After reading Beth Barrett's piece about farmers markets this week, it might be tempting to hang up the locavore hat and head out for an angsty and cathartic mouthful at the local McDonald's. We're envisioning an army of market goers asking to see papers at this coming weekend's markets. This isn't a bad thing, done politely, and is actually a step in the right direction as far as owning your responsibility as a consumer to stay informed. But we think it's important to give recognition to the hard working small farmers we know are doing it right.
We'll get to the certified organics in a minute. But we would be sorely remiss if we didn't note some of the small, certified California-grown farms who are doing local food right, but who cannot, for a whole host of reasons — high cost, building locations on their properties, or proximity to other commercial operations — handle the rigors of organic certification. Shear Rock Farms (Santa Paula), K&K Ranch (Orosi), Yingst Ranch (Littlerock), Peacock Family Farms (Dinuba),Yang Farms (Fresno), T&D Farms (Redlands), ABC Rhubarb (Fillmore) and J.J.'s Lone Daughter Ranch (Redlands) are several of these reputable small and certified local growers. Turn the page for an alphabetical list of 5 certified organic farmers: we've seen the certificates and visited some of them.
5. Finely Organics: This is a family-run operation headed up by Christopher Finely. You may not find him running the stand at Hollywood, Santa Monica or Beverly Hills, but you will likely find one of his family members. They are certified organic out of Santa Ynez and have some of the most gorgeous wintertime greens around. They are best known for their kale and baby greens, but we love them for the harder to find unusuals like organic popcorn (still on the cob) and garlic scapes. They also have delectable organic strawberries, too. You can find them at the Culver City, Solvang, Montecito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Monica, Los Olivos, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Studio City farmers markets each week.
Phil McGrath runs a tight family ship no matter where his stand is. He's best known for amazing Seascape strawberries, but you'd be missing out if you didn't try the huge variety of baby greens, from fava tendrils to spicey mustards, to parsley roots and baby corn. Right now, his winter squash selection is second to none. And sometimes you'll find his fruits preserved in local jams from Sqirl and Farmer's Kitchen. You can find them at the Santa Monica (Wednesday), South Pasadena, Thousand Oaks, Topanga Canyon, Camarillo, Santa Barbara, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Ojai farmers markets.
2. Mud Creek Ranch: Robin Smith and her daughter run the market stands themselves and yes, they are certified organic. Their Santa Paula orchards yield some of the more interesting and hard to find citrus, stone fruits, and many other sought after harvests. We impatiently await their white mulberries in the spring and buy up bags of bitter Bergamot and Seville oranges for traditional marmalade every year. They also have the Italian lemons used specifically for making limoncello. You can find them at the Ojai, Hollywood, Santa Monica (Wednesday) and Santa Barbara farmers markets.
1. Tutti Frutti: Despite the cutesey name (It's Italian for “all fruits”) and the corporate looking logo, Tutti Frutti is run by fifth generation farmer Christopher Cadwell and his family members out in Carpinteria. You're more likely to see his daughter Clara or their market manager Barbara Whitman running the stands. Squash, both winter and summer, dominate, as do their heirloom tomato selections. In springtime, we seek out their baby artichokes for pickling and in fall they harvest from a patch of gigantic California chanterelles on their land. You can find them at the Hollywood, Ojai, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Burbank, Ventura, and Agoura Hills farmers markets.
This is just a sampling from our list of trusted growers. As always, you should get to know the people who sell you your food. Ask for certificates. Ask questions about where the food was grown, how the weather has affected their harvests, and how it compares to previous years. If you have the time, visit them where they work. In some cases, you can volunteer to help them pick for their CSAs, which gets you even closer to your food. If farmers or their employees don't answer your questions, supply certificates, or seem cagey about their produce, move on. But remember in some cases you may be dealing with shy farmers who may not have a firm grasp of English and rely on younger generations of relatives to translate their knowledge to you. The difference is discernible and deserves your mindful consideration and patience.