Locally Grown Organic Produce: Montrose Farmer’s Market Shines

This is the second in a series of posts on how to feed your family on a budget by shopping at your local farmer’s markets.  I’m focusing on the markets I go to most often, sharing tips on the best farmers, ranchers, bakers and makers in the Southern California area, particularly Northeast LA, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. 


Sundays, 9am-2pm, 2300 Honolulu Avenue, at Ocean View Blvd., Montrose, CA 91020.

The Montrose Certified Farmer’s Market is closed only one Sunday of the year (Easter).

Yesterday I took my kids for our weekly Sunday morning outing to the Montrose Farmer’s Market and gave them full access to the samples so I could photograph and talk to my favorite farmers and share their stories and goodies with you.


In a typical week, I shop at 2-3 different local farmer’s markets in the Los Angeles area.  As a full-time working mom, I get teased by my friends for going out of my way to buy directly from the farmers when there are so many supermarkets nearby.

Stay with me here.

With a little planning, hitting up local farmers markets can end up saving you lots of money, makes a smaller carbon footprint, and allows you to connect with and learn from the farmers who supply you with food.  There is no middleman, and the produce you’ll buy was picked within the past 24-48 hours.  (Cold storage items such as organic apples are an exception.)

That said, when no one has broccoli because it was over 100 degrees for the past two weeks and all the plants started flowering, I have to find something else to substitute for the kids’ favorite vegetable.

Montrose is my favorite farmer’s market of the week.  It’s an Experience – it feels like a small town – and it’s really fun for families.  I’ve been going to it weekly for over 6 years, and we have become friends with many of the farmers who supply us with food.

Here are my kids about a year and a half ago, when I could still get away with a double stroller!


In fact, there are so many excellent vendors I want you to know about, it’s too much for one post!  I will break up by coverage of the Montrose market into two parts: Part 1 (organic fruits and vegetables) and Part 2 (fresh bread, naturally fermented foods and beverages, Goat Soap and gifts).

Allow yourself at least an hour at this market (more if you’re bringing kids who want to play on the bounce house or check out the goats, baby pigs and chickens!), and get there early.  Oh and bring bags!

Highlights of the Montrose Farmer’s Market:

  • Easy parking (free street parking in the area, plus a big free lot S. of Honolulu, between Ocean View Blvd. & Market Street)
  • Certified California Farmers
  • Organic Produce
  • Fresh Baked Goods
  • Fresh Flowers
  • Nuts, Nut Butters and Sprouts
  • Packaged Foods (including hummus, spreads, jams, pickles, saurkraut, bone broth, kombucha)
  • Prepared Foods (including fresh juices, pupusas, kettle corn, Korean food)
  • Cheeses
  • Gifts (handmade jewelry, wooden toys, minerals/gems, hand lotion, etc.)
  • Chair Massage
  • Bounce House & Big Inflatable Slide
  • Hand-led Pony Rides, Small petting zoo
  • Live Music
  • Free Balloons for kids (find the Market Manager’s booth)

Some vendors at this market take debit & credit cards, but most don’t, so bring cash or visit one of the bank ATMs on Honolulu. Unfortunately, this market is not yet set up to take SNAP-EBT or WIC Benefits, nor do they offer the opportunity  but I asked the market manager and he said they’re working on it.  Here is an impressively long list of Los Angeles-area farmer’s markets that do accept SNAP.

Following are my favorite spots to get vegetables, fruit, honey and nuts, but this is by no means a complete list of what you can find at this market.


Azteca Farms 


Azteca Farm (no website) is not a Certified Organic farm.  However, it is a small family farm in Piru, CA (near Fillmore) that has practiced organic and non-GMO farming practices since the 1970’s.  (They can’t use that word since they haven’t gone through the official certification process.)  After years of buying and eating their produce and developing a friendship with this family and visiting their farm, I am confident in the quality and safety of their fruits and veggies.

Co-owner Irma is here every Sunday except Easter, along with her two teenagers, who help sell their family farm’s bounty of fruits and vegetables directly to customers.

Azteca is known for a wide variety of leafy green vegetables, lettuces, several varieties of zucchini, beets, corn, melons, passion fruit and the most delicious strawberries I’ve ever had.  (Sorry, they’re between seasons right now on the berries!)  They also sell traditional seasonal Mexican herbs and vegetables such as purslane, cilantro and fenugreek.

Pricing is very reasonable: as of yesterday, one generous head of black or green kale, chard, red or green lettuce was $1.50 each (vs. $2.99 to as much as $5/head in the grocery stores); zucchini (4 different varieties) is $2 per pound; Corn 0.75 cents per ear.


I have gotten many tips from Irma on my own home gardening over the years (“spray your Kale with peppermint soap and water: the aphids will stay away!”).  Yesterday, while I was shopping at her stand, we chatted about how her farm handles pest control without spraying toxic pesticides or using GMO, pest-resistant seeds.


“People don’t realize that you often don’t need to do anything [i.e. spray pesticides on plants] because plants have their own natural pest control,” Irma says.  “Cilantro, for example, has no predators, because of its funny smell.  Dandelion is so bitter, bugs don’t like it.”

But the fact is, insects need to eat too; it’s all about co-existing.  Have the aphids left enough kale for us to pick?

I asked Irma if she had any tips for those of us who want to avoid buying plants that have been sprayed with pesticides: “If you don’t see some tiny holes in the leaves, that’s a bad sign.”

Once a year, Azteca hosts an Open House at their farm in Piru.  We went last month on a very hot Saturday and they let my kids pick strawberries, which was a blast.


If you visit this stand, bring your questions!  Irma and her kids are full of fascinating answers, as well as recipe ideas. (Zucchini enchiladas, anyone?)

Santa Rita Organic Farm 


A Certified Organic farm for “a decade or so,” Santa Rita Organic Farm is located in Lompoc, on the Central Coast of California in Santa Barbara County. They’re owned by couple Jeff & Roxanne Hendrickson and are well-known for rare and heirloom varieties of produce. They bring a gorgeous selection of seasonal organic vegetables and fruit, including the best carrots and bell peppers I’ve ever had, which are currently in season.  At $2.50 a pound, they’re HALF the price of the organic peppers you’ll find in our local health food stores, and they’re not shrink-wrapped.


Currently, Santa Rita also has delicious Chandler organic strawberries, Early Girl Tomatoes, Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes, Lacinato kale, zucchini, basil, beets, leeks, Anaheim and Jalapeno chiles.  When they’re in season, be sure not to miss their Blue Lake beans. 


Santa Rita’s sales associate Tom told me where else you can snag their yummy goods in SoCal: in addition to the Montrose Sunday market, Santa Rita sells at the Thursday Thousand Oaks farmer’s market, the Friday Topanga market, and the Sunday Santa Clarita market.


Benzler Farms


Benzler Farms has been family-owned and operated since 1953, and was the fourth farm in the state of California to receive the USDA Organic certification.  I spoke with farmer Hugh Benzler and sales associate Deena about their organic farming practices.

“Pest control is about being proactive,” Hugh told me while handing out free samples of organic peaches to eager customers. “You need to plant crops nearby that don’t attract the wrong kind of pests.”

He mentioned the importance of not planting tomatoes near grapes and peaches, for example, unless you want tomato worms to destroy your delicious fruit.

Hugh talked in detail about the Glassy-Winged Sharp Shooter, the biggest threat to grapes in California: it sounded like the bane of his existence, and he muttered something about “that’s why you get crop insurance!”

(At this point, my daughter pulled on my shirt asking for samples of Benzler’s honey, her absolute favorite, so I lost the thread of what Hugh was saying.)

Benzler’s grapes and raisins are fantastic:


Their Freestone yellow peaches ($3.00/pound) are among the best I’ve ever had:


and their honey is a wonderful remedy for seasonal allergies (it’s also great in hot or iced tea):


Benzler also sells terrific walnuts, almonds and pecans from 30-year-old organic trees (pollinated by those awesome bees!).  I failed to snap a picture.

I learned from the folks at Benzler that 90% of honey sold in the USA is from bees that have been fed sugar water or corn syrup (yuck!) and only 10% is from small family farms (like Benzler) that just let bees be bees. The bees that pollinate Benzler’s fruit and nut trees are never fed sugar water, which means their honey contains the necessary characteristics to be effective in treating allergies.

During January and February, when there’s not much fresh fruit to be had even in SoCal, I turn to this farm for their Valencia and Blood Oranges.

But for now (and likely a few more weeks) they still have peaches! Be sure to check them out, and enjoy the samples they hand out liberally.

Sweet Tree Organics


Tied for best peaches in Cali is Sweet Tree Farms, owned by Certified Organic farmer Annie Florendo. This farm stand is my go-to farm for organic Asian Pears, grapes and an impressive list of heirloom stone fruit.  (“Emerald Beauts” are my son’s and my favorite, and they’re perfect sliced into Greek yogurt.)  Peaches, plums, apricots, Asian pears and grapes are $3.50 per pound, which isn’t cheap, but you’ll still save money here vs. shopping for organic stone fruit at your local grocery store. They also grow the best organic blueberries (June and July).

I appreciate knowing how the crops are doing week to week – Josh gives us updates – and knowing my fruit hasn’t arrived in my hands after carrying its own plane ticket.

My kids and I have been friendly with Sales Associate Josh for over 4 years now. The sample tray at Sweet Tree is a fruit bat’s (ahem, 7-year-old’s) idea of Heaven.


Josh tells me there’s about 2 weeks left of peaches and plums (through late September) and about 6 weeks left of grapes (end of October).  Next up to be picked and brought to the markets are pomegranates and persimmons, as well as more Asian pears.

Asian pears, by the way, are an excellent Traditional Chinese remedy for dry cough, which I’ve been treating a LOT of over the past few weeks of ridiculously hot dry weather here in Los Angeles.  Slice one in half, core it, and steam it for 30-40 minutes, adding 1T of local raw honey (such as Benzler’s!), and eat with a spoon.

I’ll let the pictures tell you the rest of the story about this super-sweet, woman-owned farm. Prepare your tastebuds for a happy dance when you visit Sweet Tree’s stand…

You can also find Sweet Tree at the Silver Lake farmer’s market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.




Fresh Raw Coconut: The Perfect Beverage!


After a hot morning shopping and visiting our farmer friends, there’s nothing like sipping a fresh raw coconut!  You can find these for sale indivudally at the Kettle Corn stand.  (I can’t vouch for the Kettle Corn as I haven’t tried it, but the coconuts are amazing.)

Part 2 of my coverage of the Montrose Farmer’s Market (fresh bread, naturally fermented foods and beverages, Goat Soap and gifts) will be up by the end of this week, in time for you to make a visit on Sunday if you can.  Stay tuned!

All photos are property of Abigail Morgan, L.Ac., FABORM, and may not be reproduced without written permission.

Farmer’s Markets in the Los Angeles Area: Grass-Fed, Pastured Meat & Wild-Caught Sockeye Salmon


This is the first in an upcoming series of posts on how you can feed your family from your local farmer’s markets in the Los Angeles area.

As a Licensed Acupuncturist and mom of two little ones, I get an overwhelming number of requests for information and links to the vendors who supply my family of four with our weekly food.  I fill ridiculous number of post-it notes and emails with names, websites, tips and lists of who has the best this and that.  It’s time to put it all in one place!  (NOTE: I do not make a single penny from referring you to these farmer’s and ranchers; just satisfaction from sharing my love of shopping locally and supporting small family farms, as well as helping my friends, patients, neighbors and readers prepare nourishing food for themselves and their families.)

The #1 question my patients ask me is how to get locally and humanely raised, organic, grass-fed/pastured meat without spending a fortune at a place like Whole Paycheck.  (The #2 question I get is how I transitioned from being a vegetarian for 20 years – 12 of those years as a vegan – to being an omnivore…but that’s another story for another day.)

I am of the belief that there is no point in eating meat if you’re not eating meat from an animal that was raised to graze on the food it’s meant to eat, tended with love, and killed in a humane way once it was of the proper age.  Cows are not supposed to eat grain, chickens are not supposed to eat corn, livestock should not be raised in over-crowded, unsanitary feed-lots, and fish are best when caught sustainably in the wild.

Last Fall, my husband and I bought a quarter grass-fed steer from a friend’s ranch in Northern California for $5/pound – possibly the greatest joint decision we have ever made, other than deciding to have kids – but that’s ALSO another story for another day.  If you’re not ready to invest in buying organic grass-fed meat in bulk (and a stand-alone freezer to keep it in), which is a big undertaking, it’s quite easy to buy meat from ranches that sell directly to the public.

Each week, I visit between 2-3 different farmer’s markets in order to buy locally grown fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, cheese, dried beans, and the occasional snack such as musubi (seaweed-wrapped rice balls).

I will be reviewing the markets I visit the most, in an effort to share with you my favorite tips, over the next few weeks.

LA CANADA-FLINTRIDGE FARMER’S MARKET (close to Glendale, Pasadena, Northeast LA)
On Saturday, my 5-year-old daughter (pictured above) and I spent a good two hours at the La Canada-Flintridge Farmer’s Market (9-1 Saturdays, 1301 Foothill Blvd, La Cañada-Flintridge, CA 91011).  I love this market, especially from June through October when it’s overflowing with bright colors and fresh smells, but I don’t get to go very often because I usually work on Saturdays.  (For Labor Day weekend, though, I gave myself and my staff the whole long weekend off!)



We LOVE the grass-fed bison (buffalo) and bacon (from heritage pork) from Gold Coast Bison and Diamond Mountain Ranches.  (They sell bison, lamb, beef and pork, all grass-fed; depending on the season, they also carry goat, rabbit, chicken and turkey.)  From their website: “Diamond Mountain Ranch is an all-natural, family-run ranch nestled in the hills of northern California. We provide high quality, free range, grass fed food to the Golden State. Our animals include chicken, pork, beef, rabbits, lamb, and our specialty: Bison.”

I’ve been buying bison from these folks for over 5 years.  If you haven’t tried bison, it’s time!  It has twice the iron of beef, and in Chinese Medical terms it is profoundly blood-nourishing: an excellent choice for post-menstruating women, kids on a growth spurt and anyone who does a lot of physical activity.  Bison bones make my favorite bone broth!


Today we picked up our pre-order of ground bison (for grilling burgers on Labor Day weekend!) and heritage bacon (for brunch and snacks); one of the awesome things about Diamond Mountain Ranch is their weekly newsletter, which allows you to place an online order of whatever you need; they have such a following, they almost always sell out of everything they bring in their umpteen coolers.  All meats are vacuum-sealed and frozen, so you can buy as much as you need (or have space to freeze) if this market is not a convenient one for you.

Co-owner September (pictured above) is also a Special-Ed teacher, and I love how she always takes the time to answer my Little One’s 3,478 questions, such as “where is the mommy buffalo’s uterus?” and “how do you know if it’s a mommy cow or a daddy cow?”


We learned today that technically, you can only use the word “cow” if the lady has given birth to a calf.  Otherwise she’s a heifer.

So a “daddy cow”?  Nope- he’s always a “bull.”

See the things I learn from my 5-year-old’s incessant questions?

Here are the farmer’s market locations in SoCal where you can find Diamond Mountain Ranch; note that the La Canada Farmer’s Market is missing from their list of Saturday locations, but they are there every week.  If you have questions or want to pre-order for pick-up or place an online order from them, click here.


We also love Novy Ranches (based in Simi Valley), which specializes in Certified Grass-Fed Angus Beef, and also offers online ordering.

In fact, Little One has been known to chat with Jerry for 15 minutes straight, sharing her favorite ways to drink bone broth.  (“I like it with rice and broccoli, but I don’t like the smell when my Mama’s making it.”)  I buy from Novy Ranch at the Altadena Wednesday market and/or the La Canada Saturday market, but they sell at 14 markets in SoCal.


From Novy’s website: “The ranches are the ongoing life work and commitment of Dr. Lowell Novy, a veterinarian whose interests in conservation, cattle-ranching and animal welfare have influenced his decision to turn away from “traditional” feedlot cattle production by developing an entirely grass-fed program that is healthy for the land, cows and people.”

Novy has the best beef knuckle bones around, along with some terrific recipes.


The real treat today was meeting Pat Ashby, owner of Fisherman’s Daughter.


Once a year, Pat spends two months in Alaska, catching 150,000 pounds of wild Alaskan sock-eye salmon at their peak. According to Pat, he sells 140,000 pounds of these salmon to the Japanese, and brings 10,000 pounds back to LA to sell at the local farmer’s markets.


Because wild Alaskan salmon have a season that is just about 4 weeks long per year, they have to be frozen anyway, and this allows Pat to sell them year-round.  His salmon has been pin-boned and flash-frozen, and is offered in 1/3 pound, 1 lb and 2lb (whole fish) packages.

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is incredibly high in Omega-3’s, as well as the fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A and vitamins B and B6: it is considered by many cultures to be the perfect food for pregnant and lactating women and a terrific starter food for babies. Sockeye salmon is also very low in mercury and other environmental contaminants, as they are less carnivorous than most fish: they mostly eat krill.  Many studies have been done on the cardiovascular benefits of wild salmon, including its ability to lower LDL (“bad”) and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterols.

Pat explained to me that since salmon are swimming incredibly fast upstream in their death-wish to end up where they were born, they’re “all muscle.”

From a Chinese Medical perspective, salmon is one of the few fish that is “neutral” – i.e. it is right in the middle between a cooling food (which helps “heat” conditions) and a warming food (which helps “cold” conditions).

Sadly, I have an anaphylactic allergy to all fish, including salmon.  My allergy is so bad I have to carry an Epi-pen and am trained in injecting myself if I should become exposed to fish or seafood.  I can’t even wash the dishes if they have fish on them.

Thankfully, my husband and kids do not suffer from this allergy, so we make sure they get to eat good-quality fish cooked at home once a week (this gives me an excuse to go to a dance class or meet a friend for tea during evening routine, Ah-hem).

Little One and I bought about 1.5 pounds of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon from Pat.  He said if we’re planning to cook it within a week, to just put the frozen packages in the fridge; otherwise, they can stay frozen for later use.  Our meal plan for this week includes Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (which hubby will cook on the grill in foil) with quinoa and veggies.  Pat said to cook the salmon filets on a gas grill (350 degrees) for 10 minutes on medium-high, skin-side down; after 10 minutes, turn off the grill, let the fish sit in tented foil for another 10 minutes, then serve.


One of thing things I love the most about taking my kids to the farmer’s markets is the relationships they’ve developed over their short lives with these vendors.  Our favorite family farmers (Azteca Farms in Piru, CA, near Fillmore), from whom we’ve been buying produce every Sunday for 6 years, have watched our kids grow up.  They save the best strawberries for them, and welcomed us to onto their farm for an open house last month.  (I’ll profile Azteca in a week or so.)

Raising kids in a major city means we have to make an effort to educate them about where their food comes from.  When kids know where their food comes from, they are much more likely to eat it.  They develop healthy eating habits, waste less, and become connected to the Earth in a new way.

I feel endlessly grateful, as a woman who grew up in the inner city of New York in the 1970’s and 80’s, to have a back yard with an organic garden with vegetables and fruit trees, and to be able to find broccoli grown within 60 miles of LA in January.  In spite of my dreams of becoming a Los Angeles version of SouleMama, I still kill tomatoes and cry about it.  I will likely never be raising goats, heifers, pigs or sheep on my 7500 square foot lot.  (Maybe chickens.  Maybe.)  The farmer’s markets of Southern California give me community, and lift the veil of smog just a little bit, inspiring me to plan my family’s meals around what is fresh, in season and affordable.


Which markets are your favorites?  How do you balance working, raising kids and preparing food for yourself and your family? I want to hear your stories!  (Please share in the comments section.)

Next up in this series: End-of-Summer Bounty at the Montrose Farmer’s Market, Glendale, CA (Sundays)

All photographs copyright Abigail Morgan, L.Ac.