By Sara De Leeuw
This month we explore The Farm at Fairplex in Pomona. The Farm at Fairplex is an amazing place. Located at Fairplex – otherwise known for being the home of the Los Angeles County Fair – The Farm has year-round educational opportunities, including field trips and community workshops.
The Farm started as “Storybook Farm” attraction at the L.A. County Fair in the 1950s. It depicted farm life in the 1890s and people dressed in full costume to demonstrate things such as rag doll making and adobe block construction.
In 2004-2005 a new half-acre farm was built in the agriculture area that included a small garden highlighting the top 10 crops grown in California. There was also a citrus grove, apple orchard, new building for bees and honey and a kitchen that demonstrated farm cooking and canning. This area was only open to the public during the Los Angeles County Fair.
In 2012, the Learning Centers at Fairplex received a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture for The Farm to expand to a five-acre organic farm. The current, larger edition of The Farm opened in September 2014 for opening day of the L.A. County Fair.
The Farm now grows produce year-round, hosts farm-to-table dinners, and its fresh produce is used at the McKinley Grill at the Sheraton Suites Fairplex and several local restaurants. Corporate events and weddings are held at The Farm, fresh produce is sold during spring and summer and, most importantly, there are year-round educational opportunities for students and people in the community who want to learn more about sustainability, healthy eating and urban gardening.
When we toured The Farm, we spoke with Don DeLano, farm manager and chief horticulturist, and to Barbara Tuyen, agriculture education specialist from The Learning Centers at Fairplex. Both shared a wealth of information.
Each season, The Farm grows approximately 130-150 different specialty crops. These are all grown from seed and tended by students and volunteers. These specialty crops highlight many types of plants most people have never seen or heard of before. We were captivated as we learned about Cardoons – whose seeds came from the Thomas Jefferson Estate in Virginia; tiny Litchi tomatoes, which are little tomatoes with wrappings almost like a tomatillo; and the Hoja Santa plants, whose leaves taste a bit like black licorice.
Currently, The Farm is growing and harvesting a wide variety of chili peppers, French breakfast radishes, bitter melon, Kohlrabi, lettuces, mustard greens and the end of a very prolific crop of eggplant. As with any working farm, the crops rotate based on the season. Not only do they have traditional row gardens, there are square-foot garden boxes, a small orchard, pomegranate and olive trees. There is a fantastic chef’s garden on the premises with sage, dill, thyme, different varieties of basil and other common herbs, too.
Along with the wide variety of plants, The Farm has an area using aquaponics and hydroponics. It has farm animals, including rabbits, chickens, ducks and even quails. There is an incubation area where school children can learn about and see how chicks are hatched. It is truly a tremendous learning experience to visit The Farm at Fairplex.
DeLano was kind enough to let us harvest some French breakfast radishes for this month’s recipe, “French Radish and Pesto Bites.” These brightly colored appetizers are quick to put together and will look beautiful on your holiday table.
French Radish and Pesto Bites
1 small French baguette
1 bunch French Radishes (regular radishes are fine, too), thinly sliced
1 small jar prepared pesto
Slice baguette into 1/4" rounds. Place bread rounds on a rimmed baking sheet and brush with olive oil.
Set oven to broil and place oven rack in top 1/3 of your oven.
Set baking sheet in the oven and broil until the bread is just beginning to brown around the edges. Remove baking sheet from the oven and, using tongs, flip the bread slices.
Lightly brush untoasted side of the bread with a bit more olive oil and return to the oven. Broil until they are a light golden brown on top.
Remove bread from the oven and let cool slightly.
Spread a scant teaspoon of homemade pesto over each baguette slice. Layer two or three slices of French breakfast radishes over the pesto. Sprinkle with finely diced chives and some lemon zest.
For more information:
The Farm Web Page – http://fairplex.com/farm
The Farm at Fairplex: https://www.facebook.com/FarmatFairplex/?fref=ts
For information on The Farm Volunteer Program: http://www.tlcfairplex.org/volunteer
For information on The Farm Field Trip Program: http://tlcfairplex.org/ctec/farm-field-trips
For information on The Farm‘Table to Farm Dinner Series: http://www.mckinleysgrille.com/thefarm/farm.asp
Sending you warm wishes from my kitchen to yours for a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous 2017.
- Sara from Sara's Kitchen Adventures