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Who’s Who at the Topanga Farmers Market
Feature

Who’s Who at the Topanga Farmers Market 

Alex Weiser (l.) and colleague display the fresh produce of Weiser Farms. Photo by Jill Cotu

Stroll through the Topanga Friday Farmers Market and you’re likely to experience a feast for the eyes: so many bright displays of produce, flowers, spices, scarves, even pale blue eggs. It’s easy to get lost in the kaleidoscope of colors. Behind each table display stand men and women dedicated to their work and eager to share their wares. There are over 40 vendors perched atop the community center hill; here is a profile of four of them. 

What struck me most was the sheer enthusiasm these farmers and small business women had. If I could find a way to bottle that, I myself would have a market tent.

As it stands, Topanga Curry House (TCH) has bottled a bit of magic in the form of take-home Indian food delights. Claudia Joshi and Destiny London co-own and operate this craft food company. What began as a way to stay busy during the pandemic, cooking for friends and neighbors, grew into a community wide offering.

“Claudia is known for being an amazing cook,” praises Destiny. 

Destiny London, alongside her son Nelson, offers Topanga Curry House tastings to Topanga
resident Curtis Caddell. Photo by Jill Cotu

Years ago, while in hotel management school in Mumbai, Claudia learned the art of Indian cooking as part of her curriculum. She lived in India three years, and eventually brought her culinary know-how back to the states. After raising children in Topanga, and about to be an empty-nester, she did what came naturally and partnered with her friend of two decades, Destiny London, to birth Topanga Curry House. 

While they both share business responsibilities, Destiny is the unofficial taste-tester, advisor, and financial officer. Claudia is the main cook and menu planner, culling her recipes and paring them down to a few choice offerings for the home cook and the cooking curious. Each week TCH will bring staples to the Topanga market, such as cilantro mint chutney, which can be mixed with yogurt to make raita or eaten on its own, as well as Claudia’s signature hot sauce and two types of curry paste. The korma and tikka curries each have a dairy and non dairy version, and are something between a true paste and old fashioned condensed soups. Simply mix with water or coconut milk, add in cooked veggies and protein, and you’ve got yourself a meal. These are not simmer sauces, as Claudia and Destiny have already done all the cooking needed. 

Currently, Claudia is in the process of studying Ayurveda, and plans to incorporate those principles into what she cooks. It is a two year course that upon completion will make Claudia a licensed Ayurvedic practitioner. TCH is a Topanga Farmers Market regular. 

“We love sharing with people, that’s part of the appeal for us,” states Destiny. IG @TopangaCurryHouse

Another female-founded business you won’t want to miss is Burkart Farms. Their spokeswoman, Alyssa Gonzales, partnered with her father, Richard Burkart, to manage sales and marketing roughly 11 years ago. The actual piece of property is 40 acres, in Dinuba, CA, 45 minutes south of Fresno and 30 minutes from the Sierra Nevadas. The mountain range is the backdrop for the east side of their valley. Alyssa’s house is at one end and her father’s at the other. The first 20 acres were acquired in 1965. Like many of their colleagues and competitors, Alyssa and husband and kids, along with her brother Chadwick, make a 3 1/2 – 4 hour drive to the Los Angeles area each week. Alyssa travels to Santa Monica on Wednesdays, and Chadwick does the weekend trip, staying Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the same Redondo Beach hotel where the family has been guests for decades.  

A mouth-waterijng display of fresh lemons and oranges offered by Burkhart Citrus. Photo by Jill Cotu

There are many markets to get to, including Hollywood, Torrance, and Mar Vista; however, our Topanga market may quickly become a favorite. “I couldn’t be happier with the way the market’s organizers, Kate Kimmel and Freddi Swanson, are going about things. 

They’re doing a great job!” says Alyssa. She continues, “Hopefully people understand the importance of supporting the market first instead of the grocery store. We’re going to be here every Friday for you, to serve you—you can count on us, and we hope we can count on you.”

Burkart uses certified organic growing practices. Currently they have a gorgeous crop of Washington navel oranges on offer; Alyssa’s grandmother and father planted the now heirloom trees in 1968. Also look for several tangerine varieties, lemons, and objectively the best kumquats you’ll ever taste. May is when stone fruit will make its way to their market table. In the meantime, enjoy Burkart Organics’ dried fruit line—all hand-cut, unsulfured, and sun-dried. 

The photo on their bags is a picture of Alyssa’s grandmother, Irene Burkart, the matriarch, taken in the mid-1940s; now deceased, she is honored by the label. It is not something to overlook; family is everything at Burkart. Alyssa is a third generation farmer, and her children will be the fourth generation to make their living growing organic produce, and tending lovingly to the land. IG @burkartorganics 

Family is the core of Weiser Family Farms as well. I spoke with Alex Weiser who summed up his job with the old adage, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

When he was just 13 years old, Alex’s father, a teacher at LAUSD’s Garfield High, decided to move to Tehachapi and start a conventional apple farm. That was in 1977. The family maintained a city residence, as apples are seasonal. Alex recalls one year a bad frost wiped out the entire crop, and the Weisers diversified and began growing potatoes—which are now so popular they are listed by name on many an eatery’s menu. Also in 1977, thanks to direct marketing legislation championed by then governor Jerry Brown, California farmers markets became legal operations. They were started as a way to help family farmers survive, and the new regulations allowed farmers to sell their products directly to the public. What began as a handful of pop up operations in six cities soon grew. So too did demand for Weiser’s produce. 

This colorful display shows numerous carrot varieties grown by Weiser Farms. Photo by Jill Cotu

By 1982, the farm was growing apples, peaches, pears, potatoes, and other vegetables, and young Alex jumped in to assist at the local markets. He met chefs who wanted seasonal high quality produce year-round, so he decided to dedicate his career to creating a bio-diverse farm to supply the local chefs and community members rather than growing for commercial use. 

Today, Weiser is one farm with growing plots in and just outside Tehachapi, in the Lucerne Valley, and most recently in Malibu. The latter location focuses on what grows well there—herbs, spices, fennel, and edible flowers. Alex is helped by his sister Esther, who handles logistics, and his brother Daniel, “the one with the MBA”, as well as nieces and nephews. Together, the Weisers have been doing the farmers market gig for 43 years. Alex wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love interacting with customers,” he says. “They take home a piece of us with every transaction.” 

Alex also remembers well the time when these markets were few and far between. Now, every town wants one because they bring the community together, and enhance residents’ quality of life. What is Alex excited to bring to Topanga? Various heirloom tomatoes and summer melons take pride of place, and coming soon look for spring blossoms including lilacs. IG @weiserfamilyfarms

Let’s meet one more vendor straight out of our hills. Emily Welsch has a bit of a reputation around these parts as the high priestess of vintage. She considers herself “Topangan by marriage.” Her husband, Eamon Ryland, was born in the canyon to a family who has lived here since 1964. 

You won’t see her at any local haunts Thursday through Sunday, though, because those are the days she’s hunting down treasure. Fernwood Vintage is her collection of curated goods all bearing Emily’s global-cowboy-boho style—including recent acquisitions, a leather shirt that was worn to Woodstock, and a gray fur jacket with detachable sleeves that may as well have been worn by a member of Fleetwood Mac. When asked about her selection process, Emily quips, “I do not discriminate based on age or decade. My north star when sourcing is always, ‘would I wear it?’ and 90 percent of the time the answer is a resounding yes. There are instances when I find something that I wouldn’t necessarily wear, but I know it needs to live in the world because of a cut or a pattern or a detail so eye-catching, clever, or well constructed that I can’t leave it behind.” 

Emily Welsch of Fernwood Vintage displays her wares. Photo courtesy of Emily Welsch

Now the term ‘vintage’ can refer to pieces that reflect styles and trends of the eras they represent. True vintage, however, refers to anything 50 years old and older, which is where Emily’s heart squarely lies. 

An event planner by trade in the social justice space, this is Emily’s first time selling at a market. How she made the leap is connected to one of her hidden talents. She can sing, and for many years was in a ‘ye-ye pop’ band. Ye-ye is a very specific type of 60s-era French music that had a moment in the late 90s. On stage and in videos, Emily wore only vintage clothing as a nod to the genre. That choice sparked her love of not just the clothes, but the thrill of chasing them down. Years later, as those close to Emily pointed out, she was getting stopped routinely by acquaintances and strangers alike, all complimenting her clothing, she saw an opportunity. People wanted to know where they could get something similar. Lightbulb moment!

“I realized I didn’t want to wear these pieces only for shows, I wanted to wear them all the time, and I wanted to introduce others to the style,” Emily explains.

Deciding to have a go at the business of vintage versus the simple pleasure of wearing it means often starting her days at 5 am, so as to beat the crowds and source pieces that can’t be found anywhere else. 

She is committed. She is also intent on sustainable living. Emily shared that since becoming a parent she began to think more seriously about the impact our choices have on future generations. In a herculean effort to lessen their carbon footprint, Emily and Eamon’s household is 90 percent recycled, upcycled, and second-hand—everything from food storage containers, to wall art, to clothes. There is a lovely storytelling aspect to this. 

“The beauty of vintage is that if you need something, chances are it already exists, and by the time it comes to you it’s had a life already,” Emily states. “When you take it home, you become part of that journey,” 

You can find Emily at the Topanga Farmers Market the first Friday of each month starting in May, with a special appearance for Earth Day on April 19. To see more of her stock and stay in the know, follow Emily on Instagram @FernwoodVintage

If you enjoyed learning the backstories of these wonderful people, remember that there are many others to discover this and every Friday. Strike up a conversation. I’ll see you there.

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