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HUNTINGTON BEACH : A Growth Industry for Farmers

Ask anyone why they come to the weekly farmers market at Main Street and Orange Avenue and the answer is almost always the same.

“The main reason to shop here is the quality and freshness,” said James Bending of Laguna Beach, who offers passersby free ruby-flame seedless raisins grown on his family’s farm near Fresno. “This stuff is brought in hours old. It’s the quality that they’re getting here.”

The fresh taste of that produce is why Joan Brant and her husband, Robert, plan their meals around what they buy at the market.

“The carrots. You can tell they just came out of the ground,” said Brant, a Costa Mesa resident.

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“The tomatoes here are fabulous,” added Laura MacLellan of Westminster. “I shouldn’t tell you, because people will come and buy them, and there won’t be any for me,” she mused.

About 30 vendors sell at the outdoor market, said Mary Lou Lorenzini, who manages four area farmers markets sponsored by the Orange County Farm Bureau. They peddle produce, homemade jams, herbs, nuts, baked bread, honey, sprouts and fresh fish.

The Huntington Beach market is open every Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. Farmers markets also are held in Costa Mesa, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Thursday at the Orange County Fairgrounds; in Tustin, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Wednesday at El Camino Real and Third Street; and in Orange, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday in the rear lot of 230 E. Chapman Ave.

The Orange market will be preempted by the Orange International Street Fair this week, but will resume Sept. 10.

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Farmers markets are known for reasonable prices and bargains, but some items may be priced higher than they are in supermarkets.

“You have to educate yourself on how to shop at a farmers market,” Lorenzini said. For instance, some produce is organically grown--without the use of pesticides--and the price will be higher.

Peg Maxwellof Huntington Beach, a frequent farmers market shopper, bought fresh-picked white corn on a recent trip to the Huntington Beach market. “It may not cost any less than the (super) market, but it’s going to taste better. When I need a supply of fruits and vegetables, I will come over here.

“I’m not a price-conscious person. I worry about the quality. I don’t worry about the pennies.”

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With bouquets of flowers in their hands, a long line of buyers stood patiently to pay Maria Aguilar.

“She has a real good quality and wonderful prices,” noted one of Aguilar’s regular customers, Armando Ramirez of Huntington Beach. “You can’t get any fresher.”

Aguilar, who grows flowers on her small farm near Escondido, sells large bunches of about 25 different varieties of fresh-picked flowers for $3 to $6 each.

“I sell very cheaply, so I sell everything at one time,” she said. “And people are happy.”

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