Market Watch: The latest farmers market news by David Karp
6:02 PM EDT, May 17, 2013
Among the most intriguing May peaches are three patented by Alan and Lori Asdoorian of Kingsburg, whose century-old Island Farms lies between two branches of the Kings River, southeast of Fresno.
May 10, 2013
Fishermen selling their own catch at Southern California farmers markets are vanishing. An attractive alternative is Community Seafood, a "community-supported fishery" that started selling last Sunday at the Santa Monica Main Street farmers market. Founded by two marine scientists, Sarah Rathbone and Kim Selkoe, it seeks to support local fisheries and provide ultra-fresh, sustainably caught fish to subscribers.
May 3, 2013
In some ways farmers markets are a natural fit at universities, where many students crave healthful, local and organic produce. However, schools are largely closed during summer, the busiest season for markets, and the managers — if students run the market — move on regularly, when they graduate. Such are the challenges at the recently established UCLA market, which is small and operates just twice each academic quarter but is a hit with students and staff.
April 27, 2013
Traditionally, working folk dreamed of retiring to California to grow citrus, or more recently wine grapes, but these days the second career crop of choice appears to be artisanal olive oil. Fresh, local oil is all the rage; universities and industry groups help guide aspiring growers, and once their groves start bearing, many sell at farmers markets, where they earn premium prices and enjoy schmoozing with shoppers. Mark Mooring of Buon Gusto Farms followed an unusual version of this path, from starting the Los Angeles Police Department K-9 Platoon to growing olives in Ventura, where he produces richly flavored, award-winning oils.
April 20, 2013
For many years, Maggie's Farm, based in Agoura Hills, has sold top-quality salad greens and herbs exclusively at farmers markets. Kenter Canyon Farms offers a wider range of similar produce, at a few farmers markets, but mostly wholesale and on a much larger scale. Many shoppers know that the two farms are owned by members of the same family, but few realize that they offer two versions, boutique and commercial, of production that now comes mostly from the same land.
2:04 PM EDT, April 5, 2013
April is generally the least abundant month for locally grown fruits, with nothing like the profusion of stone fruits in summer, apples in autumn and citrus in winter. But there's still plenty of great choices at farmers markets, particularly for shoppers alert to the rhythm of seasons and growing areas.
March 29, 2013
As certified farmers markets have proliferated in California over the past decade, it has become clear that many of their managers lack crucial knowledge of their responsibilities. In response to this problem, veteran managers and the California Department of Food and Agriculture have devised a new program that will shortly hold training sessions for managers around the state.
March 22, 2013
A bill recently introduced in the California Assembly, AB 996, would substantially change the operations and governance of the state's certified farmers markets, strengthening some enforcement provisions and weakening others. The bill would renew authorization for the state's role in the program, including penalties for cheaters, which are now scheduled to expire at the end of 2013. Its provisions, which will likely be modified in coming months, currently include:
2:21 PM EDT, March 15, 2013
Rhubarb is one of the great joys of spring, with its rosy color, earthy tang and old-fashioned allure, and the story of its local rise and fall is as intriguing as its flavor. Just a generation or two ago, it was widely cultivated in Southern California, but now local rhubarb is available almost exclusively at farmers markets, and just from a handful of vendors.
1:07 PM EST, March 8, 2013
Locally raised pork is rare in Southern California, but in a hilly grapefruit grove north of San Diego, fenced to exclude mountain lions, 14 tasty piglets luxuriate, fattening for sale at the Santa Monica farmers market. They're the dream or folly of Oliver Woolley, who raises heritage pigs.
March 1, 2013
— The cherimoya is a peculiar-looking, almost intimidating fruit — "like a pre-Columbian jade pine cone or the finial for a giant Inca four-poster bed," in Elizabeth Schneider's memorable words. But at its best it tastes sublime, with sweet, juicy, flan-like flesh and rich flavor blending papaya, banana and pineapple. Mark Twain famously called it "the most delicious fruit known to men," and if taste were all that counted, cherimoyas might outsell apples.
February 23, 2013
The Irvine Saturday farmers market is the largest and best in Orange County, but it's a mixed bag. It has some worthy local small farmers who come in person, along with more commercial farms, and even a few who have been sanctioned previously for cheating by agricultural authorities or other managers.
February 16, 2013
The prepared food vendors at local farmers markets cater to a world of tastes and ethnicities, from Filipino balut to halal shawarma, but until recently none served observant Jews who follow kosher dietary laws. It fell to a secular Jew, Michele Grant, fresh off the success of her Grilled Cheese Truck, to fill that niche, offering a flavorful, healthy twist on traditional kosher cooking, strictly supervised by the Rabbinical Council of California.
February 9, 2013
As part of a great California olive oil boom, now at least a dozen olive oil vendors are selling at local farmers markets, up from only a couple a decade ago. Most offer a good product, but there are few who, like Michael O'Brien of Paso Gold, provide local, fresh, high-quality, certified organic oil, sold by the farmer himself in the agricultural section of the market.
February 3, 2013
Farmers Markets: With respected leader back in L.A. County, attention turns to inspections on shoestring budget
For many years, when managers grew frustrated about lax enforcement at Los Angeles farmers markets, they would cry, "If only Ed Williams were here!"
January 25, 2013
Midwinter is peak time for citrus to be eaten fresh, and this year quality has been superb, probably because of the extended heat earlier in the growing season. Here are tips about which varieties to look for now and from which growing areas, including recommended growers, tips for choosing and using, and potential pitfalls. For each type there's also a peek at what the future has to offer.
January 18, 2013
FALLBROOK — Jim Russell's macadamia orchard looks like a park, 3 acres of holly-like evergreens growing above closely cropped grass. A casual observer would never suspect that it represents a relic of a bygone boom, a source of uniquely delicious nuts and one man's triumph over paralysis.
January 11, 2013
DE LUZ — High on a hill overlooking an idyllic vista of citrus, avocados and chaparral, Bill Vogel spied a tree loaded with an unexpected bounty and started to holler.
December 29, 2012
Although summer claims many of the sexiest, most attention-grabbing vegetables, such as eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini, in Southern California the vegetables that thrive in winter are equally abundant and alluring. Roots, crucifers and peas may be available year-round, but winter is their time to shine. In the spirit of the many award ceremonies held in this season, here are some of my favorite early winter vegetables and producers who do an extraordinary job with them, based on notes, photos and tastings over the last 14 years.
December 21, 2012
Mandarins at their best are the noblest of citrus, with intense, complex aromatics and fascinating varietal identities. Two clementine-tangelo crosses prized for their rich flavor, Page and Lee, are now in peak season and well worth searching out. Page long been a favorite at farmers markets, and recently commercial growers have caught on and planted them on a larger scale. Its half-sister, Lee, is rare in California but arguably has even more extraordinary flavor.
December 14, 2012
The great advantage of Southern California farmers markets — year-round availability of fresh, local produce — can sometimes backfire by obscuring the seasonal rhythm of crops and growing areas. For example, carrots, grapefruits, nuts and avocados are always available from somewhere but not always at their best; it's up to shoppers to learn the difference.
December 7, 2012
Kiwi are now plentiful at farmers markets, but they're not always easy to find in prime condition. To produce high-quality kiwis, growers need to apply crop-specific expertise in pollination, pruning, irrigation, ripening and storage. Many farmers market vendors are generalists for whom kiwis are a minor sideline, so they sometimes bring rock-hard fruit that never ripens, or improperly stored specimens that have shriveled, softened and developed off flavors. At their best, however, local recently harvested kiwis have an intense vibrancy that is often missing in long-stored commercial fruit.
2:06 PM EST, November 30, 2012
At their best, clementines are among the finest of citrus fruits, easy to peel, seedless, with firm but juicy flesh and a rich, well-balanced flavor. However, they can vary dramatically in quality, depending on the exact variety, the season, where they're grown, how they're grown and how they're packed and stored. For anyone who has fallen in love with this fruit only to be disappointed later, it is worth understanding these factors before shopping, whether at grocery stores or at farmers markets.
5:11 PM EST, November 23, 2012
Valencia, Spain – Detailing the ancestry of sweet orange has been a long-sought prize for citrus scientists. On Friday, the leader of a group that has been analyzing the genetic makeup of citrus said in a scientific talk that the ponkan -- a large, loose-skinned type of mandarin widely cultivated in Asia and Brazil -- was the likely father of the sweet orange.
November 17, 2012
OROSI, Calif. — Easy to peel and nearly seedless, with tender flesh and tangy mandarin flavor, satsumas are one of the most popular farmers market fruits around Thanksgiving. Farmers like them too, especially growers in cold, low-lying areas, because they ripen early, before frosts usually strike, and the tree is exceptionally cold-hardy for citrus.
12:53 PM EST, November 9, 2012
While farmers markets have proliferated in recent years, demand for fresh, local, seasonal produce has increased even faster. Several types of entrepreneurs have arisen to satisfy this demand, including specialty produce distributors, shopping services and stores that emulate the farmers market experience, such as Atwater Village Farm. One intriguing variation is the Produce Project, which buys from farmers markets and sells at "pop-up farm stands" in downtown L.A. and Mid-City.
1:01 PM EDT, November 2, 2012
When the Stokes Purple sweet potato shows up in markets next week, it's hard to say what will be more intriguing: its look, with dramatically deep purple skin and flesh, its flavor or the mystery of its origins.
2:48 PM EDT, October 26, 2012
One of the most surprising recent produce introductions is the Robert Livermore walnut, which will be coming into season in the next few weeks. The trees and the whole nuts look like conventional walnuts, but the thin seedcoat covering the kernel is vivid scarlet.
October 20, 2012
VENTUCOPA, Calif. — Pistachios are available from storage year-round, but for the next week or so, ultra-seasonal green nuts, freshly harvested and still encased in their hulls, will appear at farmers markets. Moister, softer and sweeter than regular pistachios, they have their own flavor that hints at citrus and eucalyptus. They are sold by Santa Barbara Pistachio Co., owned by the Zannon family, who started last Sunday to harvest 400 acres in the remote, pristine Cuyama Valley, midway between Santa Barbara and Bakersfield.
October 12, 2012
REEDLEY, Calif. -- Raisins are the neglected icon of California agriculture, perceived as an old-fashioned industrial commodity, devoid of seasonal sizzle. At farmers markets, however, it's well worth searching out special varieties, freshly harvested and processed by small growers.
October 5, 2012
WASCO, Calif. — California's almond harvest, which takes place from August through October, is a dusty, noisy affair, vast in scale and fascinating in its blend of agricultural and industrial processes. Sixty years ago California grew 100,000 acres of almonds, 85% of them in the northern Central Valley, from Madera to Butte counties. Mechanization, increased irrigation in the southern San Joaquin Valley (at least until recent water cutbacks) and booming exports have boosted production, and California now raises some 760,000 acres of almonds, its third largest farm commodity, after dairy and grapes. Two of the top three almond counties are Kern and Fresno, where endless vistas of almonds line the highways.
September 29, 2012
With dark blue, astringent skins, and dry, sour flesh, the ancient plums called damsons aren't good for eating fresh. When submitted to a process akin to alchemy, however, their tartness and spiciness are ideal for making preserves. Cooked down, the damson's astringency disappears, and its tannic skin imparts a gorgeous magenta color and rich, spicy flavor, while its abundant pectin confers a lusciously thick and smooth consistency.
September 22, 2012
SACRAMENTO -- More than two years after reports of widespread cheating at farmers markets, the latest state group designated to solve the problem has ended its sessions without reaching a decision about crucial enforcement issues, though it may have made enough progress to help spark legislative interest.
September 14, 2012
Two popular and successful farmers markets, in South Pasadena and Westwood, are in the process of replacing the veteran managers who helped build them.
September 7, 2012
As farmers markets have proliferated in the past decade, many communities now consider a local venue to be an essential amenity, for social as well as culinary purposes. Such was the feeling in Palms, where the Motor Avenue Improvement Assn., comprised of business owners and residents, opened a market last Sunday. It's managed by Diana Ionescu, a UCLA graduate student in urban and Latin American studies, who received advice from Pompea Smith, former director of the Hollywood market. Ionescu recruited 20 vendors, evenly split between farmers and prepared foods, and of better than average quality for a new market.
August 31, 2012
For a vision from a century ago, when farms covered Los Angeles County, there's no better time machine than Blum Ranch in Acton, southwest of Palmdale. Just off the 14 freeway, about an hour north of downtown, its 40 acres of peach and pear orchards are the largest deciduous fruit planting so close to the city. The century-old stone house, the streamlined 1940 tractor, the ancient, creaky trees and the fruit they produce are as defiantly old school as the owners, Ray and Elizabeth Billet.
August 24, 2012
The Beverly Glen farmers market, which had a soft opening last Saturday at the Glen Centre shopping mall just south of Mulholland Drive, revives an event that debuted 11 years ago. That version folded due to a lack of parking, but the reincarnation offers a new lot and free valet service. The sponsor remains Raw Inspiration a nonprofit that has in the interim grown from 5 to 21 farmers markets in the Los Angeles area, run through an operating affiliate, California Certified Farmers Markets. The Beverly Glen market has 40 stands, 16 of them farmers, with a mix of large and small growers, including veterans and novices.
August 17, 2012
LOMPOC, Calif. — A new beef vendor at the Santa Monica farmers market, Rancho San Julian is very likely the oldest continuously operated family farm in California, dating to 1816, when José de la Guerra began to raise meat for the presidio at Santa Barbara. In 1837, the governor of Alta California granted him title to the ranch, which has remained in his family for nine generations. It currently extends over 13,000 acres of grasslands and oak forest, roamed by cougars, bears and hawks, and home to 500 Angus cows and their calves. All the cattle are born and raised on the ranch, fed chiefly on its dry-farmed grass, and not given corn, hormones or antibiotics.
3:15 PM EDT, August 10, 2012
Most California apples are grown either well north of Los Angeles, in mountains, or near the coast, where cool winters and nights boost production and quality. Ojai, atrociously hot in summer, is better known for its citrus, but in some of its valleys where cold air pools, the microclimate is surprisingly suitable for apples, which were grown there on a modest scale in decades past. The possibility was clear on Monday when Cecilio Marquez and his crew harvested Galas from an 8-acre orchard, leased from a couple who bought the property from Otis Chandler, publisher of The Times from 1960 to 1980.
August 3, 2012
Among the most lamented casualties of industrial fruit commerce is the Gravenstein apple, whose intense, distinctive aroma, honeyed, floral and fruity, has lodged in the memories of many Californians, emblematic of the careless rapture of childhood. Most plantings in Sonoma, where the variety reaches perfection, have given way to wine grapes and showier, longer-storing and milder-flavored apples, but a few farmers and a Slow Food group have striven to preserve the variety. Still, few Sonoma Gravensteins show up in Southern California, which makes it all the more special that on Aug. 5 and 19, Paul Kolling of Nana Mae's Organics, who tends 75 acres of Gravensteins in Sebastopol, will be selling at the Mar Vista farmers market.
July 27, 2012
Of the dozen tomato varieties displayed at Vang Thao's stand last Saturday, one, with purplish black skin over a flaming orange ground color, stood out spectacularly. It's a new variety, Indigo Rose, pigmented by anthocyanins, the same compounds responsible for the dark color in cherries, blood oranges and red cabbages, but not previously significant in cultivated tomatoes.
2:58 PM EDT, July 20, 2012
Flanked by low-income housing, recently renovated lofts, offices and art galleries, the Historic Downtown Los Angeles farmers market, which opened two weeks ago, is a study in contrasts. Rehabilitated skid row denizens wash away stains in front of a new ballet school, while classically ornamented white buildings loom above tourists, hipsters and longtime residents of diverse ethnicities and incomes.
July 13, 2012
Harry Nicholas, who celebrates his 90th birthday Saturday, drives round-trip twice a week from southeast of Fresno to Los Angeles area farmers markets, where he is likely the oldest farmer to participate actively. As if that weren't enough, he's got the goofiest, most lovable grin in the markets, he's a snazzy dresser (partial to bolo ties and purple pimp hats) and he grows extraordinary produce.
July 6, 2012
Is it possible to turn a passion for home gardening into a career growing for farmers markets? Such is the hope of Jennifer Little and James Imhoff, who gave up successful jobs to start Little Farm Fresh in their San Gabriel yard. They have gained a cult following for their unusual heirloom produce, including cape gooseberries, Black Cobra chiles and Richmond Green Apple cucumbers, and believe that their goal — "spending time together doing what we love" — is within sight.
June 30, 2012
HANFORD, Calif. — Combining the high sugar and flavor of cherries with the larger fruit size and extended season of plums has been a longstanding dream for fruit breeders, but such crosses are difficult to make successfully so that the hybrids yield abundant high-quality fruit. Zaiger's Genetics of Modesto, the inventors of Pluots and Apriums, managed the trick, and the fruit started showing up several years ago in very small quantities at upstate farmers markets; this year vendors at local farmers markets have begun offering plum-cherry hybrids, and the first commercial orchard has started bearing fruit.
4:51 PM EDT, June 22, 2012
Spider-Manlooms incongruously on a billboard above the new Sunset Strip farmers market, which opened last Thursday in a parking lot next to the ghosts of Tower Records and Spago Hollywood. No superheroes participated in the event's gestation — just Diana Rodgers, manager of the Mar Vista market, and the sponsor, the Sunset Strip Business Assn., which has assembled an all-star roster of 26 certified farmers and 16 prepared foods stalls.
4:55 PM EDT, June 18, 2012
SANTA YNEZ, Calif. — In recent months, there's been a new farm in town with the enigmatic name the Garden of ..... and an almost mystical reputation for superb quality. From lettuce to potatoes, everything that the owners, Shu and Debby Takikawa, have offered at the Altadena and Mar Vista markets has more than lived up to the buzz.
June 8, 2012
Amid the seasonal abundance of apricots, cherries, peaches and Boysenberries, it is hard to imagine that a citrus juice would become an object of craving, but few shoppers have any idea just how sweet and flavorful late-harvest Kinnow mandarins can be. Their juice, squeezed fresh at markets by Lucio Trinidad of Piru, is shockingly deep yellow-orange, almost syrupy in texture, and intensely aromatic and sweet, with just enough balancing acidity to forestall insipidity.
5:08 PM EDT, June 1, 2012
The Altadena certified farmers market, which opened last Wednesday afternoon after weeks of anticipatory buzz, is innovative and deeply idealistic. It showcases more than half a dozen small urban farms, most of which are selling at a farmers market for the first time, and the quality of its more established farms is high enough to draw shoppers from across the region.
May 26, 2012
— It's always an event when "Farmer Al" Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm shows up at the Santa Monica farmers market, where he'll be selling apricots and cherries for the next month. He's a celebrity farmer in the Bay Area, folksy yet sophisticated, and his fruit often matches his charisma.
4:33 PM EDT, May 18, 2012
— Early cherries are reason enough to head to the farmers market, but be careful. Erratic winter chill, freezes during bloom, hail and late rains have made for a short crop of early cherries from the southern San Joaquin Valley. But there's still plenty of great fruit available at farmers markets for those who take care to select fresh, ripe cherries of the best varieties. In the last decade, the task has become trickier, but potentially more rewarding, with the arrival of new and unfamiliar varieties.
May 11, 2012
High on a steep, terraced mountainside in Malibu, with a spectacular view of the Pacific, perches the largest and probably the only commercial planting of loquats in the United States. A pome fruit related to apples and pears, the loquat is one of the great pleasures of spring in Southern California. It has firm but juicy flesh with the texture of cantaloupe and a sweet-tart flavor evoking cherry. The irony is that it is so well-adapted and common as a backyard tree that there's little local demand for the fruit.
May 4, 2012
The intense sweetness, distinctive knobbly appearance and mysterious provenance of the Temecula Sweet mandarin have endowed the fruit with a mystique. Farmers market citrus vendors from De Luz, just a few miles from where the fruit is grown, say customers often ask for the variety and wonder what it is, but there's only one source, and that's a most secretive and gorgeous citrus farm, just west over the mountain from the suburban sprawl of Temecula. In a pristine valley of chaparral and oaks along the Santa Margarita River, the last free-flowing waterway in Southern California, across from a nature reserve where mountain lions prowl, is a 24-acre grove of Temecula Sweet.
3:55 PM EDT, April 27, 2012
Many growers proudly advertise their local origins, but when David Rosenstein of Evo Farm sells his produce on Sunday for the first time at the Mar Vista farmers market, he says he will be talking "not about food miles, but food feet."
1:27 PM EDT, April 20, 2012
THERMAL, Calif. — One of the most highly regarded farms in Northern California, Petaluma-based County Line Harvest started growing organic vegetables in the Coachella desert to extend its production in the winter and spring. For owner David Retsky, who grew up in Beverly Hills, selling to Southern California was the logical next step, and almost like coming home.
April 13, 2012
Of the many Southern Californians starting urban farms these days, few have stories more colorful than Brett and Tanya Wyatt of B&T Farm. Brett, 53, was an observant Jew studying geography at UC Davis, then a Buddhist monk in Myanmar, where he managed to flee just before the regime raided his monastery. He then earned a doctorate analyzing organic farming concepts in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he met Tanya, 44, who supervised a farm group and grew mushrooms. A year ago he returned to California to teach computer skills at a public high school in Watts, and they promptly decided to establish an urban farm.
April 6, 2012
After Pompea Smith, who has led the Hollywood farmers market since she founded it 21 years ago, was fired Tuesday night, many questions remained as to just what had happened, and why. Official details were scant, but it is clear that the story involved financial issues, office politics and conflicting visions for the organization.
March 23, 2012
"Oh, strawberries don't taste as they used to," wrote John Steinbeck in "East of Eden." Never mind that the chapter was set a century ago; many foodies believe that industrial varieties and practices have degraded the flavor of modern strawberries. This spring we have an opportunity to test that hypothesis, as Harry's Berries has resumed growing the Chandler variety, a longtime favorite at farmers markets for its tender, juicy flesh and classic strawberry flavor.
March 16, 2012
March 8, 2012
Located in a narrow canyon four miles north of Santa Paula, Mud Creek Ranch combines a historic family homestead, a commercial organic citrus and avocado orchard and a mystery zone where the usual rules of farming do not apply. It is a one-family experiment station where Steven and Robin Smith grow all manner of fruits, from apples to wampees, in some 400 varieties, very likely the most of any vendor at farmers markets.
6:04 PM EST, March 2, 2012
When Tara Kolla of Silver Lake Farms returned to the Hollywood farmers market last Sunday for the first time in three years, her flower stand was a riot of color, with sweet peas, ranunculus and snapdragons, and her customers were rapturous, but her eyes were rimmed with tears.
February 17, 2012
As certified farmers markets have proliferated in recent years, it may appear as if everyone and his uncle is getting into the game. Some vendors indeed are flourishing, but others have been stretched thin by the expansion and resulting dilution of farmers markets. Selling at farmers markets has always involved manifold risks, inefficiencies and frustrations, but in the last year, likely because of the weak economy, quite a few longtime or prominent vendors have withdrawn from the markets or are considering doing so. Each has his own reasons, but together they tell a story: Surviving at farmers markets is increasingly tough for many growers.
February 10, 2012
The Dekopon, a Japanese hybrid of mandarin and orange reputed to be the most delicious citrus in the world, created a sensation last year when California-grown fruit showed up at local groceries under the marketing name Sumo, after a dozen years of secrecy and intrigue. The new crop has started arriving at stores and will be available at the Santa Monica farmers market starting next Wednesday from the Dekopon kingpin himself, Mike George of Lindsay, who grows 16 acres of the variety and organized the group that secured the rights to it.
February 3, 2012
The desolate, scrubby plain around Ridgecrest, where the Sierra Nevada meets the Great Basin and the Mojave desert, might seem an incongruous source for tomatoes, especially in the middle of winter. Nevertheless, Scott and Gale Shacklett, who go by the name of TomatoMan, manage to produce superior, flavorful tomatoes in more than half an acre of greenhouses here, where sonic booms from the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station shatter the silence.
January 27, 2012
Midwinter is prime citrus season for both the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California districts, with an abundance of excellent mandarins, oranges, tangelos and lemons. The one laggard is conventional grapefruit, which, as grown in these two areas will be too sour for most palates for a couple of months or more. By compensation, we have three fine locally adapted grapefruit-like hybrids, Oroblanco, Melogold and Cocktail "grapefruit," which are at their peak right now.
1:47 PM EST, January 20, 2012
Although most of the larger farmers markets in Southern California have at least one vendor of cultivated mushrooms, the great majority of these buy from large commercial producers and so must sell in the non-certified section or under a second certificate arrangement. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but it takes just a glance at the pristine and tender shiitake and oyster mushrooms that Fred Ellrott grows and picks himself, to see that there is a real advantage to the consumer in buying mushrooms direct from the producer.
2:36 PM EST, January 13, 2012
— One of very few goat dairies in Southern California, and one of the newest and best cheese vendors at local certified farmers markets, is Drake Family Farms, which started selling an excellent fresh, mild chevre cheese a little over a year ago. It remains to be seen, however, whether its high quality and local production will allow it to overcome the brutal economics of artisanal, farmstead cheesemaking in a world of cheap commodity cheese.
January 6, 2012
While Southern Californians have enjoyed balmy weather over the last week, some citrus growers in the San Joaquin Valley are still coping with the aftermath of harrowing cold last month, the longest stretch of subfreezing temperatures on record in the area. In general, the state's commercial citrus industry appears to have escaped without disastrous losses, and this season is shaping up as a good one, but some of the small growers who sell at farmers markets lost significant portions of their crops, and it behooves shoppers to be alert for damaged fruit over the coming weeks.
January 3, 2012
Jerry Dimitman, a retired professor of plant pathology at Cal Poly Pomona who regularly caused an uproar when he showed up to sell his exotic fruit at the Alhambra farmers market, died Dec. 14 of a stroke at his home overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. He was 91.
December 23, 2011
Colored kale plants with red or purple centers and greenish outer leaves have long been popular as ornamental plants, for home gardens and street landscaping. Although edible, they were really more beautiful than delicious; but several newer varieties that have become available at farmers markets in recent years offer exceptionally sweet flavor and tender texture in addition to striking appearance. They're at their best in midwinter and add festive color to holiday tables.
December 16, 2011
In the last two decades, there's been a tremendous surge in production of artisanal olive oil in California as consumers have developed an appreciation for the freshness, high quality and distinctive flavors that good locally produced oil can provide. This boom has carried over into farmers markets, where there has been a rush of new vendors, although many of them are not certified producers who are required to grow what they sell. Of the olive growers who are, one of the most intriguingly local is Joyce Lukon of Robinson Road Olive Ranch, who harvested her small crop last Sunday from a hillside next to her home in Topanga.
3:09 PM EST, December 9, 2011
A few California farmers have long pushed the envelope by trying to grow crops like pineapples or lychees that are really a bit too tropical for local conditions but still tantalizing in their possibilities. A case in point is the mango, which just barely gets enough heat in the scorching Coachella desert to merit being grown commercially; all the more amazing that Markov Farms of Valley Center, located in a coastal climate zone even less well adapted to the fruit, is finally starting to market its crop at farmers markets, albeit with a catch.
December 2, 2011
The last decade or so has seen a remarkable boom in the quantity and variety of limes and lime-like fruits available in the United States. California has become the leading domestic producer, albeit by default, and late autumn is prime season for limes, especially at farmers markets, where the ripeness, freshness and diversity of limes is unbeatable. But the interplay of variety, growing areas and seasons can be confusing, and the nomenclature, as well as the very concept of what is a "lime," is unclear.
5:49 PM EST, November 25, 2011
With the partial exception of Bartletts, great locally grown pears are scarce at farmers markets in Southern California, where warm winters and disease render cultivation problematic. This makes it all the more special that Al Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm, a rock star organic fruit grower from Brentwood, Calif., an hour east of San Francisco, will make a cameo appearance the next two Wednesdays at the Santa Monica farmers market to sell his legendary Warren pears.
November 18, 2011
The Cuyama Valley is just 30 miles northeast of Santa Barbara and two hours from downtown Los Angeles, but it's a world of its own, rimmed by stark, rugged mountains, sparsely populated and little known. At the extreme southern end of the valley, the location where Cuyama Orchards grows apples is particularly remote, surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, with only bobcats and bears as neighbors; it has no telephone lines or cellphone reception, and when it rains hard, the adjacent Cuyama River floods the only incoming road for a week or more.
1:56 PM EST, November 11, 2011
— Southern California lies along an ocean that once abounded in seafood and still produces a catch of considerable quantity and diversity. Why is it, then, that so little of the fish at farmers markets is sold directly by those who catch it?
November 4, 2011
The cactus pear is the Rodney Dangerfield of the fruit world, beloved by immigrants from parts of Latin America and the Mediterranean basin but largely ignored by most consumers in the United States. That may be changing, however, as the leading domestic cactus pear producer, Salinas-based D'Arrigo Bros., has introduced four new, greatly improved varieties — orange, red, purple and green — that are firmer, sweeter and juicier than the traditional variety it has marketed for the last 80 years. They're starting to be sold at Gelson's today and are well worth searching out.
October 28, 2011
Dried fruit is both easier and trickier to enjoy than fresh fruit. Easier, because dried fruit is less perishable than fresh and is thus more readily shipped and stored. Trickier, because in addition to the factors that determine fresh fruit quality — variety, growing area, growing practices and ripeness — dried fruit quality depends on processing and storage. These sound simple but in fact involve artisanal practices that are not easy for producers to master and are largely inscrutable to consumers.
October 14, 2011
If you came up with a better prune, would the world beat a path to your door? That's what Jim Doyle, a now-retired UC Davis fruit breeder, was hoping in 1992 when he crossed Improved French, the standard variety for prunes, with Tulare Giant, a large-fruited fresh-market European plum. He was searching for a variety that ripened earlier than Improved French, to allow producers to harvest and dry their crops more efficiently; he succeeded in this, but by chance the new variety, named Muir Beauty, was irresistibly delicious.
October 7, 2011
One of the rarest but greatest pleasures of farmers markets is encountering passionate collectors who sell a wide range of rare fruit varieties normally grown only at specialty sites such as germplasm repositories and agricultural experiment stations. There's no better example than Patrice Dreckmann of Rainbow Heights Farm & Nursery, who grows 50 varieties of muscat grapes and 43 varieties of figs just south of Temecula.
September 30, 2011
Most native-born French recoil from chiles as if from snakes, but in the Basque country of the Pyrenees foothills, five miles from the Spanish border, the citizens of Espelette adore a unique local pod called the Espelette, conical, 3 to 4 inches long and medium hot, with thin flesh and many seeds. After harvest in late summer and fall, the vermilion pods are strung in ristra-like cordes, dried in the sun, roasted in bread ovens and ground into richly perfumed red-orange powder, with hints of hay, ripe tomatoes and toast.
September 23, 2011
Thirteen years ago, when Ruben Mkrtchyan told his wife and four children that they were going to move from Glendale to a high desert valley in the middle of nowhere to grow the world's tastiest melons, they thought he had lost his mind.
September 16, 2011
A plan earlier this year to ensure the integrity of farmers markets went nowhere, but now the California Department of Food and Agriculture is forming an advisory group to consider a variety of topics related to the direct marketing of fruits and vegetables — not only farmers markets but also farm stands and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
September 9, 2011
When the breeze blows in the right direction, a spicy vegetal aroma tells visitors to the Santa Monica Virginia Park farmers market that Ted Galván, the manager, is roasting chile peppers. Each Saturday in September, he takes pasilla, Anaheim and jalapeño peppers grown by Tutti Frutti Farms in Lompoc, chars them in a tumbler rotating over propane flames and sells them to the public.
September 2, 2011
Long before the Wilshire Center farmers market officially opens at 11 a.m. on Fridays, customers throng the Kensee Farms stand to buy a very fresh and diverse array of Asian vegetables and greens. Chongshoua C. Lee, a Hmong grower who farms in Selma and Clovis with his wife, Vang Kensee, offers pristine okra, purple Chinese eggplant, long beans, yard-long snake gourds, both smooth and spiky bitter melons, round Indian and Thai eggplants in many hues, malabar spinach and ferociously hot Thai bird chiles.
August 26, 2011
The word "heirloom" is commonly applied to the produce sold at farmers markets, but the concepts behind it frequently are misunderstood or stretched, both by growers and the public. Originally the word was a legal term referring to goods that descended to an heir along with real property; by extension, it came to refer to something of special value handed down from one generation to another.
August 25, 2011
The most distinctive and enigmatic stone fruit in markets currently is the Indian Blood Freestone peach. The first thing you'll note is its intense rose-like aroma, which can fill a room with peachy perfume. The fruits look like nothing else, with thick white fuzz over mottled red and creamy white skin, which can give them an odd gray-green cast; the flesh is snowy white with blotches of red — occasionally it can be spectacularly, fully red, almost like a beet.
August 12, 2011
Deborah Wong Chamberlain's luscious Valencia Pride mangoes are among a very few elite fruits, such as Blenheim apricots, Snow Queen nectarines and Persian mulberries, whose seasonal appearance at farmers markets occasions the most intense anticipation and excitement.
August 5, 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proclaimed Aug. 7 to 13 to be National Farmers Market Week. In Southern California, unlike most of the rest of the country, we enjoy exciting offerings of local produce year-round. But even here, high summer gives us the greatest abundance and diversity.
July 15, 2011
These days, everyone and his uncle wants a farmers market in his neighborhood or shopping center. Dozens of new farmers markets open each year in the Los Angeles area, varying greatly in their operators, intentions and locales. Some are basically swap meets, dominated by prepared foods and crafts, and many languish and disappear after a year or two. Several more noteworthy markets, which have opened or will open soon in Thousand Oaks, Hollywood and Torrance, provide an object lesson in the complex motivations, economics and logistics that underlie the farmers market world.
July 8, 2011
Last Wednesday at the Santa Monica market, rivulets of sweat coursed down the brow of Ron Cornelsen, a stone fruit grower from Reedley, and it was only 9 a.m. The previous day it had been 107 degrees in his orchard, and the monsoonal humidity made things so miserable that he had to pay his workers a 30% premium to harvest under such brutal conditions, he said. Even worse, after an unusual late downpour last week, much of his crop dropped from the trees and developed brown rot when it warmed up. When the heat takes such a toll on both humans and produce, it's time to appreciate those growers, like Cornelsen, who get up at 3 a.m. and drive in from the Fresno area to sell personally at farmers markets.
July 1, 2011
A relative newcomer to farmers markets, Country Fresh Herbs offers a gorgeous display of heirloom tomatoes, salad greens, specialty peppers, lemon cucumbers and Romanesco zucchini. But even more intriguing is the story of the family that brings this produce to market.
June 24, 2011
For two months it seemed like summer would never come for our nectarines and plums, which were delayed and somewhat less flavorful than usual. This week, the big heat finally arrived in the San Joaquin Valley, bringing an abundance of choice varieties to peak ripeness all at once. For the next two months, that area will pump out great varieties every week, if you know what to look for.
June 17, 2011
Lemons are most in demand in summer, for making lemonade, serving with cocktails and squeezing on fish. There's a little bit of a disconnect with production, which is concentrated, from different growing areas, in the fall to spring months; but there's still plenty of supply throughout the summer from coastal districts. Most commercial production is of the standard Eureka and Lisbon varieties, but in the last decade a few farmers market and specialty growers have planted Italian varieties, famed for their romantic history and intensely aromatic rinds.
June 10, 2011
Walking through the Santa Monica farmers market early one recent morning, I noticed Sherry Yard, executive pastry chef of Spago, carrying a flat of strawberries that looked oddly different than any I had seen there before. Even from 10 feet away, they seemed smaller and rounder than conventional strawberries, with prominent seeds and an unusual carmine-orange color. As I wondered what they might be, suddenly the breeze shifted my way, wafting an intense aroma of wild strawberries, and I knew.
June 9, 2011
Early on a recent morning, Diana Rodgers, manager of the Mar Vista farmers market, drove north for two days of farm visits in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, including to three berry growers in Nipomo. When she arrived, the farms offered gorgeous vistas of rolling dunes and sun glinting off the Pacific, with cool breezes, delicious raspberries and mind-bogglingly aromatic Mara des Bois strawberries.
June 3, 2011
The first month of the summer fruit season is like a roller coaster: a frustratingly slow buildup, with many mediocre early varieties, gives way suddenly to a whoosh of fantastic flavors. The fruit calendar has been about a week later than usual because of cool spring weather, but finally markets are abounding, if one knows where to look, with classic Bing cherries, flavorful Robada apricots, aromatic Flavorella plumcots and complex Boysenberries. So much fruit, so little stomach!
May 27, 2011
A plan to provide additional resources to state and county authorities for farmers market enforcement, proposed in the aftermath of a cheating scandal last autumn, has not been incorporated into a general farmers market bill currently before the California state Senate, and it seems unlikely to be adopted this year. Southern California managers and farmers market leaders are rushing to submit comments in favor of the plan before a Senate vote scheduled to take place in the next week.
May 20, 2011
At the farthest fringe of the Inland Empire, southeast of the hardscrabble town of Hemet, lies the world center of summer grapefruit, one of the least known and most fascinating of California's agricultural niches. The major commercial grapefruit districts, Florida, Texas and California's Coachella low desert, harvest from November to April, but Hemet's peculiar high desert microclimate — hot enough in the day to color and sweeten the fruit but cool enough at night to delay maturity — provides a rare source of high-quality grapefruit in late spring and summer.
May 13, 2011
A long-planned new farmers market modeled on the Santa Monica market drew large, enthusiastic crowds to its opening last Sunday in Old Towne Orange. There are more than 30 certified farmers markets in Orange County, but none offers the combination of diversity, integrity and chef appeal for which Santa Monica is famous. Translating ambitious plans and good intentions into a county-wide farmers market powerhouse will require long-term organic growth, but the new venue is off to a promising start.
May 7, 2011
Plums usually don't start until the end of May, but a few growers, mostly of Armenian origin, have started bringing green plums, which are unripe fruits the size of cherries. These are hard and sour, and would not appeal to most Americans, but they're much appreciated in the Mideast as the first fruits of spring and are eaten fresh, sometimes with a pinch of salt.
April 29, 2011
Late April and early May is a challenging, in-between time for fruit lovers. The citrus harvest is winding down, and prime stone fruit is still several weeks off. At no season is it more important for mindful shoppers to discern mediocre from worthwhile offerings and perhaps even venture afield from farmers markets to obtain certain specialty items.
April 22, 2011
Spring always brings a new crop of farmers markets, as operators time openings to capitalize on the seasonal abundance and diversity of produce. Two new venues, in Sherman Oaks and Temple City, offer good selections of vendors under capable managers. They're not as large as longer-established markets, of course, but should flourish and grow if supported by their communities.
April 15, 2011
Green almonds, which look like small, immature, teardrop-shaped peaches, have started showing up at farmers markets, attracting attention from adventurous chefs. A traditional snack in the Mediterranean and Middle East, they're a foretaste of the main almond harvest to come. But they also have a particular allure from their velvety appearance and ultra-seasonal availability.
April 8, 2011
Ten years ago, Elizabeth Schneider, the doyenne of produce writers, called for "a cucumber revolution" in her definitive book, "Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini". Denouncing the standard American slicing varieties, she implored, "Refuse to buy pumped-up, tasteless, seedy blimps with greasy, thick, nasty skin masquerading as cucumbers!"
April 1, 2011
Small and unprepossessing they may be, but Pixie mandarins are a farmers market favorite for their seedlessness, rich flavor — combining the best of mandarin and orange — and late season. In the last decade, Pixies grown in this picturesque valley in northwestern Ventura County have achieved cult status in Southern California because they're local, distinctive and delicious. Still, much about this charismatic mandarin remains little known, particularly its serendipitous path to renown.
1:16 PM EDT, March 25, 2011
Moro blood oranges grown in Southern California are almost different fruits from those grown in the San Joaquin Valley, the state's leading citrus district. They're smaller in size, lighter in color and a month or more later in ripening. By April, San Joaquin Valley Moros often develop musty off-flavors, but when grown in Southern California the variety can remain in good condition well into the spring and arguably develops its sweetest, richest flavor here.
3:00 AM EDT, March 18, 2011
What would you do if you had 600 tomato plants and no place to grow them? Sabrina Bohn, who faced that dilemma last May, hit the road and found a home in Santa Paula for her farm, which now raises a wide range of specialty vegetables. She and her partners have made such impressive progress that her Shear Rock Farm is one of the most promising newcomers to farmers markets recently, for the freshness, variety and presentation of its produce.
1:47 PM EST, March 11, 2011
It is not very often that meetings of the Certified Farmers Market Advisory Committee are the stuff of high drama. But such was the case Thursday at a meeting in Sacramento at which the committee voted to recommend a substantial increase in fees paid by market vendors, in order to fund a more effective market enforcement program.
10:49 AM EST, March 4, 2011
For several decades, certified farmers markets have been the primary business model to satisfy the growing demand for fresh, locally grown produce, but in the last several years, an alternative model, community-supported agriculture (CSA), has spread rapidly in Southern California. The consequences for consumers, growers and farmers markets seem mostly positive so far, but the potential for controversy is also starting to emerge.
February 25, 2011
Farmers markets, like battleships, take a long time to change direction. Such has been the case with the Studio City venue, which since its founding in 1998 has always been a "family-friendly" event, with a pony ride, petting zoo and lots of prepared foods and crafts. While striving to maintain this social element, Carole Gallegos, who took over as manager six years ago, has gradually cut back on the crafts and upgraded the lineup of produce vendors by adding small, quality and organic farms. As a result, the market is now one of the two or three best in the San Fernando Valley.
February 11, 2011
Of all the produce available at farmers markets, far and away the most spectacular is the Romanesco cauliflower. Typically smaller than a standard cauliflower, vivid chartreuse and conical in shape, it displays an ornate fractal pattern in which each floret presents the same appearance as the whole head, in miniature. The result is that the eye zooms in on one turret, then another, and gets mesmerized by the swirling, logarithmic spiral of its self-repeating design.
February 4, 2011
The Santa Monica City Council approved an ordinance Jan. 25 prohibiting the distribution of single-use plastic carryout bags for most purposes. This will significantly affect the city's four certified farmers markets when it takes effect Sept. 1, but vendors and customers are just beginning to understand the ramifications.
While mandarin cultivation in California has quadrupled over the last decade to about 40,000 acres, the classic Dancy variety has fallen by the wayside, becoming rare to find even at farmers markets. That's a shame, because it's a charismatic, flavor-packed fruit, typical of what mandarins used to be like before they were hybridized with oranges and grapefruit for the sake of larger size and better handling.
January 21, 2011
Grapefruit may be the most misunderstood of California's fruits. Excellent locally grown examples are available year-round at farmers markets, but it's also easy to fall for fruit — often similar-looking and grown just a few miles away — that may be ludicrously sour or overmature. Choosing quality fruits depends on understanding the calendar of varieties and growing areas, which may seem inscrutable to the uninitiated but is easy to learn.
January 7, 2011
For certain people, finding and triumphing over the world's hottest chile is one of those captivating, extreme pursuits like climbing Mt. Everest or running an ultramarathon in Death Valley in July. Even for nonparticipants, the spectacle of the quest is amusing. Until recently, the hottest chile available at local farmers markets had been the relatively common habanero, so it was a bit surprising to see the fabled Bhut Jolokia, a heat championship contender, displayed quite casually at the Santa Monica farmers market the last two few weeks.
December 31, 2010
Frequent heavy rains and holiday closures on weekends have made recent weeks challenging for farmers market growers and shoppers. California's dominance in fruit and vegetable production stems largely from the rarity of rain during the peak summer season for many crops, allowing them to mature and be harvested with relatively few problems from spoilage. That advantage was turned on its head recently, as crops were damaged and farmers couldn't harvest them or drive to market.
December 24, 2010
Choosing the right avocado for the season can be surprisingly tricky, even or especially at farmers markets. Good choices are available all year, but a knowledgeable buyer needs to juggle four factors: variety, season, growing area and fruit size. Every month or two the scenario changes, requiring buyers to stay nimble.
11:10 AM EST, December 17, 2010
Mandarins at their best are arguably the finest-flavored of all citrus, and clementines are potentially among the best of mandarins. California farmers have planted them on tens of thousands of acres over the last decade, and they are readily available in supermarkets, but there are several reasons, regarding variety, growing area, ripeness and post-harvest, for searching them out at farmers markets.
December 10, 2010
The traditional Japanese art of making the dried persimmons called hoshigaki is a mind-bogglingly labor-intensive artisanal process. The fruits of the acorn-shaped Hachiya variety are harvested firm, peeled by hand, strung up to dry for a month or so and manually massaged to break up their fibers and keep their flesh soft. If all goes well (and there's a lot that can go wrong), the surface of the finished product is covered with a fine white powdered sugar naturally exuded by the fruit. The flesh within has a tender but chewy texture and a sweet, spicy flavor, like raisins and gingerbread.
December 3, 2010
When customers stop by Jay Ruskey's stand at the Santa Barbara farmers market these days, they may or may not be impressed by the likes of the dragon fruit or finger limes he grows, but virtually everyone stops and gawks at the jars of fresh-roasted coffee, flanked by a potted tree.
November 26, 2010
Purple variants of common vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and potatoes have been increasingly popular at farmers markets in recent years, but none is as intriguing as the red Brussels sprouts just now showing up at the Santa Monica farmers market. Beautiful, tasty and different, they seem sure to make a splash.
November 19, 2010
Orange County offers both opportunity and pitfalls for farmers market shoppers.
November 12, 2010
One of the rarest and most sought-after fruits, the Australian finger lime, has started showing up in significant quantities at the Santa Monica farmers market, creating a minor sensation. The fruit's appearance is enough to excite wonder: from the outside it looks like a little gherkin, but when sliced in half, the round, pearlescent juice vesicles ooze out of the fruit, like citrus caviar. The clean, fresh, tart lime-lemon taste is enticing enough, but the texture, crunchy and juicy, like citrus Pop Rocks, is even more prepossessing.
9:23 PM EST, November 10, 2010
The largest operator of Southern California farmers markets has protected a vendor who buys produce wholesale and misrepresents it as his own, alleged one of the company's managers, who made the claim at a listening session held by the California Department of Food and Agriculture last week in Santa Monica. The operator has denied the allegation, but the repercussions seem likely to reverberate in the farmers market world.
October 29, 2010
Among the Halloween treats available at farmers market this weekend, alongside pumpkins, apples, and persimmons, there's one, Autumn Lady peaches from Tenerelli Orchards, that might seem incongruous. Could these fruits really be fresh, or any good?