Gallery: To Market, To Market [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
by CeCe Darakjian
Bright, juicy strawberries are among the many fresh fruits at the Farmer’s Market.Over the past 25 years my idea of a traditional holiday celebration has taken many a twist and turn. As a child, my family celebrated the holidays in the usual way, with turkeys, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pies on the dining table. And carved pumpkins, Douglas fir Christmas trees and silver tinsel adorning our home.
After marrying into an Armenian family those traditions grew to include dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava on the dinner table, with a crèche - hand-carved from olive trees from the “old country” - displayed on the mantel. Then, shortly after reaching their teen years, certain members of my family refused to eat any more meat, and now a very strange looking but actually quite tasty “Tofurkey” takes its place of honor right next to the real thing. A much healthier vegan sweet potato pie has replaced pumpkin pie, and, if you swallow real fast, you can hardly tell the difference. That’s the way it goes, things change and you mix a little of the old and a little of the new and before you know it, it’s become a tradition!
For those looking to mix up their holiday traditions a bit, a fun place to start is right here in San Clemente at the weekly Farmers Market. Over the last ten years the market itself has become a tradition for shoppers looking for the freshest, best tasting and widest variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and other specialty items.
A quick walk down Avenida Del Mar on a Sunday afternoon reveals a tempting array from skin care products, to free range chicken eggs. From homemade salsa to homegrown orchids, the market is a fabulous place to find your weekly “must haves” or to experiment with some exotic vegetable from some country you’ve never even heard of.
Typically when I think of a farmers market I tend to think of the spring and summer months, fat juicy peaches, succulent strawberries and sweet juicy cherries, but the variety and great taste doesn’t end with the good weather. The fall and winter seasons bring new and equally delicious items to the market and many of them arrive just in time to be added to your holiday planning.
It was way back in 1994 that San Clemente resident Jan Peverill approached her daughter and son-in-law, Rick and Sandy Heil, with the idea of starting a farmers market in San Clemente. Although Rick was busy with his own pension planning business they decided to humor Jan and agreed to help manage what started out as a small farmers market with just eight vendors on the grassy lawn in front of the community center. Little did they know that over the next 12 years that little market would grow to encompass the entire two hundred block of Del Mar Avenue, featuring over 25 vendors and attracting hundreds of people to downtown San Clemente every Sunday.
“You can’t get fresher flowers,” claims flower farmer Hector Ramos.Many of those vendors agree that the City of San Clemente hosts one of the most successful farmers markets in the area and that success is based on three ingredients, a beautiful location, support from the City and the management of the Heils. Rick carefully screens potential vendors and looks for people with a passion for bringing the highest quality product to their customers.
Hector Ramos, of Rancho Chico Incorporated displays those exact qualities. Hector grew up on small farms down in north San Diego County, helping his father, Eugino, raise and sell tomatoes and other vegetables. Over the years the market for local tomatoes become more competitive and the Ramos’ decided to move into the flower market. Today the Rancho Chico farms grow over 30 varieties of flowers and ornamentals, and sell fresh cut flowers at over 15 different farmers markets in Southern California.
“You cannot get a fresher flower than what we sell,” Hector told me. “We cut our flowers the day before we arrive at the market, they are literally fresh from the field.”
Each Sunday you can find Ramos and his crew helping the hordes of people who line up to purchase his fresh flowers. “We have people who come here every single week to get their flowers, they tell me they last longer than any others they have ever tried do”.
Fresh baked breads, bagels, cinnamon rolls, cookies and sweet cakes can be found at the market too. Hector takes true enjoyment in the product he sells and his interactions with his customers show it. He is never too busy to answer questions, give advice or to “talk flowers” with his customers. Anyone looking for some new ideas for decorating for the holidays should head on over to his booth. He may help you find a fresh way to display a traditional favorite or introduce you to a completely new and different tradition in the making.
After perusing the flower selection head down the street, paying special attention to the smells permeating the air. It won’t be long until your nose will lead you directly to Steve Crossen and the Old Town Baking Company. Hopefully you won’t be like me and will be able to show at least a little restraint when surrounded by Steve’s amazing selection of fresh baked breads, bagels, cinnamon rolls, cookies and sweet cakes. On second thought forget the restraint, just be sure and throw one of his Hearty 6 Grain Loafs into the mix, it’s low calorie, high in fiber, has no eggs or sugar and it’s actually quite delicious. The perfect antidote to the guilt you’ll feel when you end up eating all the frosting covered cinnamon rolls in the car before you even get home.
Although Crossen’s bakery in Fontana markets to almost 40 farmers markets, Steve swears San Clemente is his favorite. “It’s the most beautiful location, and you get such a great mix of locals and tourists.”
When not behind the bakery table Crossen doubles as a real estate agent in the San Clemente area, and he is as enthusiastic about the area as he is about his breads. “My whole family loves San Clemente and we spend as much time here as possible” he says.
His pride in bringing quality, baked goods to a town he loves is evident. His seasonal products for the holidays, including traditional German Stollen and fall fruit pies, would be a welcome addition to any holiday meal. He even takes the much-maligned Christmas Fruit Cake to a completely new level, making it a gift anyone would enjoy receiving. Now if I could just get him to add vegan sweet potato pie to his menu, I’d be set.
Baby organic lettuce are grown in Fallbrook.After gorging on something sweet from Steve’s bakery I always feel better if I buy something healthy and Peterson’s Specialty Produce, fits the bill perfectly. Andrea Peterson owns a small organic farm located in Fallbrook, where coastal breezes keep the farm cool in the summer and relatively warm in the winter. The 650-foot elevation puts it out of the coastal fog zone, creating the perfect climate for her crops to flourish. She specializes in baby lettuce but also grows berries, beans, squash, pomegranates and much, much more.
When not selling her produce at the market, Andrea is busy running Blue Heron Farm Bed & Breakfast, a peaceful, hacienda-style home surrounded by acres of farmland where guest dine on menus created specifically to highlight the organic produce grown on the farm. Needless to say as a lettuce farmer she is a big proponent of salad and even goes so far as to suggest serving a winter salad green mix, with blue cheese, candied walnuts, pears and vinaigrette for breakfast. If that doesn’t fit the criteria for creating a new holiday tradition, I don’t know what does!
Whether you want to create a new tradition in your own home or you’re looking for some non-traditional gift giving ideas the farmers market will meet your needs. Just ask Juan Garcia. As one of the original vendors of the market, Juan has been selling his cactus, succulents and fresh potted herbs to San Clemente residents for over ten years. During the holiday months he becomes one of the market’s stars with his locally grown, fresh cut poinsettias. People flock to the market to find this holiday favorite, which arrives fresh cut straight from the farm.
This year the poinsettia is getting some competition from Garcia’s newest invention the cactus wreath. Combining traditional holiday elements with cactus and succulent cuttings, Juan has designed a new take on an old favorite, and he will gladly make special orders using plants you choose from his wide selection. As a hanging wreath or a centerpiece for a holiday table, these beautiful creations would work great as hostess gifts for all those holiday parties, or as presents when you visit out of town relatives.
The Farmer’s Market is plentiful with fresh vegetables. If it’s gift giving ideas you’re looking for stop by Clean Living of Santa Monica, their fine soaps and skin care products are the perfect gifts for that person who has everything. Made from vegetable and seed oils rather that tallow (animal lard), they are rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids and scented with essential oils, making them virtually allergy free (and vegan friendly I might add!) Beautifully packaged with sprigs of holly for the holidays, Clean Living offers two gift-boxed sizes that anyone would be glad to receive.
For that cook on your list check out the Vernie Farms extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil. Saviero Vernie of Clovis, California presses this top-of-the-line olive oil, using the same methods brought over by his family when they emigrated from Italy in 1923.
“The richness and delicious taste of this olive oil is unsurpassed” claims seller Marvin Halaby.
Talk about enthusiasm for a product, get Marvin started talking about this olive oil and I guarantee you’ll walk away with a bottle for yourself and several more to share with all of your friends.
Halaby loves the interaction at the market and has been coming here since he was a child with his dad. “People walk by and recognize me from when I was a kid, they know they can trust our products to be the best”, he said.
While they also market fruits, vegetables and raw nuts, it is the olive oil that really makes Marvin’s eyes light up. He delights in regaling his customers with the health virtues of olive oil and swears this product tastes just like fresh olives. Relishing the old fashioned way of doing business he interacts personally with his customers, guaranteeing a level of customer satisfaction that is hard to find in today’s fast pace world.
This year I’ve decided to add a new holiday tradition to my repertoire. I’m going to take the time to stroll down Avenida Del Mar on a Sunday afternoon. To stop and chat with the old friends I pass on the street. To get some good advice from people who love what they’re doing and want to help me love it also. I’ll be shopping for myself, my family and friends, and looking for things that add a new twist to the old ways, or for things to create a new way of doing things. And … I’ll probably eat an entire sweet roll before I even get back to the car, but that’s OK, it’s a tradition! b