Could there be a sweeter place to spend a lazy Sunday morning than the Ojai farmers market? Tucked just off the sleepy main drag, nestled under shady oaks, the 25-year-old market has got a great vibe no matter the time of year, but it's especially good right now, when the valley's citrus is flooding in. Among the 40-odd farmers in attendance recently were Jim Churchill and Lisa Brenneis with their spectacular mandarins -- satsumas, Gold Nuggets and Pixies, as well as what's left of the avocados that survived the January freeze. Mud Creek Farms from nearby Santa Paula had an even wider variety, including seldom-seen Daisies as well as Dancys, Murcotts, Gold Nuggets and the new University of California varieties Tahoe Gold, Shasta Gold, Malibu Gold and Sierra Gold. In addition, there were vegetables from McGrath Family Farms, Givens Farms and great local grower Robert Dautch (whose farm is alternately known as BD's and Earthtrine), strawberries from Harry's Berries, walnuts from Rancho La Vina, and even hothouse tomatoes from Beylik Farms.
Ojai, Sunday, 300 E. Matilija St., 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (805) 698-5555.
8. Bustle and flow
They work hard for their bustle at the Irvine farmers market, located just off campus from the University of California in a mall parking lot that seems to stretch for acres. Founded in 1994, it is a huge street fair that's roughly half crafts and prepared foods and half produce. Every Saturday at noon, they raffle off baskets of each to those in attendance. But it's worth it to attend even if you don't win anything, even if it's just to shop at a couple of great stands. Among the 50 or so farmers are Cal Poly Pomona's school farm project, with students selling the fruits and vegetables they grow on campus. They've got several types of citrus right now, and come summer they're planning on growing a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes. Besides that, the market has one of the more interesting assortments of Asian produce in the area. CJ Farms in Camarillo has dried jujubes, Chinese chives, five or six different choys, winter melon and water spinach as well as fresh pounded \o7mochi\f7 -- both the more traditional white wrapped in a leaf and some tinted green with herbs.
Irvine, Saturday, University Center across from UCI, 8 a.m. to noon. (714) 573-0374.
9. Positively Main Street
This is the little farmers market that could. Not only is it the youngest market on the list, started in 1995, it's also the smallest. It stretches a short block of downtown Culver City's Main Street, a gentrifying shopping area that includes furniture stores, galleries and thrift stores. There aren't more than 25 vendors, but among them are some real all-stars. Bernard Ranches has Star Ruby grapefruit, Oroblancos, kumquats, blood oranges and avocados. Valdivia Farms has fava beans, baby carrots, squash blossoms (both female and male -- with the squash and without) and English peas. Zuckerman has its usual wonderful asparagus and assorted potatoes. Suncoast has artichokes and asparagus as well as dried beans -- favas, limas, speckled limas, black, yellow and \o7pinquitos\f7. Besides the fruits and vegetables, there's J&P West Coast Seafood with fresh fish, Laurent Bonjour's Cheese Corner with 60 types of cheese and L'Artisan du Chocolat for dessert.
Culver City, Tuesday, Main Street between Venice and Culver boulevards, 2 to 7 p.m. (310) 253-5775.
10. Hidden treasures
There are some wonderful farmers at the Encino market, but turn the wrong way and you may be dismayed. To the right of the entrance at the 13-year-old market there is a wonderful selection of produce in a relatively small space. Turn the other way, though, and you'll find a veritable swap meet with stands peddling everything from old vinyl records and books to arts and crafts. Though there are roughly only 30 farmers, they grow some terrific produce -- another example of how you don't need a cast of thousands to make a great market, as long as the growers you do have are among the best. Underwood Farms has purple, green and gold cauliflower, red, white and orange carrots, radishes, turnips, red and golden beets and celery root. Yang Farms from Fresno has an amazing assortment of vegetables both Western and Asian: green garlic, leeks, beets, turnips and chard; and Chinese broccoli, sour leaf, Malabar spinach and amaranth and Thai, lemon and purple basil. Kendor Farms from right down the street has chicken and eggs, and Santa Maria's J&J Farms has drop-dead-sweet Seascape and Camarosa strawberries.
Encino, Sunday, 17400 Victory Blvd., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. (818) 708-6611.
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On the road, at the market
SOME people visit museums when they travel; some go to plays or bookstores. When I hit the road, I'm looking for farmers markets. If there's a good one within 20 or 30 miles, I'm there. Here are a few of my favorite stopovers.