Z: As we parked on Degnan Street, we noticed the typical cupolas that signaled the location of a farmers' market. What was missing were swarms of people eager to purchase the fresh produce brought in by local farmers.
R: There seemed to be more vendors than custormers. Also missing was a manager for the market. The temporary manager assured us the market's new, permanent manager will be on the scene very soon.
Z: I had the feeling this market was on life support. There were four farmers with fresh, attractive produce offerings, but not many takers. It was discouraging to see so few people in the community making this Saturday morning stop a priority to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
R: When the market opened in the parking lot of the restored Vision Theater in May 2005, there were 15 farmers selling fruits, vegetables, and flowers. It had and still has the support of SEE-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles), Councilman Bernard Parks, City of Los Angeles Community Development Department, and the Cultural Affairs Department. With that pedigree it should be a huge success.
Z: As small as the market is, it reveals many aspects that make it worthy of community support. Despite the drop in the number of growers coming to the market, the four present that morning displayed an attractive variety of fruits and vegetables.
R: I was impressed with Frederick Shirley of Healthy Greens who was selling organic grasses and sprouts. Shirley, who is in partnership with his mother, does the sprouting as well as selling at the market. He has been a raw foodist since 2000. His raw food journey began when he attended the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego. "Raw means real," he told us.
Z: While explaining how his raw food regimen had improved his personal health, he showed us his grasses and sprouts. His display included wheat, barley, and spelt grasses as well as juices derived from them. He also offered broccoli sprouts and giant sunflower sprouts. The sunflower sprouts looked so enticing I had to take home a gorgeous, robust looking container.
R: Castellanos from Riverside featured a trove of vegetables along with baskets of bright red Camarosa strawberries. The table displayed bunches and bags of carrots as well as red and golden beets, broccoli, celery, onions, garlic, radishes, cilantro, red and green cabbage, and Italian parsley.
Z: The big attraction at their table was the jumbo heads of romaine and the beautiful red and green leaf lettuces.
R: RPC Farm made the long drive from Fresno to bring Fuji apples, citrus fruit, and avocados. Both the Fuerte and Hass avocados were available. The abundant citrus items included lemons, mandarin tangerines, navels, red grapefruit, oro blancos, and the reddest blood oranges we had ever seen.
Z: One could not help noticing the stunning display of South Central Farmers Finding Families. Their table was piled high with several bunches of giant red beets and plump carrots standing upright and looking like brilliant fountains on top of the reclining beets and carrots. Also gracing their table were large bunches of Swiss chard, bundles of green onions, and a unique variety of of spinach called Bloomdale. The thick, crunchy spinach, with its pointed, crinkley leaves, graced our salads at home for the next few days.
R: There's quite a story behind this South Central group. Originally, the organization had the largest urban farm in the nation. Their 14-acre plot provided fresh produce for 350 families. In July 2006 it was bulldozed after it was sold and the farmers were evicted.
Z: But that didn't end the South Central group. They reorganized as the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund that operates a community center and Tianguis (Mexican for a community market) a short distance from their former farm location, the lot that used to be their farm.
R: The most exciting aspect is that 30 South Central families have formed a cooperative and have leased 14 acres in the Central Valley of California. They travel 2 1/2 hours by bus to farm the land on weekends. The organization is planning to lease 20 more acres and ultimately expand to 50 acres.
Z: Seller Josefina Medina, a member of the cooperative, told us, "These vegetables are necessary for the community because there's a lot of junk food around."
R: Unlike so many markets we have visited, this one had some tasty vegan food offerings. Anyone who thinks vegan food is unappealing needs to sample the creations of Soul Vegetarian that sets up here weekly as well as at other markets: Hollywood, La Cienega, Harambee, and Westwood.
Z: Their entrées included Spaghetti with Neat Sauce, Vegan Roast, BBQ Tofu, and BBQ Delites. The tasty side dishes featured traditional soul specialties like Macaroni and Cheese, Black-eyed Peas and Rice, and Kale Greens. Raw fooders could indulge in Wakame Seaweed Salad, Kickin' Kale, Kale and Corn, and Nut Meat Chili.
R: And, of course, there's biscuits and cornbread. To quench our thirst there were Ginger Surprise Drinks like grape, apple kiwi, strawberry, and pineapple coconut. Jared Lewis and Lynn Friedman encouraged us to taste several items from the menu and announced that a Soul Vegetarian Restaurant would be opening soon in the Los Angeles area.
Z: We also met Hosea who is the creator of Ginger Surprise drinks. Hosea, who told us his name means helper of God in Hebrew, proudly told us he had created 32 flavors of Ginger Surprise. He related how he had cleaned up his own act after four heart attacks. He went vegan cold turkey and has not seen a cardiologist in the 11 years he has avoided animal food. Hosea even boasted of doing a 5K run.
R: To our surprise there were even vegan baked goods available from Cobblermania, a business operated by Shae Seward. Seward revealed she is allergic to eggs and doesn't like milk. She was quite persuasive in getting us to sample her apple blackberry cobbler sweetened with agave. We were not disappointed.
Z: Before doing our own produce shopping, we spoke to disk jockey Ron Gantt who has been providing music for the market for the last eight months. Rhythm Ron, as the locals know him, mixes his selections with the likes of James Brown and Nat King Cole, and even adds some salsa to the playlist.
R: Carrying our bags of produce to the car, I looked back at the beautiful mural on the rear wall of the Vision Theater and thought, "What a great venue for a farmers' market! If only more people would support it. I hope it will be around next year."
Leimert Park Village Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed May 2007