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AROUND HOME : Farmers’ Markets

WHAT’S SO SUPER about the supermarket, after all? One certainly begins to wonder when entering the agora-like milieu of Southern California’s numerous Certified Farmers’ Markets. The available wares might not be as uniform or as skillfully stacked as those found in the produce section of more conventional markets, but neither are they waxed, color-treated, nor long in the tooth. These arrays of fresh-picked fruits, vegetables and flowers provide a treat for the eyes and nose, and also please the pocketbook.

The Certified Farmers’ Markets in both the cities of Riverside and Redlands are among the best of the more than 30 such markets in Southern California. These are supplied by desert growers who are as much as a season ahead of other area farmers; for example, new white corn, bell peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, green beans and chili peppers might be available as early as May.

Another specialty at these two markets is Mesclun Mix, the exotic assortment of greens, herbs and edible flowers that has its roots in Europe and is gaining popularity in California cuisine.

A large assortment of flowers is available at both markets, including artfully arranged bouquets that can serve as centerpiece or as part of a meal.

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Most of the markets also sell foodstuffs such as eggs (that have not languished in cold storage), honey and fresh fish. At the West Hollywood market, seafood is sold movable-feast style out of a converted RTD bus, and at reasonable prices.

The Alhambra market is small but lively. For just under $7, my companion and I took home a feast consisting of new red potatoes; a huge bunch of small, sweet carrots; mixed sprouts and pickling cucumbers for salad; fresh basil (for 50--and I had just paid $3 at the supermarket); turnip greens with tiny, tasty turnips still intact; green and yellow Italian squash, red radishes and one long white Daikon radish; two pounds of apricots, and a half pound of cherries.

The just-harvested vegetables, steamed along with the unsucked oysters purchased from the bustling Santa Monica market ($3 per dozen), and served with fresh salad and fruit for dessert, made for an unforgettable meal. Now that we are aware of the Farmers’ Markets, we don’t have to settle for having food this fresh as only an occasional treat.

The Farmers’ Markets have a friendly, street-fair atmosphere. The growers seem nearly as eager to chat about their products as they are to sell them. In order to do so, by the way, they must be certified by the California Department of Food and Agriculture after having proved that they are the grower or an employee of same. Most markets are open year-round; a small percentage keeps different hours during winter months. Some organic produce is available, but most is conventionally grown.

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Certified Farmers’ Markets of Southern California include: Santa Monica, on Wednesday from 10 a.m to 3 p.m., Arizona Avenue and 2nd Streets; West Hollywood, on Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Plummer Park on Santa Monica Blvd.

Downtown Los Angeles, on Wednesday from 1 to 5 p.m., 1432 W. Adams Blvd.; Pacoima, on Saturday from 7 to 10 a.m. 14400 Van Nuys Blvd.

Burbank, on Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., 1st and Magnolia; Alhambra, on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Chico and Stoneman streets; Pomona, on Saturday from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., North Garey Avenue and Pearl Street.

Fullerton, on Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Woodcrest Park at Orangethorpe and Richmond.

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Redlands, on Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., State Street between Orange and 7th; Riverside, on Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sears parking lot on Arlington.

Long Beach, on Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Cedar Avenue between Broadway and 3rd streets, and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, Dooley’s parking lot on Del Amo Boulevard, west of Long Beach Boulevard.

Ventura, on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Santa Clara and Figueroa streets; Santa Barbara, on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Cota and Santa Barbara streets (there is free trolley service from this commuter parking lot to a second market held Tuesday from 6 to 8:30 p.m., in the 400 block of State Street).

Del Mar, on Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., Del Mar City Hall parking lot, and Pacific Beach in San Diego, on Saturday 8 a.m. to noon, Promenade Shopping Mall on Mission Street.

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