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!)
GRASS-FED BEEF, BISON, BACON and MORE…
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.
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.
WILD-CAUGHT ALASKAN SALMON
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.