Mayoral Munchies

It's not every day that Mayor Richard Riordan tours a farmers market, sampling California-grown mangos and grapefruit. But Thursday's gala opening of the La Cienega market represented a new initiative: It launched the first market funded by the city's Fresh Food Access Program, intended to make food more available in low-income neighborhoods.

The Model Neighborhood Assn., founded in 1989 to improve the quality of life in such communities, sponsors the La Cienega market, supported by the Southland Farmers' Market Assn.

Thursday's event included speeches, awards and a raffle. Then the mayor, who had already bought a gorgeous violet-striped Phalaenopsis orchid from Joey Wu of Orquidea, set off to explore the market. He slurped up a luscious slice of a flaming-red Kent mango grown by Atkins Nursery in Fallbrook, which sells mostly at Orange County markets. Gabriel Gonzalez, the owner's brother, also sold Pierce cherimoyas, one of the best varieties of the custardy fruit, along with ripe Hass avocados, macadamias, Nagami kumquats and fragrant white-fleshed Asian guavas.

The mayor tried the tangy Star Ruby and the famous Oroblanco grapefruits grown by Bob Polito of Valley Center, whose stand also sold sweet Persian lemons, Gold Nugget mandarins and a few fresh favas. A few stalls over, Sherrill Orchards had the first apricots of the season, large Honeycots from Arvin in the Central Valley; many were hard, but the riper ones offered surprisingly rich flavor. Tamai Farm of Oxnard sold collard, turnip and mustard greens, greenleaf and romaine lettuce and Blue Lake green beans. Laura Spensley of Clovis, near Fresno, had Shoshone, Wichita and Cheyenne pecans. Jerry Dahlberg sold a limited supply of premium backyard honey from Villa Park. Honey mavens relish its complex flavor, redolent of the flowers of residential gardens.

La Cienega farmers market, Ward Plaza, 1801 S. La Cienega Blvd. at 18th Street, Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m.

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