Home of Conical Carrots

The Costa Mesa farmers market, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in August, is one of the strongest markets in Orange County, though it's a bit smaller than it was a few years ago.

Vegetables, both exotic and familiar, are its strong suit. Last Thursday, Michi Yasutomi, a hydroponic grower from Pico Rivera, had green shiso , which is eaten in salads and used as a wrapper or as a garnish; komatsu-na , a Japanese mustard spinach, to be pickled, sauteed or cooked in soups; and senposai ("One Thousand Treasure Vegetable"), a hybrid developed by the Kirin Brewery Co. that is tender and soft like komatsu-na and slightly sweet like cabbage.

From Buena Park and Anaheim, Katsue Motodera of R Farms brought fresh ginger rhizomes, mild Maui onions, large-leafed Japanese parsley (a.k.a. mitsuba ) and gigantic, conical Japanese carrots, weighing up to a pound each, surprisingly sweet and tender for their size. Leslie Farms of Carlsbad displayed a bevy of summer squashes, including light green Clarissa and small, squat Patty Pan, along with brilliant yellow squash flowers, green jalapenos, and four kinds of tomatoes: vine, plum, cherry and grape.

Jeanne Davis of De Luz had fine Hass, Pinkerton and Fuerte avocados, along with shiitake and portabello mushrooms. Viva Andres of Visalia sold long beans, bitter melons and greens of sweet potato and bitter melon.

Perhaps because the long drive from the Central Valley to Costa Mesa discourages small-scale producers, most of the stone fruit vendors at the market sold commercial-quality fruit, much of it carried for other farmers under the "second certificate" regulation. The only exception was Merle Leistner of Reedley, who offered ripe Red Beaut and Eldorado plums, juicy yellow cling peaches, muscat raisins (which compensate for their seeds with excellent flavor) and jars of garlic-flavored green olives.

As noon approached, Gayle Cory of the Orange County Farm Bureau's Cornucopia program collected surplus produce from the vendors, to be given to soup kitchens and food banks--a community service that could well be offered by other markets.

Costa Mesa farmers market, Orange County Fairgrounds, 88 Fair Drive, Thursdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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