Farm-to-Table in Newhall and Valencia

Joaquin Torreblanca of Underwood Family Farms stocks fresh produce at the company's booth at the Santa Clarita Farmers Market Sunday morning. May 02, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Since Larry McClements took the helm of the Newhall Farmers Market, the Saturday open-air market in Old Town Newhall has grown.

“When I first took it over, which is about a little over two years ago, we had eight vendors,” McClements said. 

Next to the Old Town Newhall Library 

Today, the market has 30 vendors. That accomplishment is no small feat for McClements, who has turned the farmers market and organic foods into his passion.

“For me, this is a labor of love,” he said. “That is a life’s mission for me to get people in touch with where their food comes from, it really is.”

McClements told The Sunday Signal that the organic produce at the Newhall Farmers Market is different from the organic produce at supermarkets.

“The journey that vegetables and fruits take to get to the supermarket is very long and goes through many, many different hands, and in many cases,” said McClements. “At our market, when you buy produce, you’re literally taking it from the hand that grew it.”

And that organic food comes from the farms of people like Andrew Gibson of Sunrise Organic Farms in Santa Barbara, he said.

Gibson partnered with the father-and-son team of Jesus and Chuy Salas in 2015 to start their farm on 12 acres in Carpinteria.

Today, the three have 240 acres and 65 years of growing experience between them.

“(Jesus), he’s got the old techniques and combined with the newer techniques that him and (Chuy) and I come up with, it’s been a really cool partnership,” Gibson said.

Their partnership has brought a lot of organic produce variety to the Newhall Farmer’s Market since McClements invited Sunrise Organic Farms to join his market a couple of months ago.

“They pick on Fridays, the produce is iced down, and it’s in Santa Clarita less than 24 hours later on Saturday,” said McClements, who visited most of the Gibson’s growing grounds before inviting him to Newhall.

And visitors of the Newhall Farmers Market have positively responded to the new variety.

“They’re nice people. A lot of them are families. They want good food,” Gibson said of the Newhall Farmers Market community.

Just across town 

Down Railroad Avenue and across Soledad Canyon Road to Valencia, College of the Canyons hosts a certified farmers market on Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to noon. 

Throughout the year, the Valencia market offers organic produce from all over, including: AJ Broccoli Sprouts from Ventura County; Alcantar Organic from Santa Barbara County; Bills Bees from Los Angeles County and Espinosa Farm from Fresno County. 

The market was first invited to Santa Clarita in 1993, according to the website for the market, which is run by Karen Schott.

Starting with the basics like strawberries and lettuce, that market also has expanded over the year to a couple dozen stalls selling a variety of produce, according to Karen Schott, operations manager for the Santa Clarita Farmers’ Market.

“I was here (the) first day, and I’m still here. It’s really huge,” said Schott in a story celebrating the market’s anniversary in 2018. “When we started in Santa Clarita back in the 90s farmers markets were new. They weren’t sure what it was. Now, 25 years later, they love all the things we have they come here and are asking for product that we haven’t even heard of yet.”

The difference in organic

Many families use their time interacting with Gibson and the Salas’ as a learning experience about organic food.

“I think the consumer interest is as highest it’s ever been,” Gibson said, noting that he doesn’t use petroleum-based fertilizers and insecticides. “We fight bugs with plants. It’s much more labor intensive this way, but the end product is much more nutrient dense.”

And that’s the difference between conventional farming and organic farming, according to Gibson. It’s also the reason why organic produce costs more than conventionally farmed produce, he explained.

“They’re getting 10 times the calcium, 2,000 times the iron depending on what it is,” he said.

Emilio Gil is on the same page. His brothers and father started Urban Fresh Farm in Val Verde six years ago to grow organic foods.

“We’ve been organic since day one and we believe in being able to eat what we grow, you know, especially if we’re going to be offering that to the community,” Gil said.

McClements invited Gil and his family to join the Newhall Farmers Market, too.

At the market, Gil brings eggs from his chickens, culinary herbs like thyme, rosemary, mint and other herbs.

He also brings a lot of salad greens such as lettuce mix, arugula, and spinach, and from time to time he’ll bring beets, carrots, turnips and radish.

Fruits are also on the table. During this time of year, he’s putting forward his strawberries.

“The whole moral of the story is to leave the soil better off than when you found it, more fertile, so that you can essentially cultivate for generations,” Gil told The Sunday Signal. “That’s what I really like. That’s what my brothers and I are trying to instill in the mission of the company and we feel like it’s the right way to go.”

That mission has found its foundation on hard work and high standards, according to Gil, who will pick all day Friday for the Saturday farmers markets.

“Sometimes I can’t help but be critical and maybe feel like my bunches aren’t as thick or luscious enough and for the most part,” Gil said. “But my brothers sell out and so that kind of tells me to like ‘okay, people do appreciate it,’ and that makes all of this just that much more fulfilling.”

The hard work of approximately 15 farmers at the Newhall Farmers Market contribute to the quality food available to visitors from the Santa Clarita Valley and surrounding areas. 

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