Next week will mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Malibu farmers market, an institution that has aroused considerable controversy.
Zoning glitches in 2005 led to its closure, which was extended into a five-year hiatus by wrangling over red tape and applications submitted by competing groups to run the market.
After contentious public hearings last year, the original sponsor and operator, the Cornucopia Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that "develops programs teaching sustainability," emerged victorious. But it was only three weeks ago that the market reopened, again located in a parking lot at the Malibu Civic Center.
Many Malibu residents are affluent and willing to spend money for what they perceive as healthful local produce, so vendors are eager to sell at this venue — so much so that last Sunday two vendors showed up, with entirely different offerings, claiming to represent the same farm. Indeed, the selection of certified vendors is a mixed bag, with some excellent growers, but also a substantial percentage who previously had been suspended by market authorities for selling produce bought elsewhere.
The market has 19 certified produce sellers, and 21 noncertified and prepared foods stands.
The pick of the produce vendors is Shepherd Farms of Carpinteria, where Tom Shepherd has been farming organically and has a sterling reputation. He sells at the Santa Barbara and other markets near his farm, but at no venues other than Malibu in the Los Angeles area. Currently his Albions are the reddest, sweetest strawberries in the market, and the thick, conical carrots he offers are very sweet and flavorful. He also has dried beans, including flageolets, spring onions and a nice fresh salad mix.
Givens Farm of Goleta, another respected local grower, has green zucchini, bright yellow Pattypan summer squash, aromatic fennel and sugar snap peas.
Arreola Farm of Oxnard has a seemingly pedestrian item that is surprisingly hard to find at its best at markets: perfect celery, fresh, succulent, tender (not tough and stringy), green (but not too dark) and subtly aromatic.
The closest and one of the most beloved of local farms is Vital Zuman, named after nearby Zuma Beach. The farm is most famous for its figs, which ripen in late summer, but the new farm manager, Kazimir Klossowski, currently brings bags of assorted salad greens, Valencia oranges and sage honey from the Santa Monica mountains.
Oxnard-based Tamai Farms has started arriving with Brighton white corn from its other growing grounds in Thermal, in the Coachella Valley, where the desert heat allows for an early harvest.
Cherries, apricots and peaches have started showing up at farmers markets, about a week late this year, because of cool spring weather. As experienced shoppers know, and honest vendors will readily admit, the earliest varieties typically are not the best.
Varieties worth looking out for in the next week or so include Brooks and Sequoia cherries and Earlitreat peaches. Better apricots, notably Robada, will be along at the end of the month.
Malibu farmers market, 23525 Civic Center Way, Malibu; malibufarmersmarket.net; Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times