Photos courtesy of Tony Chu from Pure Land Farms
The Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa hold a weekly farmer’s market, and as per usual, me and the auspicious individual giving me a ride swung by the stand of Pure Land Farms to check out the current sale on shamanic and rare herbs. The stand offers a gold mine of such hard to get plants which the farm’s owner grows himself. Pure Land Farms is also in the Irvine farmers market on Saturdays, so you don’t have to be in Costa Mesa to visit this gem filled stand.
The farm’s owner personally grows all the plants, as well as produce, in the most natural possible conditions, which makes them particularly hardy and potent. The herbs he offers have both very strong flavor and aroma, and his produce is all heirloom. Although the produce there is not perfect looking (credited to the owners loyalty to natural farming, because real plants are never grotesquely perfect or uniform) it’s always superior in taste and richness. They are like fruits and vegetables used to be. The stand is always full of seasonal surprises. I ended up adopting a White Sage, which is the sage used for ceremonial smudging.
Pure Land Farms is Located in Temecula, California, and was started in 2000. It’s main crops are avocado, blueberries, heirloom cherry tomatoes in various hues, and fabulicious tangerines (the peelings of which you can dry and use as a cooking or baking spice). The farm also offers a variety of rare fruits such as zapote, mulberries (when in season), brilliantly potent and equally as enormous elephant garlic, and more. For me, the stand feels like visiting an edible plant zoo and all are well worth trying, especially the flavorful avocados which taste good enough to eat alone. Each individual fruit or vegetable has a unique personality in it’s flavor. Because of the way they are grown, one always tastes better than the other.
The nursery sells a variety of herbs, vegetables, berries, vines and fruit trees. All of the plants are very healthy and equally as hardy.
Red holy basil (tulsi):
Although not certified as organic the farm uses growing methods that far surpass larger organic farms in terms of quality and respect to the environment. Many small farmers (family owned, communal, etc), although not certified, will grow their produce organically but are no longer able to state that it is organic. They simply can’t afford the $2000+ annual fee for the certification, and, as of more recent, are getting in trouble for saying “it’s grown organic but not certified”. Naturally, regulations are important to protect consumers, but in such cases it turns out to be mostly larger businesses that can afford the label, and larger businesses don’t typically uphold high quality standards. The focus is chiefly on quantity, resulting in compromises in quality, freshness, nutrient value, consideration to the consumer and/or the environment.
Which is unfortunate because organic began as a grassroots movement with small farmers like Pure Land Farms. Small farmers, especially family owned ones, rely on quality and taking good care of what they grow because it’s “more personal” for them, and they are often living hand to mouth (not able to afford a loss that can simply be “written off”).
As “organic” grows with the increasing consumer concern for health and environmental issues it seems as if it will only be larger companies that will be able to afford the label. In the end, certified or not, consumers will have to be their own certifiers and decide for themselves.
Guava from his guava bushes
At any rate, it’s always a fascinating experience to talk to farmers at these markets. Many of them, like Pure Land’s owner, will end up sounding like a show on the Discovery Channel with their wealth of knowledge and information about topics ranging from contemporary issues, the taboos of food production, and consumer miseducation, to environment, nature, and the land.
Photo courtesy of Tony Chu from Pure Land Farms