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AT THE MARKET

Roadside Stand's a Mix of Art and the Organic : Eclectic architecture frames an array of herbs, flowers and seasonal produce at the new upper Ojai outlet.

July 29, 1993|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joe and Cheryl Amestoy of Ojai have combined their expertise to create the newest addition to Ventura County's rich source of roadside produce outlets. And what Joe-the-architect and Cheryl-the-herb-garden-specialist have devised is an artful approach to selling their organically grown wares.

In front of their home, along Highway 150 in upper Ojai, is an alluring structure made of tall scaffolding, rust-laden recycled metals, 100-year-old oil rig parts and two, large cylindrical tanks.

"It's one approach to consider the piece abstractly and another to say how it works for our purpose, which is to provide shelter and welcoming for those that want to buy organic fruit and vegetables," Joe Amestoy said.

The newly opened "Cheryl's Occasional Produce Stand" works something like this: The two tanks, about five yards apart, provide visual anchoring at the back of the structure, from which curved tank sections--each alternately facing up or down--rise and extend outward to provide overhead shelter. A rainbow of colors in the form of vertical flags flap in the breeze from atop the scaffolding, which is in front of the two tanks.

Off to the side, atop a wooden support, is a sizable metal buoy, which is more useful than it appears. To demonstrate, Amestoy raps the buoy intently with a hand-held object. The resultant loud, reverberating gong is meant to be a customer's call, which beckons the Amestoys from their home to the stand.

"We're trying to make this an open front yard in the style of the Midwest, where people are welcomed into our home by having an open front yard, rather than a fenced-in place," said the gray-bearded, bespectacled Amestoy. Gnarled tree stumps sculpted into chair forms, as well as other ornate seatings and benches, add to the relaxed setting.

But there's more here than just architecture. At the stand, you'll find an impressive array of herbs, edible flowers and seasonal treats such as walnuts, citrus, pears, sour apples, mission figs, persimmons, red Italian garlic, peppers and zucchini.

The produce is Cheryl's domain.

"I use a lot of things people would consider weeds, but they are good for you," she said. "People are pulling these out and throwing them away. This I put in my salads."

A longtime member of the nonprofit American Herb Society, Cheryl Amestoy packages salad blends that contain up to 10 different varieties of greens, some of which she sells to area restaurants, including The Ranch House.

Amestoy's arugula, mountain spinach, lemon grass, French sorrel and numerous other lettuces and herbs are raised in another of her husband's creations: a sunken garden, complete with a terraced stonework knoll, pathways and a stream-like waterfall that opens up in view of a thick oak forest.

The edible flowers offered at the stand also grow here, including pansies, pot marigolds, pineapple sage, violets and scarlet runner bean blossom.

"Toss these into salads," Cheryl suggested. "Besides color, they can add flavor and vitamins. Some have a cucumber flavor, while the violets offer a little sweet nectar as does the pineapple sage. Pansies won't have flavor, but look good and are crunchy."

* WHERE AND WHEN

The stand is at 8950 Ojai-Santa Paula Road (Highway 150). Hours: noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays ("occasionally"), Saturdays and Sundays.

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