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Farmers’ Market Report:

“Guys Night Out” was the topic of the November 15 Farmers’ Market Library Panel Discussion, featuring farmers Phil McGrath and Alex Weiser and Chef Rich Mead of Newport Beach’s Sage Restaurant and Sage on the Coast. The discussion was moderated by Russ Parsons, author of How to Pick a Peach. The conversation focused on how the Farmers’ Market has impacted each panelist.

Even though Rich Mead’s restaurants are in Newport, every Wednesday he drives to Santa Monica to shop at the Farmers’ Market because the farmers are creative like chefs and they are all proud of what they do. Mead cooks with the seasons, is inspired by the market, and creates menus and dishes by simply walking from stand to stand.

For years, the Weiser Family’s dream was to farm. Finally, in the late 1970s they bought a 160-acre apple farm in Tehachapi. In the beginning, they were farming just to survive financially; the Farmers’ Markets put Weiser through college. Today, the Farmers’ Markets are a point of inspiration and have allowed the Weisers to diversify and grow a wide variety of products. At the market Weiser is surrounded by “foodies,” and constantly gets ideas of new crops to grow. The markets also provide an opportunity to test out new fruits and vegetables and see how customers and chefs respond to them.

The McGrath family has been farming in Camarillo for over 100 years, and Phil McGrath is a fifth generation farmer. The McGraths were originally traditional and commercial farmers, farming cattle, dairy, and row crops. Farmers’ Markets have had a significant influence on McGrath Family Farm. The farm became certified organic 12 years ago, and McGrath is a strong supporter of sustainable farming and local, direct marketing. Right now, McGrath Family Farm participates in seven Farmers’ Markets, and McGrath says Farmers’ Markets make him a better, more diversified farmer. He rotates what he grows, farming four acres with 40 different crops every four weeks. Camarillo is a temperate climate in a coastal region with a lot of fog, perfect for growing the best lima beans. It is also wonderful for growing strawberries, celery, beets, carrots, beans, and lettuce. McGrath is passionate about community food security and believes that the food you consume should be grown within 100 miles of where you live. He says the best way to shop for produce is to close your eyes and touch the produce, and then use your nose – don’t buy with your eyes.

In recognizing chef Mead and farmers McGrath and Weiser, Russ Parsons reminded everyone that “Guys Night Out” did not have to consist of flat screen TV, beer, and pizza.

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