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Bitter melon and sweet business at Downtown's new farmers' market

By Rachel Garcia
Published: Monday, July 09, 2012, at 05:34PM
Rachel Garcia

A farm from Fresno, called Moua Chang Ratchanel, sold a wide variety of Asian and American vegetables at the new Downtown Farmers' Market. One of their items, the bitter melon, attracted a lot of attention from shoppers.



Shoppers meandered Sunday past white pop-up tents filled with a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, flowers and more on 5th Street between Spring and Broadway. In one tent lay sprinkled cookies and other bakery items, arranged in neat plastic packages. Across the way sat honey containers in all sizes, from small drinking straw-sized tubes to extra large plastic jars.

A few tables at Downtown's new weekly farmers' market ran out of popular produce early in the day, signaling a successful market location, according to the organizer.

"The turn-out completely surpassed our expectations," said Howell Tumlin, president and CEO of Southland Farmers' Market Association, the nonprofit that launched the new market. He said he is planning on having more vendors come out in the future.

Murray Family Farms, which sold fruit from their Bakersfield farm, ran out of grapes and yellow watermelon before the day was done.

Since it was a new farmer's market, we took a lot of fruit without knowing if it would sell, explained Abel Varela, produce and farmers' market manager at Murray Family Farms. He said it was very surprising to have that kind of response. He said they plan to continue at the new Downtown farmers' market until their stone fruit season ends.

Shoppers also seemed intrigued by the wide variety of produce offered at the market.

At the tent for Moua Chang Ratchanel farm, which sold a mix of Asian vegetables, as well as American staples like onions and garlic, several shoppers asked about one particular item.

"Are these bitter melon?" Marge Enrique, a Downtowner who was shopping at the market seemed excited as she pointed at the melon that is actually a vegetable.

The deep green bitter melon, which resembles a cucumber, is covered in wart-like knobs. When cut open, the bitter melon lives up to its name- the creamy white interior exudes a mild bitter smell.

Bitter melon, which cost $1.75 per pound at the event, are very popular in the Philippines and are often put in soups and stir-fry, Enrique said.

The vegetable is also popular for its medicinal uses. Bitter melon is used to treat diabetes and various stomach and intestinal disorders. It is also used as a supportive treatment for people with HIV/AIDS, according to WebMD.

"It will definitely bring back your taste buds," said Vue Her, who works for Ratchanel farm. He recommends removing the inner "brains" and washing the vegetable several times to make it less bitter.

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