Z: One of our personal bonuses in writing about our farmers' market visits is traveling to neighborhoods we rarely visit and becoming acquainted with communities we never knew. There we were standing in a public parking lot at the corner of North Avenue 57 and Marmion Way looking at Victorian style homes that signaled we were in a historic neighborhood.
R: You are definitely right about our learning more about communities in neighboring areas. We were bowled over by the architecture, especially the numerous Victorian homes in the area. We could have hopped on the Gold Line rail car at Union Station and arrived at this corner if we got off at the Highland Park Station. Knowing we would want to make our own produce purchases, we decided to take our trusted Camry and head up the 110 Freeway instead.
Z: From what we learned this was one of Los Angeles's earliest suburbs, but beginning in the 1920's people began moving southwest to the Wilshire area. Replacing these emigres were immigrants, mostly from Latin America. Now the area is going through a revival. The Old LA Farmers' Market and Outdoor Fair, sponsored by North Figueroa Association, is a visible part of that revival. In addition to the market, NFA sponsors an outdoor fair, a holiday parade and lighting program, graffiti removal, security patrols, and street and sidewalk cleanup.
R: NFA Executive Director Misty Iwatsu is technically the manager of the market, but the duties are really shared by Jeff Philipp and Chris Nyerges. Philipp has been with the market since it opened in April 2006. He also assists with the South Pasadena Market. Nyerges, the manager of the Glendale Farmers Market, adds his expertise in helping with this market.
Z: What a great time to go to a farmers' market--right at the beginning of California's stone fruit season. As we looked down the line of farmer's tables, we could see mounds of peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries.
R: Walker Farms from Exeter had a colorful display that included white and yellow peaches, white nectarines, pluots, Santa Rosa plums, black plums, sugar plums, donut peaches, and my favorite cherries, Royal Anne. Their citrus offerings were small and large Valencia oranges, pink grapefruit, limes, lemons, and sweet lemons. Rounding out their stock were Fuji and Pink Lady apples, tomatoes, and an extensive assortment of dried fruits and nuts, shelled and unshelled.
Z: Two other vendors presented stone fruit choices. Robert Bozzini from Stockton sold white and yellow nectarines, white peaches, black plums, and red cherries as well as Fuji apples. Cham from San Bernardino filled the table with white and yellow nectarines, white and yellow peaches, apricots and plums. We noticed the prices of all three fruit vendors were quite reasonable. In fact, in some instances they were considerably lower than you would pay for the same fruit in the supermarket.
R: Zel was in vegetable heaven as she gazed at the offerings of Tomai Farms from Oxnard. That afternoon they showed beefsteak and plump cherry tomatoes. Three varieties of beets were calling to her: red, orange, and candy stripe. The red and the candy stripe ended up in our shopping bag. Their summer squash selections were yellow and green zucchini and plump, round yellow squashes they were calling rondel. Red, yellow, and green peppers added to the brightness of the table.
Z: It's not unusual for Tomai to come with an abundant selection of produce. We have seen their table at other markets bulging with all kinds of vegetables. Reuben didn't mention the Japanese cucumbers, the pickling cukes, and the standard cucumbers. Tomai also showed plenty of brassicas--broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage--as well as romaine and green leaf lettuce, carrots and delicious white corn. I shouldn't forget to mention those cute little baby watermelons the perfect finish for a romantic dinner for two.
R: Gama Farms from Arvin also had watermelons but larger than the baby cuties Zel mentioned. They had some of their usual potato choices: russets, yukons, and red and white rose. Catering to Hispanic shoppers, they showed nopales (cactus pads), jalapeno peppers, tomatillos, and verdolaga. Verdolaga is a unique herb with small, thick, roundish leaves. The farmer compared it to spinach with a tart taste and suggested adding it to salads or stir-fries.
Z: Spencer Enterprises also displayed Hass avocados as well as Valencia oranges. Sydney Spencer told us about her 35-acre farm started by her grandma in the 1950's. Her grandma was one of the early pioneers at farmers' markets in the 1980's and is taking it easy now that she's in her 90's.
R: While we talking to Sydney, we met Joseph Waller who was enjoying a day off from his chef duties at Fatty's Restaurant in Eagle Rock. We promised to stop in to taste some of his latest creations. I mustn't forget Z Ranch from Imperial Valley because of all their organic offerings, especially their delicious melons: cantaloupes, honeydews, Cranshaw, and Galia. Their table also revealed okra, white corn, tomatoes, string beans, onions, radishes, and baby lettuce.
Z: One of the high spots for me that afternoon was talking to the Pencil Tree Man, Brad Donovan. Donovan told us that he's been selling his plants at garage sales for over 25 years and just recently branched out to farmers' markets. His specialty is euphorbia tirucalli, commonly known as the pencil tree. He also had potted jade, century, and spider plants but confessed that 90% of his growing is pencil trees.
R: Special for me was listening to Jose Davila playing traditional Andean melodies on his homemade flutes and pipes. When he wasn't on the pipes, he was shaking the guiro or sitting on a wooden box and playing it like a percussion instrument.
Z: For hungry vegans there were a couple of fast-food choices. Senor Corn's offered of corn-on-the-cob, baked potato, or yams while Gourmet Tamales featured veggie, sweet corn, or sweet pineapple tamales.
R: In addition to the farm produce and food vendors, the market also features crafts. Walking up to the table of the Magical Soap Company, we immediately noticed the pastel colors of the bars and the pleasant fragrances that made us want to sniff each bar.
You might say this company creates compassionate soaps. Their products that include soaps, lotions, body oils, and scrubs contain no animal fat, no alcohol, no petroleum products, and no abrasive chemicals. Their 45 soap creations are natural and handmade.
Z: Some of their flavors include Masculine Musk, Acne Clear, Applejack Orange Peel, Drakkar Noir, Tranquil Sleep, Oatmeal, and Honey Almond. Imelda Rojo has been making soaps for eight months after serving an apprenticeship with a soapmaker. Her family business involves her husband Jose, her daughter, and her sister who all pitch in to make their products.
R: For the children the market had the inflated slide and jumping equipment available to entertain kids at community events. Also worthy of mention is the market's website created and operated by Seth Budnick. Budnick writes a weekly farmers' market report talking about what can be found there. He also has recipes and nutrition information and a report on what's in season. Sadly, he's moving out of the area to take up residence in the East. Hopefully, someone will continue to maintain the informative website.
Z: The Old LA Farmers' Market has so many of the attractions that would bring people here each Tuesday: farm-fresh produce, a variety of food to eat, family entertainment, and crafts. Unfortunately, the major stumbling block is that like so many markets in less affluent neighborhoods, the people in the community do not show up and shop to sustain it. When that happens, the farmers fade away because it's not in their economic interest to keep coming. Our hope is that we return a year from now to see a bustling, thriving market instead of a vacant parking lot.
Old LA (Highland Park) Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed July 2007