Z: What an unusual setting for a farmers' market, surrounded by skyscrapers in what was formerly the Twentieth Century Fox movie lot! There we were standing on the corner of Constellation Boulevard and Century Park East looking toward Avenue of the Stars.
R: The north side of Constellation Boulevard was lined with the familiar cupolas and tents that indicated a farmers' market. Vendors' tables were in the street along the curb while a row of trucks narrowed the traffic flow to one lane for those traveling west. Another row of tables on the sidewalk left a few feet between for shoppers to navigate on the sidewalk.
Z: Before we tell our readers about the market offerings, I have to detail our difficulties in dealing with the parking. With most of the markets we visited, we have found free parking on an adjacent lot or area near the market. If that were not the case, there was almost always street parking. When we pulled into a lot right next to the market, we saw a sign announcing a $9 fee. To make it worse, the lot was full.
R: As we cruised around the area, we noticed signs announcing no parking at any time. The ample underground parking lots were asking a daunting $2.75 for the first 15 minutes with a maximum of $24. We faced a fateful decision. Do we turn around and go home, or do we seek street parking possibly five or six blocks away. Oh, the sacrifices we make to gather information for our readers.
Z: Reuben did find street parking just outside Century City. The parking meter gave us a gift of 25 minutes, so we deposited $.75 to take us a few minutes shy of the two-hour limit. Normally we leave our shopping bags in the car. After we survey the market, we come back to the car, pick up our bags and fill them with farm-fresh produce. We feel good about being able to show support for the market and the farmers.
R: Because of the distance from our car to the market, we had a feeling that we would have to depart from our normal pattern. Reaching the market, we sought out Fernando, the market manager, to introduce ourselves as we usually do when we start our exploration. One of the vendors told us we were looking for a man in a blue shirt. We walked the length of the market, and even doubled back in search of Fernando, but could not find him.
Z: As we walked, we noticed the emphasis was on crafts and food. There were a few farmers' tables interspersed, but as Reuben said, "This looks like a swap meet with a few farmers as window dressing so it can be called a farmers' market."
R: This is one of the markets in Los Angeles County operated by Jennifer McColm. Though her markets tend to feature an abundance of crafts, some of the others have more farmers.
Z: It didn't take long to figure the logic of this market. With its hours from 11:30 to 3:00 and its parking challenges, it was set up to cater to the people working in the nearby buildings, not folks who would drive here just to shop for fresh produce. People working in the skyscrapers could find plenty to eat for their Thursday lunch and could pick up a bauble from one of the crafters, a necklace, a purse, an art print, a blouse or skirt, or some body care products. They might even purchase a few fruits or vegetables.
R: I like they way Zel described the lunch choices. She called them "cruel food." Hawaiian Chicken.com was roasting 20 chickens at a time on a giant open barbecue. At another stand a long line of people patiently waited for their bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Wokcano, a nearby restaurant, had moved cooking equipment to the sidewalk to prepare their Asian cuisine.
Z: We could have ordered their Vegetable Lo Mein, but we were not sure where we could sit down and quietly eat our lunch. The representative from Baba Foods saw our VIP sweatshirts and called out that all of his pita and hummus were vegetarian.
R: Something we had not encountered before was the lack of separation between certified and non-certified growers. A certified grower displays registration papers to show he has grown the crops he is selling. The certified growers were not all placed in one section. Instead, the certified farmers were interspersed among the food vendors, crafters, and non-certified vendors. One would have to look carefully to determine which flowers or fruits and vegetables were from a certified farmer.
Z: In one instance, Reuben began taking notes on the flower offerings of one vendor and then noticed a small sign on the truck behind his table announcing he was not certified. In other words, he did not grow the flowers. He could purchase them anywhere and resell them here.
R: I was surprised to find one vendor selling bananas and tropical fruits in addition to other produce. Obviously, these items grown in other countries were non-certified. Across from them was a table filled with produce that was certified. Asking a few questions, we learned both tables belonged to the same vendor.
Z: Too bad our shopping option was limited by the parking. We could have filled our bags with fresh produce if our car had been closer. Frutos from Irvine had Camarosa strawberries along with Brussels sprouts, a variety of lettuces, asparagus, and red and yellow peppers.
R: MC Farms in Santa Ana also featured the Camarosas and Brussels sprouts and the hugest romaine. Ditto Camarosas and Brussels sprouts for Buen Rostro Farms in San Bernardino. Add Lore's to that list also. Come to think of it, all four of the farms we mentioned offered asparagus that is at the peak of its season.
Z: Excellent citrus choices were evident at Arnett Farm in Fresno, Rosendahl in Caruthers, and Budwood Farms in Fallbrook. Rosendahl had those delicious Cara Cara oranges and mandarin tangerines as well as Asian pears and Pink Lady apples. Arnett sold pomelos, oro blancos, navel oranges, and Asian pears. Budwood's table featured oro blancos, navel oranges, tangerines, ruby grapefruit, and lemons, as well as Hass avocados, vine tomatoes, and plump cherimoyas.
R: Before we trekked back to our car, we stopped to talk to Billy of Lim's Orchids in Panorama City. Billy was eager to talk about his colorful phalaenopsis orchids and to tell us about his mother, a well educated women with a master's degree in business administration, who came here from Thailand and has been growing orchids for 45 years.
Z: Frankly, I was disappointed in this market. Though it appears successful, I don't think of it as a real farmers' market. The few farmers there provide the excuse to call this craft and food fair a farmers market. The community deserves better. But, I guess people interested in real farmers' markets can travel a few miles west on other days of the week and find what they want.
Century City Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed April 2006