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Winter Offerings From SCV’s Farmers’ Markets

I think it’s about late August when it happens for me. A sign on the Thomcord grapes being sold by Apkarian Farms says “last week.” It’s a sign that snaps me back into the reality that yes, we do have seasons here in Southern California. Somewhere around this time, our farmers markets begin a slow change to winter fruits and vegetables.

But all is far from lost. We can easily get most anything we want year round at local supermarkets. Unripe produce is picked, shipped or flown to distribution centers and trucked to our local markets. The produce can ripen in the back of a transport truck and then be dressed up and put on display at supermarkets.

20151129_103821But we think there is a better way. There are many reasons why our local farmers markets should continue to be your first, if not only stop for all of your winter produce buying.

The Apkarian Family still has Autumn Royal grapes (and the worlds best raisins) through December. After that, they pack up and return to the COC Farmers Market in May. But even though some vendors are only at the markets seasonally, most stay on year round. Of course in some cases, the produce they offer changes.

We talked to Greta Dunlap, manager of the Saturday Old Town Newhall Farmers Market. Greta said that winter is a highly underrated time of year for farmers markets. “Citrus, this time of year is just incredible,” she said.

IMG_1724Indeed on a recent Saturday morning Nick and son Kylar from McFarlin Family Farms were selling a wide variety of citrus and other produce grown just south of Fresno. Aside from the standard oranges, lemons and limes, they had grapefruits and huge sweet pomellos. They even offered up homemade grape juice and some late fall pluots.

20151129_094907fFor Dan, of the hugely popular Santa Rita Organic Farms, winter marks a change to cruciferous vegetables (though on this late November morning they still were selling some late season heirloom tomatoes). “This means broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and turnip greens,” said Dan. Amongst other things, they will also be selling carrots and winter squash all grown on their certified organic farm in Lompoc.

20151129_103110Some vendors adapt to provide produce year round as is the case with Beylik Family Farms. Beylik produces six varieties of tomatoes and wonderful living butter lettuce year round on their farm in Fillmore. To accomplish this, their produce is grown hydroponically (without soil) on coconut husks. The plants are covered and the water is heated in the winter to around 70 degrees. According to owner Linda Beylik, “shorter days mean the tomatoes spend more time on the vine in the winter.” While she prides herself on the quality of their produce, she thinks her winter tomatoes taste just a bit richer because of this. They pick their tomatoes only when they are ripe.

The winter also affects other farmers, but they adapt to ensure they continue to provide their product. When asked how winter affects him, Bob Shepherd of Shepherd Farms let out a hearty laugh. “It’s even colder at 3:30am,” he said. Based in Fillmore, Bob sells eggs from his free range chickens that live in his certified organic orange grove. According to Bob, the chickens don’t mind the cold but they start to notice once there is less than 14 hours of daylight. “Older chickens don’t lay as much in the winter which is a challenge because demand typically spikes in the winter,” he said. By carefully managing his flock, he tries to meet demands from his customers.

20151129_095932In Nippomo on California’s central coast, the ocean climate allows Pudwell Farms to ensure they can provide raspberries, blueberries and blackberries year round. But for strawberry farmer Renaldo Rodriguez of Rodriguez Farms, it’s all about variety. He plants a wide variety of strawberries to ensure he can provide berries from Oxnard year round. Right now, he is selling varieties that do well in winter such as Albions, San Andreas and a new variety called Fronteras. On a recent Sunday morning, he was giving samples of a yet unnamed variety he was trying out from UC Davis.

On top of the wonderful produce at our two farmers markets, so called ancillary vendors remain year round. That means you will always be able to get meats, cheeses, seafood, bread and a wide array of other food items when you need it.

Selection varies by market, we recommend you visit both markets.

Old Town Newhall Farmers Market
Located at Lyons Avenue and Railroad Avenue, the market operates Saturdays from 8:30am until 12:30pm.

COC Farmers Market
Located in the parking lot at College of the Canyons in Valencia, the market is open Sundays from 8:30 until Noon.