Alex Weiser at the Hungry Cat. Photo by Foodwoolf.
The first time I ever saw a crosne, the grubby looking Chinese tuber known for its crunchy, earthy-sweet flavor, was at the Weiser Family Farm stand at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. I bought a bag full, along with sunchokes, from a golden-faced man in a wide-brimmed hat whose smile radiated like sunshine on stainless. I met him again, months later, in the same wide-brimmed hat, crunching through Purple Haze carrots at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, and finally introduced myself. Since 1982, Alex Weiser’s friendly face has been working the area farmers’ markets, his face as familiar as the parsnips, potatoes and sprouting broccoli he talks about enthusiastically with local chefs and foodies.
Alex embodies what I love about the farmers’ market. The great produce and a direct connection with the people who grow the food, someone to thank for all the tasty meals I put on the table. I caught up with him by email recently (trying to pin this busy man down is quite difficult) and to find out a bit more about the farm’s history and its future. This is what he had to say:
How long have you been farming? Where is your farm and what varieties of potatoes, root veggies and other vegetables do you grow?
We purchased our first agricultural property in 1977. It was a 160-acre apple orchard: Red and Golden Delicious.
We farm in Tehachapi, Lamont/Edison area, Lucerne Valley. Also, in my parents new backyard in Claremont.
This year we are growing many varieties of potatoes. As of now: Russian Banana, La Ratte, Purple Peruvian, Red Chilean, King Edward, German Butterball, Red Thumb, Ruby Crescent, All Blue, French. Also, many colors of beets and carrots, many varieties of melons, many varieties of onions, broccolis, cauliflowers, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, sunchokes, crosnes, peppers, blackberries, mulberries, grapes, quince, apples, peaches, jujubes, lilacs, spinach, shallots, wheat, winter squashes, summer squashes…I can’t stop!
How do you choose what to grow?
Basically we grow what we have a comparative advantage in growing where are farms are located. Luckily for us we have three distinct growing regions that give us a lot of options. We also choose to grow niche crops, varieties that have flavor, heirlooms, new introductions, European varietals, seasonal standards…crops that sell themselves.
How long have you been participating with local farmers’ markets? How has it changed your business and your relationship with the community?
Since 1981, when the Direct Marketing Program first started in the state. Then the farm was really struggling to survive and if it wasn’t for the farmers’ markets we probably wouldn’t be still farming. It saved us.
Today, I find it amazing over the years, how many friends we made, people we’ve touched and the bonds we created through simply growing good food that tastes good. We appreciate our customers and they appreciate us. Totally positive.
You seem to have an incredible relationship with the area’s top chefs; how has this benefited your farm? Other consumers?
It is great to get chefs insights and perspectives. A lot of chefs were trained in foreign lands and can offer a lot of advice. And chefs have the best palates, so you might as well ask them what they think. Or, if we should try something new or old. It’s nice to get a few thumbs up and some commitments before we plant something. We love menu collaborating.
Farmers market consumers’ benefit because they are like the chefs and want the best fruit and veggies they can get at a fair price. We try to grow enough to make everybody happy.
You recently went on a research trip to Spain? Where did you go and what did you discover?
I was in the Southern part of Spain, Andalusia. I stayed on the Costa del Sol and visited Marbella, Malaga, Tarifa, Cadiz, Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada. I ate out basically every meal and had great seafood and tapas. Saw the sights, the Alhambra, the Mezquita, went skiing, hiking, enjoyed the sunsets. One can’t help but relax there; it’s where “the siesta” started.
You mentioned you brought back some seeds from the trip to experiment with, what will you be planting? When might we expect to see the results?
Piel de Sapo Melon and Padron Peppers.
What is your favorite thing to cook? Would you share a recipe?
My favorite things to cook would probably some sort of roast with all our root vegetables on the side. Also, stir-frying our Bloomsdale spinach or sprouting broccoli with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper, sometimes with chili flakes.
What advice do have to home cooks about picking the best produce?
Granted, buy produce at your local farmers market and get there early and come often.
Where can people find you?
Santa Monica on Wednesday. Also at Hollywood on Sundays
Can’t wait until the market to see what’s in season? Check out the Weiser Family Farm Crop Availability!