Thanks to Leslie Vaughn, who commented below, for alerting me that the Sonoma Valley Farmers Market has extended its hours to 1 p.m., which allows for nearby shopkeepers and employees to visit the market during their lunch break.
On a breezy Friday morning, the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market is as pleasant a place to be as I can imagine. Although there is a line of customers at some of the stalls, waiting in this atmosphere is no problem. Just relax, breath in the spring air, listen to the rustling of Eucalyptus leaves and feel the breeze embrace you. There is no music at this market, just a soft murmur of conversation, the laughter of children playing nearby and the occasional clang of a horseshoe from Depot Park, which borders the market.
Hilda Schwartz, who has managed the market since 1987, sits at her stall in the middle of one of two rows of vendors, offering her beautiful photo cards and photographs, chatting with both customers and vendors and handing out information, including pamphlets that explain CalFresh, the state’s food stamp program. This market, along with several other local markets, now participates in the program.
Jacqueline Aubin of Aubin Farm sits alongside Hilda’s stall with eggs from her flock of happy chickens. Her prices–which range from $3.50 a dozen for small to $5.00 a dozen for super jumbo–are the best I’ve seen at any market.
Selections at this market reveal, if you are the observant type, the place where they are grown: Sonoma Valley is warmer than, say, Russian River Valley, and farmers who grow here are harvesting things several weeks earlier than those further west. Paul’s Produce, one of the market’s largest vendors, has extraordinary spring onions, gorgeous leeks, plump bulbs of fennel, red-stemmed dandelion greens and a huge selection of salad greens, including beautiful heads of lettuce.
Oak Hill Farm has a stunning display of tulips, anemones and ranunculi at the front of its stall, before an enormous variety of spring produce that stretches over three or four tables. Tiny French breakfast radishes are going fast and there’s a huge pile of beautiful Nantes carrots. There’s chard, dandelion greens, lots of lettuce, fennel, fat red beets and pristine asparagus. Side-by-side bins of leeks and spring onions are nearly empty.
Next to Oak Hill Farm’s stall, a smiling Adam Parks of Sebastopol’s Victorian Farmstead is offering his beef, pork and lamb and because it is a couple of days before Easter, he has a few hams (I received one in my meat CSA and it may be the best ham I’ve ever tasted). He makes the weekly drive to Sonoma because there currently is no room for him at the Sebastopol Farmers Market. The same is true of the French Garden Restaurant Farm–there’s no room at the Sebastopol market–which has a beautiful display of citrus, leeks, little artichokes, breakfast radishes, broccoli rabe, cabbage, sugar snap peas, several varieties of both lettuce and braising greens, and tiny microgreens. One little stall offers hand-mixed sprouts, shoots and flower petals that are so popular they are often sold out before the market is half over. An eclectic farmer has a selection of gorgeous succulents, bouquets and mustard greens.
There’s a line at Mike Zakowski’s stall, where he is pulling hot giant pretzels from his wood burning oven. A rack of rustic loaves, baked long before sunrise, stands nearby. He calls himself “The Bejkr” (pronounced “baker”) and is a bit cranky about the fact that it is rarely spelled correctly in articles about his handcrafted breads, which are absolutely wonderful. You can tell from the way he handles his pretzels and the care with which he wraps a baguette in brown paper that he is a man of focused passions. His business card, printed on paper made of hemp and recycled consumer waste, shows a man hauling an oven by bicycle.
Several vendors will be familiar to anyone who attends local farmers markets. The Ortiz Brothers have their excellent produce, Hector Alvarez offers his honey, beeswax candles, garlic and dried chilies, Spring Hill Jersey Cheese has its array of cheeses–including the very popular curds–and its butter, preferred by such chefs as Douglas Keane of Cyrus Restaurant.
There’s an enormous array of mushrooms, including the delicious maitake, and smoked wild salmon from Alaska.
These days, every farmers market has information booths and the Sonoma market is no exception. You can learn how (and why) to host an international student, chat with master gardeners, get information about worms and buy everything you need to start your own worm bin and talk with someone from RealGoods Solar. The Java Wagon offers coffee, tea and breakfasty items and the selection of hand-made crafts is both unique and interesting. An older gentleman stands next to sturdy and beautiful shopping bags and wine totes, many in faux-animal print fabrics, that he’s sewn himself. There’s jewelry, knitted, crocheted and felted items, dolls and doll clothes, gorgeous woodwork from two vendors and whimsical handmade pottery, including adorable little salt cellars with pewter spoons.
This market is a sweet place both to shop and to linger. Hilda works hard behind the scenes to weave the sort of balance of vendors required to offer both a good selection to customers and to allow each vendor to make enough money to warrant their attendance. With her decades of experience, she does a masterful job.
The Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market takes place year round on Friday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.. It is located on First Street West in the parking lot of Depot Park, across from Depot Hotel.