Silver Lake farmers market: root vegetables, greens, herbs

Launched in 2001 by the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, a nonprofit organization that benefits local youths, the Silver Lake farmers market successfully serves its community. Prepared foods and crafts stands -- such as gourmet coffee, books, LPs, sunglasses and clothes -- outnumber the produce vendors, giving the venue somewhat of a flea market ambience, but that seems to suit the area, with its mix of hipster and working-class residents.

Locavores may cock an eyebrow at one vendor who sells imported bananas, papaya, mangoes and pineapples ("What's up with the dude selling bananas here? Not exactly local, eh?," wrote one observer on the L.A. Times farmers market guide), but Edwin Gomez, the market's manager, says that other customers want such offerings, which are permitted because technically they're in the "noncertified" section. (In a distinction that is probably lost on most people other than market professionals, a farmers market is supposed to sell only produce grown in California in its certified section, but is allowed to sell almost anything, whether Chiquita bananas or mushrooms from China, in its noncertified section.)

It is nevertheless possible to find some very good produce here. Rebecca Weiker, who was buying green leaf lettuce at the Arreola Farm stand, says that she usually shops at the Hollywood farmers market, but that when she can't make it there, she is happy to have this one to come to, adding, "I'm usually able to find everything that I need here."

Vegetables are the market's strongest suit, at least at this time of year. Mai Yang of Sanger brings typical winter root vegetables like turnips, rutabagas, radishes and beets, as well as Asian vegetables such as yu choy and Thai broccoli, and exquisitely fresh, aromatic peppermint.

In addition to an abundant display of lettuce, Arreola, from Somis, has basil, spinach, kale and chard. Lore's Farm of Oxnard sells asparagus, Brussels sprouts and carrots. Just after the recent downpours, which battered strawberries and curtailed the harvest at most local farms, the Lore's vendors offered a few new-crop Albion berries, which they said were grown in a greenhouse.

The most distinctive, unusual vendor is Brandon Dimperio of Inner Gardens and Tea Trunk, who displays twin ranks of glass jars, like something out of an Asian pharmacy, containing both dried herbs -- such as peppermint, chamomile and lemon grass, from plants he grows in his yard in Burbank -- and imported teas. Just 28 years old, he says he has studied martial arts and tea in China and Japan, and worked in the kitchens at Patina, Bastide and Citrine. In about two weeks he'll start up his main business, selling nursery stock, including coffee plants, rare white sage and 20 varieties of mint.

Silver Lake farmers market, 3700 Sunset Blvd., between Edgecliff Drive and Griffith Park Boulevard, Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tip of the week: English shelling peas, just starting their season, and sweet enough to eat fresh right out of the pod, from Tutti Frutti Farms of Lompoc, at Santa Monica (Wednesday), Hollywood, Ojai and Ventura (Saturday); and from McGrath Family Farm of Camarillo, at Beverly Hills and Hollywood (Sunday), and Santa Monica (Wednesday). Phil McGrath grows 3 acres of Oregon Trail English peas, in five plantings staggered to provide harvests through May. "I love growing peas, which are great for the soil, because they're legumes that fix nitrogen," he says. He selected the Oregon Trail variety, introduced in 1991 by the legendary vegetable breeder James Baggett of Oregon State University, after experimenting with a dozen others, because this one produces full pods that don't burst open, and because the peas remain sweet and don't get starchy if picked a few days late.

English peas are a chore to shell, but in a week or two McGrath will have bags of machine-shelled peas, which are a little more expensive but very simple to cook -- just steam them for 10 minutes and add a little butter. His shelling machine sounds like the best thing since the bread slicer, but it's not quite as easy as it seems, since workers have to feed the pods slowly into the device by hand, McGrath says.

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