Photo courtesy of Esther D. Kustanowitz

Imperfect, yes, but it cuts waste and can save you some green


Imperfect Produce, a Bay Area company that delivers slightly less-attractive fruits and vegetables to people’s homes in an effort to reduce food waste, has come to Los Angeles, hoping it has a ripe opportunity to grow in the Southern California market.

Its mission is consistent with the Jewish prohibition against wasting food — known as “bal tashchit” (don’t destroy) — that comes from the book of Deuteronomy (20:19-20). When laying siege to a city, the Israelites are expressly forbidden to wantonly destroy trees, especially fruit-bearing ones. Contemporary rabbis, thinkers and eco-activists have extrapolated from this text that the prohibition would apply not just to fruit trees but to the unnecessary waste or destruction of any natural resources.

While that verse wasn’t the core inspiring principle for Imperfect Produce, its co-founder and COO Ben Chesler admitted in a phone interview with the Jewish Journal that “it was definitely my Jewish mother who instilled in me the value of not wasting food. I remember everything getting repurposed in our house — breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner, dinner to lunch the next day. We even washed Ziploc bags and reused them.”

In an email, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Ben Simon, credited a program called Panim el Panim, in which he participated during high school, as something that “helped encourage me to get more involved in social justice as a way of exploring my Jewish faith.”

In college, friends Chesler and Simon discovered college dining hall food going to waste while people in the community went hungry. At the University of Maryland, Simon co-founded the Food Recovery Network (FRN), which took surplus food from universities and donated it to hungry people. Chesler, at Brown University, co-founded FRN’s second chapter. The experience of working in this space gave them what Chesler called “insight into the food-waste world. We started thinking about how to have a bigger impact. We realized we have to look at the farms.”

About 20 percent of the produce in the United States — about 3 billion pounds in California alone — goes to waste every year, according to information on the Imperfect Produce website (imperfectproduce.com).

“It takes 26 gallons of water to grow one pound of tomatoes, 70 gallons of water to grow one pound of lemons, and over 140 gallons of water to produce one pound of avocados. When food goes to waste, we end up wasting all of that water, too. Experts estimate that in the U.S., food waste loses us 172 billion dollars every year in wasted water, or nearly 1/4 of our water supply,” the company states in a blog post titled “The Scary Face of Food Waste.” 

Imperfect Produce calls its fruits and vegetables “wonky” or “ugly.” They have been rejected by supermarkets and other buyers, not due to lesser taste or freshness but because they aren’t as beautiful or shapely as supermarkets require.

Imperfect Produce boasts that its customers have kept more than 2 million pounds of food from going to waste, representing 103 million gallons of water not wasted and 6.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide that was kept out of the atmosphere.

When the company began in the Bay Area in August 2015, it delivered 150 boxes of produce in the first month. Within six months, it had delivered 1,000 boxes. Then the company grew rapidly: It now delivers 6,000 to 6,500 boxes a week in San Francisco, with 90 percent of the produce coming from California farmers. It currently has 30 to 40 full-time employees who work out of its distribution center in a Bay Area warehouse.

Imperfect Produce started delivery in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, bringing boxes to 650 customers in an area that Chesler describes as “one-tenth or one-twentieth of L.A. County.”

Chesler said most of the produce the company had been delivering came from growers located closer to Los Angeles than the Bay Area, with a few in Mexico, so the company is still working with the same growers for its L.A. customers. In general, Imperfect Produce works with larger growers because they produce more waste and can handle the volume the company needs to fill orders.

An East L.A. company, California Specialty Farms, packs the boxes for Los Angeles customers and a local team of drivers makes the deliveries.

The type of produce that can be ordered varies from week to week, depending on availability. Customers have the option of ordering either conventional or organic produce. Of the first L.A. shipments, 53 percent were organic and 47 percent were conventionally grown, Chesler said.

“Our goal is to make produce more affordable for everyone, but some people still struggle,” Chesler said.

Part of the company’s social mission, he said, is to expand access to fresh produce, selling it at a 33 percent discount to customers who qualify for CalFresh, part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As they place their orders, lower-income customers can complete a quick survey to determine eligibility. Although technically customers can’t use food stamps or SNAP benefits online, Chesler said, “If you qualify, we will give you that discount. We don’t make money on that box, but that’s important to us too.”

Beyond providing discounted boxes to those who need it, Imperfect Produce is committed to serving the local community. In the Bay Area, it has worked with Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) for San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties. The company has donated produce to JFCS events, including a cooking demo night and a latke-cooking night with residents of the Shupin House, a San Francisco-based independent living facility for adults with developmental disabilities.

Chesler said he and Simon had social impact and practicality in mind when they started their business, but they also are hoping that customers will learn more about their food, as well as have fun with the products and revel in the “ugliness” of the produce on social media.

“We want to encourage content generation, to create more of a community around these boxes,” Chesler said.

When this reporter received her first box, it included a chart with instructions on where to store each type of produce (on the counter, in the pantry or in the refrigerator) and which items to store separately (“fruits like apples, bananas and pears give off ethylene gas, which will make other produce ripen and go bad faster”). Also included was the “Weekly Beet,” a postcard profiling a member of the Imperfect Produce team and a piece of produce. The box also included a recipe card that called for ingredients such as “1 imperfect onion, chopped; 3 lbs. of imperfect root vegetables.” Another card that read, “I eat ugly because ______,” encouraged customers to fill in their reason, take a photo of it with “the wonkiest fruit or veg” they received, and upload the photo to social media. For each such post, the company said on the card, it would donate 5 pounds of food to the Alameda Food Bank.

If the box contained any disappointment, it was that, although some of the produce was slightly discolored, misshapen or smaller or bigger than expected, none of the produce was truly ugly.

In a previous shipment, the company sent customers boxes with adhesive-backed googly eyes that people happily stuck to their fruits and vegetables to funny effects, sharing the results on social media platforms.

“People love playing with their food,” Chesler said. “That’s good … we like making it fun.”

Observing Tu B’Shevat through fruit trees and food justice


Across the globe this month Jewish communities are celebrating the holiday of Tu B’Shevat.  Many choose to commemorate the “New Year of The Trees” by planting pine trees in Israel.  Tu B’Shevat is a day that deals directly with the social inequality of our food system.  It’s a holiday that can inspire us to think about building community food security. Why not plant fruit trees right here in Los Angeles to grow more food?

In Los Angeles County, 16.8% of residents (1.6 million people) went hungry in 2010. (Source: Map the Meal Gap, Feeding America http://www.lafoodbank.org/map-the-gap.aspx ). According to a California Food Policy Advocates report, “2010 Los Angeles County Nutrition and Food Insecurity Profile,” 57.4 percent of adults are overweight or obese and 12.9 percent of children are overweight in Los Angeles.  Hunger is a huge and complicated problem that is also wrapped up in the obesity crisis and it requires the collaboration of government, businesses, faith-based institutions, and non-profits to address.  

[RELATED: Tu B'Shevat – Netiya sows seeds of social justice]

In the Mishnah, where Tu B’Shevat is found, the purpose of the holiday is to make a single day in which our produce is taxed and given to the community. It’s based from a single line of Torah: “At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates; And the Levite, because he has no part nor inheritance with you, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied.“ (Deuteronomy 14:28).

Tu B’Shevat is an opportunity to more closely examine hunger and how to respond most effectively to ensure that hungry people have access to nutritious, healthy foods. Netiya,  a new city-wide network of faith-based institutions, is growing and tithing food to strengthen local food systems, and empowering ethical and informed food purchasing among our constituents. Through the seven gardens installed at Netiya member congregations, we are growing vegetables and fruits that are then tithed to food pantries. This is in accordance with the tradition of ma'aser, giving 10% of your harvest to the underserved in your community. In fact, however, we request that our members donate at least 90%, and most are doing so.

We challenge you to consider what it would look like for 10% of our city’s religious institutions to take ma’aser one step further and convert 10% of your unused institutional land (perhaps landscaped now with shrubs, annuals, or grass) into edible, productive crops to address hunger in our city. This wouldn’t require tearing up your parking lot to install a farm. Your institution could plant raised beds, or a vertical wall garden, fruit trees around your perimeter, window-box planters, or even a roof-top garden.  

Here are suggestions for ways individuals and congregations can respond to hunger in Los Angeles:

1. Reconsider food relief, move beyond the cans. Instead of cans, provide a monetary donation to an agency to purchase food in bulk.  According to the LA Times, “A $10 donation ends up leveraging as much as $200 worth of food for the charity to distribute.”  (LA Times, Nov 18, 2011: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/18/opinion/la-oe-arnold-canned-food-20111118)    

2. Ask, “What is needed most?” Call your local food pantry to ask what nutritious food items are needed prior to making a donation. Items such as beans, oatmeal and peanut butter are more useful than the expired, dusty jar of odd sauce tucked in the back of your cabinet.

3. Donate fresh produce to a local pantry. Giving away food that you’ve grown calls upon a very different kind of Golden-Rule-giving. We are fortunate to have an abundance of produce year-round in Southern California. A Netiya member, Temple Isaiah, is collecting fresh produce from its members to donate to JFS/SOVA food pantry each week.  Find a recipient agency to receive your fresh produce through AmpleHarvest.org.

4. Raise money for a pantry to expand nutritious food offerings. This can enable the purchase of refrigeration to store fresh produce, the bulk order of vegetables from a local farm or perhaps the installation of a garden.

5. Glean from your yard or neighborhood. Volunteer with Food Forward (www.foodforward.org) to get fresh fruit donated to local pantries. Gleaning, one of four Jewish agrarian laws of giving, more commonly known today as food rescue, encourages the collection of produce from backyard gardens and local farms for donation to emergency food providers.  

6. Donate your time. Cook and serve food at Project Chicken Soup, a local organization that prepares and delivers free, healthy meals to people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.

7. Plant a tree at home. Build a garden at your religious institution with Netiya.  Consider celebrating Tu B’Shevat by planting a fruit tree here at home. You can teach others to grow food to increase self-reliance. According to Maimonides, a great Jewish scholar and physician of the 12th century, giving your time and skills to help foster self-reliance for another person is the highest form of giving.  

The hunger in our city resonates because this food crisis is also a spiritual crisis. On this Tu B’Shevat, let’s reinvigorate the holiday’s original purpose, by doing our part to make hunger relief healthier, more respectful and more in line with our shared values. The solutions will be found in the halls of Congress, the pews of our congregations and the beds of our urban gardens. Here's to a future in which we all have access to an abundance of healthy food.

You can help by volunteering at these upcoming events:

– Project Chicken Soup, Jan. 27, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. for a Just Gardens installation and a roundtable discussion with leaders from Los Angeles’ food movement on “Food Relief: Beyond the Cans.”

– Temple Aliyah, Feb. 3 at 10 a.m. for a free workshop on organic pest control in your orchard, and fruit tree pruning in the Just Garden Netiya installed on Mitzvah Day.

– For more information on these events, visit netiya.org.

Devorah Brous is founding executive director of Netiya.  Sarah Newman is an executive committee member of Netiya

Israeli invention could pave way for hydrogen cars


Everyone’s heard that old story about the scientist who invents a “magic pill” that turns water into gasoline — with the invention eventually getting into the hands of the oil companies that bury it, fearing they will be driven out of business when word gets out about their competition.

It sounds like science fiction, but believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened to Moshe Stern, head of C.En (Clean Energy), who said his company’s scientists have developed a revolutionary breakthrough that will enable automobile manufacturers to produce — and sell — cars that use hydrogen power. It’s a breakthrough that has been getting a lot of attention — and oil companies got wind of it, too, with one company allegedly offering him $50 million to shelve his project.

Stern didn’t take the money, though; he intends to see his hydrogen car project through. As a result, he said, for the first time the West has an opportunity to make a real dent in its dependence on OPEC oil.

Hydrogen has long been the great green hope for governments and environmentalists, as well as the ideal opportunity to lessen oil imports for Western countries — since hydrogen can be manufactured from water.

President Bush has set aside billions for development of the technology, and hydrogen is the preferred alternative fuel for public vehicles, like buses, in many cities. Among the cities with at least some public buses fueled by hydrogen are London; Reykjavik, Iceland; Perth, Australia, and Santa Monica — where nearly three-quarters of all municipal vehicles of all types are powered by the fuel.

Instead of producing carbon monoxide or other harmful pollutants, hydrogen fuel emits water vapor, which is certainly better for the environment than fossil fuel emissions — even though some scientists believe it should be considered a greenhouse gas.

Lower pollution and less money for OPEC — hydrogen sounds tailo rmade for the fuel problems that ail us. While Bill Gates of Microsoft fame may have been right when he said, “If GM kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon,” the fact is that the industry says that hydrogen is still not ready for prime time.

While producing the hydrogen is easy enough, getting the fuel into the car and storing it in a fuel tank are some of the biggest obstacles for the technology. This, industry experts say, has traditionally been the deal-breaker for increased hydrogen use.

Most hydrogen vehicles on the road use a liquid form of the material, which requires a super strong and super heavy storage tank. Liquid hydrogen is unstable and needs to be insulated from the excess shocks of bumps and potholes that are a part of everyday driving, so the tanks themselves are large and heavy, and hold about five gallons of fuel — enough for barely 160 miles of driving.

Then there’s the issue of integrating the fuel into internal combustion vehicles that, for better or worse, are unlikely to be phased out anytime soon — as well as the question of where drivers are supposed to fill up, because hydrogen stations are rare.

All these are legitimate concerns that have kept hydrogen development restricted more or less to the laboratory, Stern said, and all concerns that are addressed and solved with C.En’s hydrogen storage and supply solution.

The difference? C.En’s tank uses hydrogen gas collected from the environment (i.e., not produced from fossil fuels) and enclosed in a thin but leak-proof glass container. The best part: Drivers will be able to buy “gas” at automotive or discount stores, fueling up approximately every 370 miles.

Stern said they can build a 16-gallon tank that weighs no more than 100 pounds,unlike tanks currently used for liquid hydrogen that weigh several hundred pounds.

“Our company’s breakthrough is in accumulating hydrogen in a glass material that is very small, only a few microns,” said Stern, who is also president of Environmental Energy Resources (EER), a waste treatment company. “You don’t need to transport hydrogen to fuel stations, and you don’t need pipelines. The tanks will be like a battery that can be replaced, and you can carry a reserve in the car.”

When you run out of hydrogen in one tank, according to Stern, you just pull out the empty cell and put in the fresh one, which will be good for another 370 miles.

The cells, in fact, will act just like batteries in electric or hybrid cars and fit right in with the standard internal combustion engine — which means that Detroit or Japan don’t have to retool their factories or production lines to build cars with the capacity for hydrogen cells. The know-how and means of production are in use right now, in fact, as almost every car manufacturer is already producing hybrids or straight electric cars.

George Sverdrup, technology manager for the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s hydrogen, fuel cells and infrastructure technologies program, said that once the storage problem is solved, there is no reason hydrogen cannot be used as the premiere fuel to power cars.

“We can use hydrogen to decrease our dependence on imported petroleum, because it can be produced by a variety of domestic resources, including water and biomass,” he said, adding that his group has made a great deal of progress in recent years figuring out ways to store hydrogen more safely — a problem solved by C.En’s invention.

Stern is coordinator of the project and chief investor. Among the others are Israeli, as well as Korean, Japanese and Russian investors. The head researcher is professor Dan Eliezer of Ben-Gurion University, an expert in hydrogen who has done work for NASA and security organizations in Israel and the United States.

The team has conducted more than 100 tests over the past several years and is going to be conducting field tests in Germany, where the company will seek approval by BAM (the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing).

Santa Monica Tries to Tread Lightly


How many trees does it take to absorb the emissions from your car’s commute? How much land does it take to feed and raise the beef you eat for dinner? How much space on earth does your trash take up?

The city of Santa Monica has taken up the task of answering those questions in “Santa Monica’s Ecological Footprint, 1990-2000,” released in March. The report measures the amount of land used to produce everyday products and services like electricity, transportation, garbage disposal and housing. That land use is called the ecological footprint, and it can be measured individually or citywide.

“If we are taking more from nature than can be provided indefinitely, we are on an unsustainable track,” the report notes.

“[The footprint] seemed to us it would make an educational tool to help people understand how to visualize their impacts on the face of the earth,” Brian Johnson, manager of the environmental division of the city of Santa Monica told The Journal.

Jewish environmental activists are extremely pleased.

“The city of Los Angeles and cities across the country could learn a valuable lesson from the city of Santa Monica,” said Lee Wallach of the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life. “They truly do make a real effort.”

The report found that between 1990 and 2000, Santa Monica managed to decrease its footprint by 5.7 percent, or about 65,000 acres. That decrease notwithstanding, Santa Monica, a city of 8.3 square miles, still has an ecological footprint of 2,747 square miles, an area approximately the size of Los Angeles County.

“Now that we have [the footprint], we must ask what lessons are learned and how can we implement them in a manner that’s good for residents, business and the economy,” Wallach said.

According to Johnson, the gains came from the city’s efforts to be more environmentally conscious between 1990 and 2000. He noted one area where government has taken the lead and business may want to follow: All public city facilities in Santa Monica are now based on 100 percent renewable energy, which is in large part where the 65,000 acres in savings came from.

“I think the experience the city had during [the California energy crisis] further confirms the decision the city had made in looking for opportunities for alternative energy generation,” Johnson said.

Those resource savings from alternative energy sources (in Santa Monica’s case, the city purchased geothermal energy) are particularly important: Energy and recycling are actually the only two categories of its footprint that the city managed to significantly shrink.

Nevertheless, Santa Monica has shown that it can make progress toward “sustainability,” which is that enlightened scenario where humanity does not consume any more than the earth can replace.

To compare, Santa Monica’s new per capita footprint is 20.9 acres. The U.S. average is 24 acres per person. A sustainable level would be a far more modest 4.5 acres per person.

To reach that goal, Wallach emphasized the importance of community working with politicians and businesspeople to create an environmental vision that is not overly idealistic.

“It takes a combination of political and communal will,” he said. “It can’t happen with only one and not the other.”

Doing that, Wallach said, is part of the Jewish duty to future generations, to leave the world in better shape than we inherited it. Santa Monica’s footprint is a tool designed to help measure progress in that endeavor.

Santa Monica is a relatively small place, and its report indicates that it has a significant, albeit shrinking, footprint. One cannot help but imagine what the ecological footprint for the city of Los Angeles would look like.

“There have been presentations and discussion at the Westside Council of Governments about sustainability and Los Angeles has been a part of that dialogue,” Johnson said. “As of yet we don’t have any direct relationships with their programs or planning, but we’re certainly hoping that the 800-pound gorilla comes along with us,” Johnson said of the second-largest city in the United States sitting next door.

To measure your “footprint,” take the quiz at

Shuk Shopping


Elbows out. That was the lesson that began my initiation into the ways of Valley Produce market in Reseda. I’d just returned home from a year-abroad program in Jerusalem, and one of the most acute of my withdrawal symptoms was a yearning for the food, and for the way I could buy food there — at the open market, or shuk.

"We should go to my market," my father, the sabra, suggested.

My mother, the New Yorker, agreed. If it was the noisy, pushy shuk I missed, we should definitely go to his market. She’d never set foot in the store whose unofficial code of conduct read "elbow or be elbowed." She preferred the clean, wide aisles of her Muzak-infused Pavilions.

That was my first clue that there are two types of people in this world — those who love the shuk, and those who don’t.

In a city with one of the largest Israeli populations in the country, there are many variations on the Israeli shuk experience in Los Angeles. Which of the two categories you fall into determines whether you’re more of an Elat Market and Valley Produce kind of person, or whether Cambridge Farms and Ralph’s are more your speed.

The authenticity of some markets lies in the products themselves, while in others, the entire Israeli shopping experience — yells, smells, cell phones and all — is recreated. Like the old Elvis/Beatles debate, you can like both, but you definitely prefer one.

At Elat Market, on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Wooster Street, smells of bread, fish, mint and parsley permeate the air. The floors are worn with footprints and shopping cart tracks. You hear many languages, but English doesn’t seem to be one of them.

"They’ve got great produce and prices, and it’s an adventure," said Beth Rosenblum, a frequent shopper at Elat. "You’ve got to watch out for the old ladies throwing their elbows out to block you."

This is especially true on Friday mornings. The pre-Shabbat rush can be particularly intimidating, even for a journalist just trying to get a quote. Between the crazy bustle, and the lack of native English speakers, my attempt proved fruitless. I would have to return early on a Sunday morning to talk to Rosenblum and Elham Rad, another weekly customer at Elat.

"For Passover, I brought one of my American friends here," Rad said with a laugh. "She was here 15 minutes. She grabbed some stuff and left. She couldn’t stand the crowd."

Then again, she said, "It’s always crowded, but you can find everything — kosher stuff, vegetables — everything for a low price."

But Shawn Soleymani, a Persian Jew, said the peace of mind is worth the higher price. A regular at Alef Market since it opened in December 2001, he said, "The aisles are open, are wide. It’s not too crowded, not too pushy. It’s cleaner, put together nicer. It’s about 5 to 10 cents more per item, but it’s convenient."

Even on a Friday, Alef Market’s pace is slower, with far fewer customers, but the atmosphere also seems brighter. With its high vaulted ceiling, smell of fresh bread and Middle Eastern music playing over the speakers, it may not be your immaculate neighborhood chain supermarket, but it’s definitely more genteel than the shuk experience.

In the Valley, the shuk experience is just as easy to find. Driving east on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, you’ll pass a Persian restaurant and a storefront synagogue before hitting Mr. Kosher, a 12-year-old market on the southwest corner of Ventura Boulevard and Zelzah Avenue. Mr. Kosher’s owner Tzvi Guttman recently got some competition in the form of Super Sal, an Israeli supermarket (no relation to the chain in Israel) that opened its doors last April, just four blocks east on Ventura Boulevard.

Super Sal’s bigger, brighter space doesn’t seem to concern Guttman, who said he hasn’t seen much of a change in sales.

"It depends on what," he said. "Some groceries, yeah, but the meat not."

Dorit Pomerantz is a regular at both Super Sal and Mr. Kosher.

"There are more products here [Super Sal], and a bigger selection," she said, but she buys her wine at Mr. Kosher. "I buy Israeli wine and I try to bring it as gifts for people. The Israeli wine is very good."

In the span of our five-minute conversation on a slow Monday morning at Super Sal (it’s usually quite crowded), Pomerantz is interrupted by two women she knows. She chats briefly with the first woman, discussing kids and a particular Jewish day school. The second woman taps her on the shoulder, and this time the exchange takes place in Hebrew.

"Normally when I come, I see people I know," Pomerantz said. "It’s a nice feeling of community."

Those seeking calmer Valley venues will find they come in all sizes. Small, dimly lit grocers like Valley Glatt market survive alongside larger, brighter markets like Cambridge Farms — in the case of these two particular markets, quite literally, as they’re located across the street from one another on Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood.

Roz Bayever is Orthodox and shops regularly at Valley Glatt for meat. She said Cambridge Farms is also popular within the community because "the produce is low-priced." Both stores also carry a variety of packaged food brands from Israel.

For those who prefer the comforts of a mainstream chain supermarket over the wider array of ethnic food items, Ralphs markets have also begun offering fresh, RCC-supervised glatt kosher meat in some of their L.A.-area stores. They first opened in Encino in early 2002 and, since then, they have opened one in West Los Angeles as well.

"We first tried it in La Jolla, and it’s been quite successful, and in fact, draws customers from all over San Diego County," said Terry O’Neil, director of communications and public relations for Ralphs and Food 4 Less markets. "Its success led us to try it in Los Angeles, and it has been equally successful, if not moreso."

O’Neil also said two more Ralphs stores will open kosher butcher departments this year — one in the city, at the Beverly Connection, and one in Canoga Park.

And, of course, there’s the aforementioned Valley Produce market, for those who choose to embrace the manic atmosphere reminiscent of the old country, be it Israel, Iran or India.

"If you go downstairs on a busy day, you’ll hear about 12 languages," Ephram Nehme, owner of the 10-year-old Valley Produce, said from his upstairs office inside the market.

Looking down on the market from his window, he pointed out some of the produce that fills the huge space.

"See those green almonds?" he asked. "Those are fresh almonds. A regular market wouldn’t carry them."

He carries specialty items for the wide variety of his clientele, which comes from places like Eastern Russia, Latin America, Europe, Afghanistan, Israel and Iran.

When he first opened the market in June 1992, Nehme didn’t know who his clients would be. Now, he says, his clientele is about 60 percent Jewish.

"That encompasses Iranian Jews, Arab Jews, Israelis and Americans," he said.

Nehme also said he is now considering making the butcher kosher, as some of his customers have requested.

One complaint Nehme doesn’t seem to get is about the prices. He said he gets up at 2 a.m. to do his own buying for the market every day, his secret to maintaining low prices.

And at least for my dad, that’s what makes Valley Produce his personal favorite.

"They have the most produce and the prices are the best," he recently told me. As for all the pushing, I think the aggressive Israeli in him secretly likes it.

Plus, he bragged, his build gives him a certain added advantage.

"The old ladies will push you and whatever," he said, "but because of my height, I get the best produce. I can reach the top section that the little old ladies can’t."