Twice a week Lilia Viramontes sets up the farm stand she manages in the parking lot of the French Garden Restaurant (8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol). On Sunday, as the restaurant serves brunch, the stand is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 1 to 5 p.m.
The produce is grown about 2 to 3 miles northwest, at Dan Smith’s French Garden Farm.
Currently, the stand is like a microcosm of farmers markets, with the last of winter’s harvest overlapping with early spring crops.
This Sunday, there were sweet Murcott Mandarins, plump Meyer lemons and both butternut and Delicata squash. Golden beets and Forono beets both look beautiful, baby parsnips are sweet and smooth and red spring onions are just coming on. Fennel bulbs are plumping up and leeks, which many customers think of as this farm’s premier crop, are as good as ever. French breakfast radishes are tiny and delicious and there’s plenty of pak choi, a type of Chinese cabbage.
There’s a bit of young celery, too, which takes some getting used to if you are new to organic celery, which bears little resemblance to the supermarket celery most of us grew up eating.
Romanesco broccoli goes quickly but there is almost always plenty of broccolini, Lacinato kale and chard, including rainbow chard.
You’ll find a big variety of lettuces at the stand. Lolla Rossa is a deep reddish purple, with frilly leaves and a sweet crunch. Red Flame is a deep red, as well, with a luscious fragility–be sure to store it properly and use it quickly. Speckled Trout, also quite fragile, is one of my favorite lettuces here, and the Red Oak Leaf is always good, too, as is escarole, plump heads with beautiful sage-green leaves.
If you prefer salad mix to head lettuce, you’ll find it already bagged. The winter salad mix, with lots of bitter greens, is a favorite. There are also bags of braising greens–leaves of kale, chard and such–that will save a bit of time in the kitchen. Arugula, the most familiar of the bitter greens, is sold bulk.
Currently, the farm does not have microgreens, a signature crop. They’re coming sometime soon and then you’ll find miniature leaves of arugula, basil, broccoli, celery, dill, mustard, onion and radish, sold individually and mixed. These diminutive leaves are wonderful tossed into salads and scattered over soups and stews.
There are no mature herbs yet, either, but these, too, will be appearing soon, as will the farm’s famous strawberries, which are already in the ground.
If you can’t stop by the stand or get to a farmers market, the French Garden Farm offers another option, a “cloud store,” as Smith refers to his on line shopping option. Here’s how it works: You order on line, pay and then arrange to pick up your produce or have it delivered (available in a limited area for an extra charge). When you shop at the cloud store, you’ll also see “Deal of the Day” offers, discounts on items at their peak and in abundance. This week, French breakfast radishes, pak choi and fennel have been discounted.
To explore this option and for detailed information about varieties, farm tours and talks and advice on growing your own fruits and vegetables, visit frenchgardenfarm.com.