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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND : OUTINGS : JAUNTS : Reaping a Bountiful Harvest by the Sea : Channel Islands Harbor Farmer's Market hopes to scare up new business with a pumpkin festival two days before Halloween.

October 26, 1995|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Still looking for the perfect pumpkin? Check out the pumpkin festival Sunday at the Channel Islands Harbor Farmer's Market.

Not only can you take home a gorgeous gourd, but you can also pucker up for the pumpkinseed spitting contest--and take a look at the newest of the county's farmers' markets.

The festival runs during regular market hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For those who think a pumpkin is just a goofy vegetable, this festival might change your mind. They will have pumpkin bowling, decorating and carving. The truly artistic can enter the veggie sculpting contest.

The festival is the latest promotion for the fledgling market that opened in April. Unlike other markets, this one has a real nautical feel. Located at the water's edge, boats cruise by, sea gulls chirp and a steady breeze nips the air.

It's small, compared to other markets in the county. You can browse the produce of about 20 growers--from oranges, apples, grapes, nuts, olives, herbs and tomatoes to ornamental flowers, bread, honey and preserves.

"We expect it will grow a lot bigger," said Susan O'Brien, marketing director for the Channel Islands Harbor Assn. of Lessees, which runs the market. "We're still feeling our way, finding our own personality."

Given its location along the water, it's already unique. "It's the prettiest one around," O'Brien said. Tables with umbrellas are set out in the middle of the market, where shoppers can sip espresso and eat muffins and gooey cinnamon buns.

Most Sundays there is live entertainment--a Peruvian band, Hawaiian dancers, jazz groups. The goal is to provide entertainment every week, although a change in market managers recently set things back a bit.

O'Brien has other plans too. She wants to feature a local chef once a month, demonstrating food preparation using produce from the market.

Already shoppers have seen chefs from the Lobster Trap and Capistrano's whipping up salsa, tempura, pasta sauce, chocolate-covered fruit and elaborate vegetable carvings. Of course, shoppers get to sample these goodies. (On Nov. 12, the chef will be La Dolce Vita's Gerry Moreno, who will put together some holiday fare, like Waldorf salad and a stuffing recipe.)

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Despite its newness, the market draws about 500 people on a Sunday, and as many as 1,000 when special events are planned. "At least 50% are regulars--you see them every week," O'Brien said.

Some of the growers are local, like Ojai beekeeper Brian Cox, who sells honey, beeswax candles and even candles shaped like skeletons for Halloween. Some come down from Santa Barbara, like Mary Luce Wellington who sells marmalades and preserves she makes from produce she grows on her farm.

"I make it like you would for your own family," she said while doling out samples. She cooks up small batches at her home, using not only oranges but also lemons, grapefruit and limes for her marmalade. Apricots, figs and guava go into her jams and preserves.

"I've made preserves since I was 8 years old, helping my mother," said Wellington, who also sells a cookbook with tips about produce.

Mike Brock is downright passionate about the dozen or so herbs he sells. "Ladies, you can't walk away without trying some of my basil," he said to some passersby.

Brock heads the research division of Bio-Enhancement Technologies, a Camarillo company that produces natural agricultural products containing a beneficial fungus that enhances growth. The herbs he sells at the market are an offshoot of the research.

At an information table, browsers can pick up recipes, information on healthy eating, T-shirts, aprons, bags and sweat shirts.

For hungry visitors, there is plenty to eat right on the spot. A Carpinteria bakery sells pie, carrot cake and monkey bread--a sticky cinnamon bun with caramel and nuts glopped on.

If you give in to one of these diet busters, you can sweat it off with a stroll on the nearby walkway that runs along the harbor. It's a good spot from which to watch boats.

FOR FOTO SLUGGED jaunts 26/farmer 3

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