R: Claire Headley is the mother of two newborns. One is her eight-month-old son, Kaleid (Greek for handsome or beautiful); the other is her farmers' market that was three weeks old when we visited in October 2006. Kaleid was resting quietly and comfortably in his infant seat.
Z: The same quiet was evident in her other child--the farmers' market. Looking out at the tables, we saw vendors who were not being beseiged by people anxious to purchase their wares. I began to think that perhaps we should have waited a few months before visiting to allow the market to penetrate the neighborhood and develop a steady clientele.
R: Claire, who is optimistic about the future of the market, told us there are currently six growers, and she expects to add four more next week. That morning two of the six farmers were not present because of truck or weather problems.
Z: The market is arranged in an L-shape pattern. One stem of the L is Sancola Avenue that deadends against the 134 freeway. Sancola was barracaded from Riverside Drive to create space for the non-certified vendors offering foods.
R: The other stem of the L was half of the Wells Fargo parking lot. This portion of the lot was for farmers to sell their produce. The other half of the parking lot provided space for patrons and farmers to park their vehicles.
Z: Walking around the Wells Fargo lot, we noticed two farmers that were offering a diverse collection of vegetables and berries. Santiago Produce from Nipomo displayed carrots, cauliflower, radishes, green beans, broccoli, zucchini, and Mexican squash. Their berry selection included a colorful display of both red and yellow raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries.
R: Their competition was Rancho Mi Familia from Santa Maria that sold red leaf and iceberg lettuce, the only lettuces at the market. This farmer also showed strawberries and raspberries as well as plump carrots, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, vine tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Most unusual was their lemon cucumbers, about the size of fat golf balls, that Zel had to bring home in her shopping bag.
Z: I also found this farmer had large chayote squash that I use for my Chayote Bisque recipe. Across from Rancho Mi Familia was Budwood Farms that had the stone fruit and grape market all to itself. Diane, who was selling that day, remarked that her usual competition did not show up that morning.
R: Patrons could taste and purchase white and yellow peaches, white nectarines, Anjou and Asian pears, Fuyu persimmons, Fuji apples, vine tomatoes, and Reed avocados. Zel likes the creamy quality and rich flavor of the Reed but especially enjoys them because they don't turn black after you cut them and place them on a plate. As a matter of fact, they can be cut and stored in the refrigerator about two days before turning dark.
Z: Don't forget to mention the five varieties of grapes that included Italian muscats and champagne grapes. After tasting the Asian pear, I knew I had to buy a few. And, of course, I had to have a few Reed avocados for next week's salads.
R: Two vendors displayed flowers. One was certified; the other was not. Cho's Flowers, a certified grower, had a bright display of Gerbera daisies in a multitude of colors. Tiffany Cho was eager to show us her dendrobium and oncidium orchids as well as Misty Blue that has to be grown in a greenhouse. She did confess that they used red dye to perk up their yellow pom pom mums with an intriguing orange streaked effect.
Z: The other flower vendor was not certified because the flowers are grown as part of a gardening project at North Hollywood High School. Their garden is the largest in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Imagine seven acres including an orchard and a vineyard on a school campus!
R: Mud Baron told us that the project included 18 chickens (one a Polish crested chicken that looks like Phyllis Diller) and Francine, a Vietnamese potbelly pig that's 10 months old. Noticing our Vegparadise sweatshirts, Mud remarked, " If it has a name, we don't eat it."
Z: Mud was reluctant to tell us his real name. In fact, he gave us two cards. One was his Gardener Designer card, the other was Cocoxochitl Flower Farm, the name of the North Hollywood High School Agriculture Department. The department is headed by Rose Ormsby-Krueger, who is the floriculture teacher. The project is a joint effort of the school and the University of California Master Gardener Program as well as local businesses and organizations. For information on the Master Gardener Program see our story at http://www.vegparadise.com/24carrot4.html or go to the website at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/garden/
R: Mud is a master gardener who volunteers at the school three mornings a week. He prefers gardening to his vocation building kitchens. "Cocoxochitl," he explained, "is Aztec for dahlia." This information was on the bottom of the card along with the pronunciation: co-co-zo-chee.
Z: He also wanted us to know that the dahlia got its name from Swedish botanist Anders Dahl. And it's edible. In support of their project we had to purchase flowers and herbs they displayed. Our bouquet included a selection of brilliantly colored dahlias, purple statice, and fragrant sprays of Thai basil and rosemary.
R: The Toluca Lake Market is sponsored by Scholastic Gardens that currently operates two markets in the Los Angeles area. Proceeds from the markets are being used to achieve their mission: "to assist youth throughout Southern California overcome obesity and poor health." Claire told us of plans to inaugurate a Fruit or Vegetable of the Month Program beginning at Toluca Lake Elementary School. The children would visit the market and each would take home a sample of that month's fruit or vegetable. Plans are also being made to help set up a garden at Rio Vista School. Seeds for the garden would be donated by Scholastic Gardens.
Z: As we completed our market visit, we stopped to hear guitarist George Christian playing both jazz and Latin sounds. We marveled at his talented strumming and the amount of equipment he brought so that people all along Sancola Avenue could hear his music.
Toluca Lake Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed November 2006