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FARMERS MARKETS

Crash Course in Produce

March 08, 2000

Roaring around the desert on his Kawasaki dirt bike last November, Armando Garcia noticed a steep hill with a set of tracks going up it and wondered what lay beyond. He found out soon enough: an 80-foot cliff, which he sailed over before he could stop.

Miraculously, just as in an action movie, he hit the ground at just the right angle to stay upright on the bike. "Yes!" he remembers thinking--and then he ran straight into the wall of a ditch.

He lay there in agony with a fractured leg and dislocated elbow until his family, riding nearby, found him and transported him seven hours to the hospital. For almost two months he hobbled around on crutches in a cast, but now he's back doing what he loves even more than biking: selling produce at three Santa Monica farmers markets.

The Garcia Organic Farm is located north of Fallbrook in De Luz, a pristine area of chaparral canyons and citrus groves rimmed by hillsides littered with giant boulders. Last week, as Armando loaded up his truck, he explained that his father, Juan, came to America from Michoacan in 1975 and begged Durling Nursery for a job for a few weeks. "The two weeks aren't up yet," said Armando; now his father is foreman at the nursery.

The elder Garcia started the farm 10 years ago. He grows mostly citrus, as well as avocados, mangoes, guavas and papayas. He specializes in unusual varieties he encounters at the nursery, such as sweet, round Meiwa kumquats, pink-fleshed Cara Cara navel oranges and intensely flavored Page mandarins.

The toughest part of the job, the younger Garcia says, is picking fruit on the vertiginously steep hillsides. His favorite part is meeting people at the market. "I'm a people person," he says.

That he proved last Saturday, deftly handling the throngs at the market, answering questions and making change as his girlfriend, Dora Mora, cut samples of juicy Cocktail grapefruit and sweet-tart Oroblancos.

And for you motorcycle fans, after the repair of a few broken spokes, the Kawasaki is purring again.

"I'm a bit more careful now," he promised.

Garcia sells at three Santa Monica farmers markets: Arizona Avenue and 2nd Street, Wednesdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Main Street at Ocean Park Boulevard, Sundays 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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