Z: As we parked our car in the public garage down the street from the market, I couldn't help thinking about how fortunate we are in California. That afternoon we were experiencing a local farmers' market in December and seeing an abundance of fresh California-grown produce.
R: While our friends and relatives back east were buried under snowdrifts, we strolled around the market in our tee shirts and found tables filled with fresh sweet corn, honeydew melons, tomatoes, and grapes -- items you would not normally expect to find during December.
Z: Yes, we're truly blessed because we can make purchases at farmers' markets all year long. Tomatoes can be found in markets across the country this time of year, but they're likely imported or grown in hot houses. At this market we could buy delicious heirloom tomatoes from Lark Farms from Filmore. They showed Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, and Pineapple as well as the regular Beefsteak variety. If you've never tasted an heirloom tomato, you've missed something special.
R: The heirlooms have not been hybridized to become tasteless creations that will survive those patron squeezes in the local supermarket. Heirloom tomatoes have exceptional flavor and unmatched sweetness. The low-acid Pineapple variety is taste perfection. We understand Lark Farms has tomatoes all year because they grow many hydroponically.
Z: Our readers may notice that we didn't mention strawberries that are usually available all year. We learned that Nakamura Farms from Oxnard was not at the market that day because their truck broke down. Nakamura can be counted on to show up at a market with a raft of fresh organic vegetables as well as strawberries.
R: Long drives and truck breakdowns are two of the headaches farmers face in getting their crops to the public. Suncoast Farms from Lompoc also did not make it to the market that afternoon to greet buyers with broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and dried beans.
Z: Smith Farms from Irvine was able to fill the void by bringing broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. No need to wonder how Brussels sprouts are grown. These were sold just as they are grown -- looking like large stalk-like trees with green ornaments hanging from them. I wasn't sorry I took home one of these stalks. There's a special sweetness to fresh Brussels sprouts. If you've ever tasted any that were bitter, you know they've been sitting in the supermarket too long.
R: We should mention Smith Farms is an organic grower. In addition to the vegetables you described, they sold cabbage, Blue Lake beans, romaine, brown and red onions, yellow and green zucchini, and tomatoes.
Z: Herbs and lettuces were featured at ABC Farm from Bell Gardens. Along with parsley, rosemary, and thyme, they offered sage, dill, mint, basil, chives, lemon grass, and dill. We could also buy those healthy greens loaded with B vitamins--collards, dandelion greens, and Swiss chard.
R: For a moment I thought you were going to sing that Simon and Garfunkel song with the herb quartet of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I didn't expect to find the small honeydew melons and sweet corn grown by Z Ranch from Imperial Valley, but that was the last of the season for both of these crops. Their table also displayed asparagus, Blue Lake string beans, baby spinach, and pickling cucumbers.
Z: What a surprise to see domestically grown grapes this late in the year! Most of the ones currently in the supermarkets are from Chile. MB Farms from Raisin City enticed shoppers with plump black and sweet crimson grapes. Their offerings included those deliciously crunchy Fuyu persimmons, and their usual extensive variety of dried fruits and nuts.
R: Ha's Apple Farm from Tehachapi also sold dried fruit and fruit rolls as well as jams, syrups, apple butter, and fruit rolls made from apples. Their fresh display included Asian and Bartlett pears, Snow Fuji and Baby Natural Fuji apples, and Fuyu persimmons.
Z: Arnett Farms from Fresno also displayed apples, pears, and persimmons, but added citrus fruits to the mix. Instead of just Fuyu persimmons, they also sported Hachiyas. The table also revealed both Pink Lady and Fuji apples and Asian pears.
R: Their citrus collection included those delicious Cara Cara oranges, sweet Meyer lemons, and Clementine and Satsuma tangerines. They also sold tomatoes, walnuts in the shell, and pomegranates.
Z: Atkins Nursery from Fallbrook also had pomegranates as well as guavas and mangos. Their citrus display featured Satsuma tangerines, Meyer and Eureka lemons, and Bears and sweet limes. They sold two varieties of avocados, Hass and Reed. Anyone who hasn't tasted Reed avocados is missing something very special. These large round babies have a buttery flavor and don't turn black right after you cut them. The big surprise for me was finding macadamia nuts in the shell at a local farmers' market. And the price was phenomenal--$3 a pound. Those of you who know me well realize that I'm The Nut Gourmet (a shameless plug for my book).
R: Talk about nuts sprouting up all over. Sprout lovers had a good time at this market with the selection presented by Kowalke Sprouts from Los Angeles. Anyone seeking those super-healthy broccoli sprouts could find them here along with numerous others to sprinkle on salads or sandwichers.
Z: Those gerbera daisies stopped me in my tracks, especially the almond colored ones with the dusty pink throats. The gerberas were the highlight of the cut flower display of Seaside Farms from Carlsbad. The gerbera bouquets came in a variety of colors including pink, orange, yellow, and white. Asiatic lilies, roses, and irises added to the splash of color at their booth.
R: We had an opportunity to speak to market manager Nathalie Deschatres who is assisted by five volunteers. Nathalie also manages the West Los Angeles Farmers' Market. That day we met two of her volunteers, Paul and Dion. Dion proudly told us she was a vegan. We also learned the market has a vegan dietician who comes once a month.
Z: The market opened in mid-July 2006 and is sponsored by the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professional Organization. It is advertised on their website at http://www.downtownmanhattanbeach.com
R: We did notice that attendance at the market was sparse that afternoon. Hopefully, the people in the community will offer greater support by placing the market on their weekly shopping schedule. Nathalie described their efforts to attract more patrons including even stuffing announcements into every resident's utility bill.
Z: Part of the proceeds from the market is earmarked for Growing Great, a Manhattan Beach non-profit nutrition organization dedicated to inspiring children and adults to adopt healthy eating habits. The group has helped to establish school gardens, classroom nutrition lessons, and nutrition workshops to achieve their goal. Information about the group can be found at http://www.growinggreat.org
R: As we surveyed the market and talked to the farmers, we could hear the soft, mellow Sounds of Us in the background. This flute and guitar duo delighted the market goers with their unique interpretations of Christmas carols.
Manhatttan Beach Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed January 2007