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.
Local growers, who are few because in hot climates Gravensteins drop from the trees at the slightest breeze, include Yingst Ranch at Pasadena and Hollywood, Cirone at Santa Monica this Saturday, and Windrose at Santa Monica on Wednesday.
Uzbek melons are legendary for their sweetness and rich perfume, but many of the best varieties are susceptible to disease and have not proved successful in California. Enter Ruben Mkrtchyan, who planted 15 acres of Uzbek varieties in a remote, isolated high desert valley at the southern edge of the Sierras and was able to raise a good crop last year. He created a sensation and has just started selling at the Calabasas, Brentwood, Melrose, Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica (Wednesday) markets.
Mkrtchyan, a charming retired contractor who emigrated from Armenia, beams with enthusiasm as he talks. His main variety, huge and long with luscious, highly aromatic white flesh, is Mirza, a marketing moniker for a variety whose original name is Ok Urug, meaning "white apricot." In a few weeks Mkrtchyan intends to sell dried melon, braided in the Central Asian fashion, which should be a revelation: meaty but tender, with a musky flavor that's like melon to the 13th power.
New SEE-LA leadership
The nonprofit organization that runs the Hollywood farmers market and six others, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, has hired a new executive director. James W. Haydu, who is chief development officer of the Mar Vista Family Center and who worked from 2006 to 2011 as director of communications, policy and marketing for the renowned Pike Place Market in Seattle, will start Aug. 27, according to a SEE-LA news release.
The position became vacant in April when Pompea Smith, who founded the Hollywood market in 1991 and served for many years as SEE-LA's executive director, was fired by the group's board. This came after a tumultuous year in which the organization faced financial difficulties and a struggle over street closure with the neighboring Los Angeles Film School, which threatened to force the Hollywood market to move from its site. (Earlier this month, the Hollywood market received its street closure permit from the city, so it is secure in its location for the next year, said Michael Woo, chairman of SEE-LA's board, in a recent phone conversation.)
A SEE-LA board committee reviewed 80 applicants before selecting Haydu, who offered experience in both the farmers market and nonprofit worlds.
Haydu "combines the main qualities we were looking for: ability to lead and manage an energetic staff, financial acumen, expertise in nonprofit fundraising, a vision about the future of food and markets, and a passion for bringing farmers and urban consumers together," said Woo in the news release.
Haydu, 44, was born and raised in the Central Valley and graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in liberal arts and political science. He succeeds Brenda Zamzow-Frazier, a consultant who served as SEE-LA's interim head for the last four months.