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. 

MONTROSE CERTIFIED FARMER’S MARKET: Part 1

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.

GmanFruitSamples

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!

KidsMontroseStroller

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.

ORGANIC VEGETABLES

Azteca Farms 

AztecaKids

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.

GreenRedLettuces

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.

IrmaWithCorn

“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.

GatAzteca

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 

SantaRitaOrganicsSign

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.

SantaRitaPeppers

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. 

SantaRitaStrawberries

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.

ORGANIC FRUIT, HONEY & NUTS

Benzler Farms

BenzlerFarmsSign

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:

BenzlerRaisins

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

FreestonePeachesBenzler

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

BenzlerHoney

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

SweetTreeOrganicsJosh

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.

SamplesSweetTree

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.

AsianPearsL

LwithGrapesSweetTree

SweetTreeEmeraldBeauts

Fresh Raw Coconut: The Perfect Beverage!

GmanCoconut

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.

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