because they are very colorful and have no fragrance. On the other hand, Oriental lilies have less dramatic colors but are quite fragrant. We immediately recognized the Asiatic lilies with their bright orange, yellow, and magenta colors. Benjie, by the way, is a civil engineer during the week and a flower seller on weekends.
R: With a name like Frogdog Herbs, grower Jan Bruce invites questions from people passing her display. Jan is truly a local grower. Her 10 to 15 varieties of herbs come from her 2000-foot lot in Atwater Village. Her daughter Kellye was eager to show us their dried lavender and dried rose sachets as well as a unique herb called curry. Inhaling its distinct curry fragrance, we could easily recognize it. Kellye showed us how their lemon grass stalks could be used as barbecue skewers. How did they arrive at the name Frogdog? They once had a dog that sat just like a frog.
Z: As we gathered our bags of produce and walked to the car, we paused for a moment to watch Ryan Majestic create balloon animals for the kids. No charge. He wants everyone to know he is available for parties as a magician and a balloon artist. His last name isn't really Majestic, but it's easier to spell than Modjeski.
R: Noticing that many more shoppers had arrived, I thought about what Joyce had told us earlier. "The community is so supportive and appreciates the market." It made us feel that this market was going to become a permanent fixture in the neighborhood.
Los Angeles Atwater Village Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed January 2006