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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

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Vegetarians in Paradise
The Great Produce Hunt

For a complete current list of farmers' markets click on Certified Farmers Markets in Los Angeles County.


Shivering on a quite cool overcast day in February, the two birds of paradise, Zel and Reuben, layered up in their VIP sweatshirts and jackets, and journeyed to Mar Vista to get the scoop on one of the county's newest farmers' markets. Their mission, as usual, was to provide an enlightening report to VIP readers.

Z: What great timing! This year Mar Vista is celebrating its 80th anniversary as a Los Angeles Community. And what better way to celebrate than at its farmers' market that was launched in August 2006.

R: Digging into the history of this area, I found information provided by resident Glen Howell. Grand View Boulevard between Venice Boulevard and Pacific Avenue, the site of the Sunday farmers' market, was once the entrance to the first gated community in Los Angeles County. A massive wrought iron gate at Venice and Grand View bore the name "Ocean Park Heights" across the top. In 1924 the community of Ocean Park Heights became Mar Vista.

Z: It's hard to imagine this was a wide enough road in the early 1900's for a team of horses pulling a carriage to make a U-turn. Our carriage that morning didn't need horses. We parked our Toyota in the post office parking lot adjacent to the market.

Mar Vista Farmers' Market R: We noticed that Grand View had the look of a newly repaved and striped street and learned in our coversation with Demetrios Mavromichalis that it was repaved through the efforts of Councilman Bill Rosendahl. Demetrios, a member of the Board of Directors of the Mar Vista Farmers' Market, was one of the prime movers in getting the market established. The board met at a local coffee shop for three years to develop plans for the market.

Z: The coffee shop called Venice Grind just happens to be owned by Demetrios. The Venice Grind's restroom is available to customers of the farmers' market. As we paused for our own restroom stop, we noticed customers sipping coffee as they pounded away at their laptops. At the front of the café parents were sitting on couches as they observed their small children playing on vinyl-covered hassocks.

R: Talking to Demetrios, we were surprised to learn how expensive it is to close a street down for a farmers' market. We just assumed that one gets a few permits and it's done. When he told us that it's between $15,000 and $30,000 per year, we were astounded. Just going through all the agencies involved takes quite a bit of time and money. Demetrios introduced us to Mike Lucas, another member of the board of directors. Mike, a public relations specialist, is in charge of gaining media attention and developing flyers and other promotional materials to publicize the market.

Z: And let' s not forget Diana Rodgers, the market manager who has been on board for a month. Diana managed the hugely successful Santa Monica Sunday Main Street Market for 10 years before she moved to San Francisco. Returning to Southern California, she accepted the task of making this market as successful as her previous one.

R: We could use a few simple phrases to characterize this market: lots of fresh produce, some organic--colorful flowers--interesting foods to eat--no crafts. Let's start with the flowers. Orchid lovers found a selection of cymbidium, oncidium, and phalaenopsis provided by Sherry from Bellflower. The predominant color for her display that morning was violet/purple.

Z: Dramn and Ector from Encinitas arranged a visual tulip feast with almost any color you could imagine. The tulips were competing for attention with the dazzlingly bright red, yellow, white, coral, and pink gerbera daisies and the multicolored mini gerberas.

Mar Vista Farmers' Market R: Speaking of visual excitement, those brilliant yellow and orange dyed calla lilies from JR Organics from Valley Center shouted out for attention. JR's display also featured pink and red carnations, yellow and gold mums, and purple stock. Most unique were their colorful wreaths assembled from eucalyptus leaves, statice, stock, and strawflowers.

Z: In addition to their flower bouquets, JR' s tables included lettuces, herbs, kale, collards, white and red chard, baby carrots, turnips, Chinese broccoli, and strawberries. I found their combo lettuce pack a good value. It contained romaine, red leaf, and green leaf varieties. Looking at the individual cello packs of baby lettuce, butter lettuce, and oak leaf lettuce, I decided on an impressively plump head of oak leaf.

R: We were curious to learn how the January frost that created havoc on California growers had affected this farm. Since they were in the San Diego area, they did not incur the damage that some of the farms in Central and Northern California suffered. But they were not out of the woods. The cold temperatures killed tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, and many of their flowers.

Z: Sherrill Orchards from Arvin only offered their juices: apple, apple cider, pomegranate, apple pomegranate, orange pomegranate, and apple peach. When we asked about the effect of the frost, Lupe Casas explained that they do not prune their trees in the fall after the fruit harvest as is commonly done by growers. They wait until February. By not trimming the trees until then, they find the leafy tops protect the bottoms from any frost. The frost did not affect Sherrill, but the Bakersfield growers of root vegetables like potatoes and carrots were hurt badly.

R: Gloria's Fruits and Vegetables from Oxnard was not bothered by the freeze. Her booth had three long tables covered with artichokes, cauliflower, broccoli, sugar snap peas, spinach, lettuces, cabbage, carrots, green onions, and three kinds of beets: red, candy stripe, and gold. Camarosa strawberries and dazzling red and yellow heirloom tomatoes rounded out the display.

Z: California Organic Fruits from Fallbrook reported some of their trees were affected by the cold. Their offerings included pink grapefruit, lemons, blood oranges, and tangerines (minneolas, pixies, and Satsuma). Since I'm a kumquat devotee, a half-pound of those little orange darlings ended up in my shopping bag.

R: Even though they were farther south, Valley Center Growers reported that the frost hurt 30% of their citrus and avocados. They were able to bring Meyer and Eureka lemons, sweet limes, blood oranges, mineolas, red grapefruit, oro blancos, navel oranges, and Hass avocados.

Mar Vista Farmers' Market Z: Zuckerman Farm from Stockton reported no damage to their potatoes or asparagus. They sold out of asparagus but had plenty of potatoes. Their table had fingerlings, Yukon gold, Peruvian purple, and red potatoes. At the Fresno Evergreen table I was excited by the choice of greens, stuff like bok choy, you choy, Chinese mustard, Shanghai bok choy, Thai broccoli, mustard greens, collards, dandelions, and sweet pea leaves. They also had one of my favorite root vegetables: parsnips.

R: While Zel was rhapsodizing over all those greens and parsnips, I was noticing the separate table that featured the allium family with mounds of red and brown onions, garlic, giant leeks, and green onions. Black kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and yams were piled on other tables. I had to make sure that we bought Japanese sweet potatoes. That evening we devoured two delicious potatoes with their pale yellow creamy flesh that tasted almost like a dessert.

Z: Apple lovers experienced three varieties from Johna's Orchard in Tehachapi. They sold Fuji, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith as well as their usual apple chips, applesauce, and apple cider vinegar.

R: Dried fruit and nut fans could have it all from Avila and Sons located in Hanford. David Avila was anxious for us to sample his special trail mix and his corn nuts. His table featured garlic roasted peanuts and jalapeno pistachios as well as raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pecan meal. He offered over a dozen dried fruits including figs, nectarines, and Fuyu persimmons.

Z: What impressed us both about this market was prepared food choices for vegans. In our market visits we might find a vendor who had one vegan choice. Sometimes there was nothing except for roasted corn. In this case we found two delights: Leaf Cuisine and Café Nagomi. Of course, it's hard to live in Los Angeles and not know about Leaf Cuisine and their three raw restaurants.

R: It's exciting that Rod Rotondi of Leaf is packaging his raw food that's showing up at farmers' markets and health food stores. At this market he was offering dehydrated crackers in two flavors, spicy kale and flax. Market shoppers could also purchase Bombay Burrito Wraps, Bedouin Burritos, Fortuna Fantasy Wraps, Chickpea Hummos, and Falafel Croquettes. For dessert treats there were apple pie tortes, strawberry mousse, and carrot cake.

 Z: Although Café Nagomi was not totally vegan, they did offer many vegan choices. Nagomi operates out of a catering truck based in Van Nuys. Their motto is "Gourmet Natural Japanese Cooking" or what we would call macrobiotic. None of their dishes contain dairy products, eggs, refined sugar, or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. They avoid animal products except for fish. Nothing is microwaved.

Mar Vista Farmers' Market R: The items they serve include brown rice, grains, vegetables, tofu, sea vegetables, beans, and noodles. Their soy sauce is naturally brewed and the miso is made with organic soybeans, sea salt, and purified water. Purified water is used in everything they cook while their foods are seasoned with sun-dried sea salt.

Z: Our dilemma was choosing between them. I opted for the spicy dehydrated kale crackers from Leaf while Reuben suggested we share an Okra and Lentil Curry with two side dishes from Café Nagomi. The two side dishes we selected were Kinpira Gobo (sauteed gobo, lotus root, and carrot) and Nasu-Nibitashi (stewed Japanese eggplant).

R: Our lunch came in a plastic bag with styrofoam containers, two soup spoons, and choptsticks. When we sat down on one of the picnic tables in the food area, I noticed we had no forks. All we had to do was ask. The delicious miso soup was a welcome start that offered us comforting warmth. Most of the meal came in a styrofoam carton arranged like a Japanese bento box. One section held the curry; another had the brown rice; each of the two sides had its own section. A small salad of baby lettuces came in a separate container.

Z: Needless to say, everything was delicious. If they had a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, we would be there quite often. As we walked to our car carrying bags stuffed with our produce choices and the spicy kale crackers, Reuben said, "I feel positive the Mar Vista market is going to be very successful. I won't be surprised when they extend it another block along Grand View. It's obvious the community wants and supports this market."

Mar Vista Certified Farmers' Market
Grand View Blvd. Between Venice Blvd. and Pacific Avenue
Sundays 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Phone: 310-861-4444

Reviewed March 2007

Click here for past Farmers' Market Reviews

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