The revamped Glendale farmers market launched Jan. 9 in a new location with an expanded and upgraded roster. Founded in 1992, it was formerly on Brand Boulevard, sponsored by the city, and managed by Christopher Nyerges, who also operates a School of Self-Reliance that teaches wilderness survival skills. Last year, the Downtown Glendale Assn., a merchants and property owners group, took over the market, and this month hired a new manager, Carole Gallegos, who directs the successful Encino and South Pasadena farmers markets. At Glendale, she is assisted by her husband, Steven, a public health consultant.
The new site, in a church parking lot around the corner from the old location, is less visible but more spacious and pedestrian-friendly, with plenty of nearby parking. The market has almost tripled in size, from about 15 to 39 vendors, although much of the increase is in prepared foods and crafts. Gallegos dropped several vendors that had been caught by agricultural authorities selling produce they did not grow, and added organic growers and well-respected farms such as Underwood Family Farms, Living Lettuce, South Central Farmers' Cooperative and Etheridge Farms.
Aiming for a more upscale, branded look, the association requires vendors to use blue-checked tablecloths and wear aprons with the market's emblem. Business was slow last week, vendors said, and it remains to be seen whether the recent changes will ultimately benefit the market.
Just in time for Chinese New Year (Jan. 31 this year), Cliff McFarlin of Etheridge Farms offers extraordinary Sarawak pummelos grown in Orosi. Very different from Chandler, by far the most common pummelo variety grown in California, which has a thicker rind and firm, dryish pink flesh, Sarawak has a relatively thin rind, juicy, light green flesh and a distinctive sweet-tart, lemon-lime flavor that earns the variety the nickname "margarita fruit." Sarawak is usually so seedy that you need a hacksaw to slice it, but McFarlin had a brilliant idea that makes a huge difference: According to vendor Nicholas Voolstra, he nets his trees during bloom to exclude bees, so the fruits are seedless. It's currently the bestseller at his stand, he adds.
This year has been particularly challenging for citrus growers in the San Joaquin Valley, who lost much of their crop to a severe, prolonged freeze in early December. This can be particularly problematic for varieties that ripen from now on, in mid- and late-season, since they were low in sugar, and thus more susceptible to damage when the cold struck. McFarlin fared better than most, because his grove is on the eastern slope of the citrus district, so the coldest air drained down the hillside, but even so, in some blocks he lost much of the fruit on the outside of the trees, said Voolstra.
He also offers prime Tarocco blood oranges, which have drab pale rinds but superbly tender red flesh, with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. In addition to Glendale, his stand is at the Altadena, South Pasadena, Studio City and Pacific Palisades markets.
Rancho Mi Familia of Santa Maria sells splendidly aromatic red raspberries, firm but tender. Underwood has a spectacular array of white, green, orange, purple and romanesco cauliflower. Drake Family Farms of Ontario offers a flavorful new aged goat cheese called Idyllwild.
Most of the farmers are market veterans, but a remarkable newcomer in the prepared foods section is Joseph Abrakjian of Beyond Bread, who bakes high-quality artisanal loaves using flour freshly ground at the new Grist & Toll mill, from Triple IV hard red wheat grown by Shepherd Farms in Santa Ynez. Following Red Bread and Kenter Canyon / Roan Mills, this is the third vendor at local farmers markets to espouse what some are calling the Good Bread Revolution. Abrakjian's signature product, which he bakes just before the market, from dough naturally fermented for 18 hours, is a 100% whole wheat ciabatta, loaded with seeds and complex flavors.
Abrakjian, 44, was born in Lebanon and formerly owned a restaurant in Universal City. He took some time off, then "worked in a commercial bakery, and saw how they make bread, using commercial yeast," he said. Two years ago, he launched Beyond Bread, driven by the challenge of "bringing back the old way of making bread, using grains that are freshly ground for maximum retention of the wild yeast." Until recently, his bread mostly was sold at CSAs and at Grist & Toll on Saturdays, but it is likely to be a big hit at farmers markets, if managers and shoppers catch on.
Glendale farmers market, Maryland Avenue between Wilson and California avenues, Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Fresh tip: Santa Barbara-based Community Seafood, a "community-supported fishery" that started selling last spring at the Santa Monica Main Street market on Sundays, recently was promoted to the big stage at the city's Wednesday market. The weekly catch, sustainably fished, ultrafresh and genuinely local, is now available both to subscribers, who get a discount price, and to nonmembers.
It would be hard to think of a food for which freshness is more crucial than fish. Most of the fish vendors at farmers markets buy from commercial middlemen, and their fish, while generally of decent quality, is often farmed, brought thousands of miles, frozen, many days or weeks old, and in some cases, mislabeled.
At Community Seafood's stand, vendor Magna Sundstrom prominently posts the day the fish was caught (almost always within 48 hours of sale), the location and the fisherman who caught it. On her first week at Santa Monica Wednesday, she sold black cod, and the second, swordfish; both were so fresh and delicious that I may find it difficult to return to conventional sources.