The number of farmers markets in Los Angeles County has more than doubled over the last decade, from 53 to 129, and many of the venues are new, small and operated by neophytes. Such is the case with the Los Feliz farmers market, which was started five months ago by Helen Lee, a filmmaker who grew up in the area and got into the world of markets when she operated a crepe stand. She has started three markets since April; this one, sponsored by a nonprofit organization called Eco-Op, began near the well-known Dresden restaurant, but a month ago moved two blocks north to its current, more visible location in a post office parking lot. In this modest space Lee has managed to fit 25 stands, of which seven are certified produce vendors and 18 offer prepared foods and miscellaneous merchandise. The neighborhood invites strolling, but free local parking is scarce.
The produce vendors are a mixed bag, with just enough coverage of the essentials. Lee herself tends one of the stands, Jazzy Sprouts, for the owner. Mai Yang, a Hmong grower from Sanger, near Fresno, has the most wide-ranging selection, with a host of Asian vegetables (bok choy, yu choy, gai lan), turnips, nappa cabbage, purple yams and citrus (Oroblancos, navel oranges, satsumas); the family also sells at the Melrose Place and Hollywood markets.
The Santa Maria area, in northern Santa Barbara County, has become increasingly important in strawberry cultivation in recent years, and Brenda Farms, named after co-owner Jose Sanchez's sister, does a good job with the Albion variety. Early winter is the lowest point for production of strawberries, but they can still be quite good, and firmer than warm-weather berries, as long as they are not washed away in rainstorms or frozen. Unlike growers in many other areas, California strawberry farmers replant every year, and Sanchez says the harvest from his new plants should begin in about a month.
Tito Rivadeneira of Castaic, a retired paralegal who took up farming two years ago, brings cremini, portobello and oyster mushrooms, along with potatoes and eggs. These are put to good use at the yellow and chrome Gastrobus, which sells excellent, reasonably priced food prepared from market produce by J. Antonio Medina, a former Wolfgang Puck chef, and his wife, Lana. Among their offerings last Sunday were scrambled eggs with toast, cooked just right; mushrooms with tomato and garlic ragout; and smashed Yukon Gold potatoes with leek fondue and mustard.
Los Feliz farmers market, 1825 N. Vermont Ave. (south of Franklin Avenue), Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tips of the week: Fairview Gardens of Goleta brings pristine organic Tuscan kale (a.k.a. black kale, cavalo nero, or dinosaur kale) that's tender enough to toss in a pot without stripping off tough stalks. Santa Monica Wednesday.
Yuzu, a highly aromatic Japanese citrus, is well known for its use in ponzu sauce, and shreds or slivers of its rind are used to accent cooked vegetables, fish and noodles. The season is nearing its end, but in Japan it is traditional on the winter solstice or New Year's Day to take a yuzu bath, in which several whole fruits are floated. Mud Creek Ranch, Santa Monica Wednesday and Hollywood.