The Healdsburg Farmers Market opened for its 33rd season on Saturday under a soft blue sky and gentle breezes. Neither too hot nor too cold, shoppers strolled leisurely and lingered at stalls, chatting with farmers, friends and strangers. I saw the first of the year’s zucchini, tiny little things about the size of a human finger, the first Bing cherries and some of the first fresh favas, available from several farmers.
I arrived about an hour and a half after the market opened at 9 a.m. and two of my favorite vendors, Joel and Renee Kiff of Ridgeview Farm and Bert and Mary Villemaire of La Bonne Terra, were nearly sold out. Ridgeview had a few bunches of arugula, La Bonne Terra a couple of bundles of mint, one of arugula and three of curly celery, new this year. Ridgeview grows some of the most delicious breakfast radishes I’ve tasted and I love La Bonne Terra’s lettuces and flowers but if you want to score, you have to arrive early.
As is true at all our markets these days, there is an abundance of eggs from flocks of happy pampered hens. It’s a great feeling, to be this egg-rich. Prices range from $4 to $6 a dozen. Foggy River Farm had a lot of information about their flock, including details about their diet and photos of some of their favorite breeds. Their cut-to-order pea shoots were gone mid-morning but there was still plenty of rainbow chard. S & W Farm, located on West Dry Creek Rd., had the best egg prices, $4 a dozen for fairly large eggs, along with plant starts and gorgeous bouquets.
Wyeth Acres, one of the market’s egg vendors, had big heads of butter lettuce, with the tender texture that makes you
understand the name.
Some producer vendors offered a single item–walnuts, Bing cherries and Blasi Ranch’s oranges from a 30-foot tall 50+ year-old-tree that in some seasons produces up to a ton of fruit–and some, especially Geyserville Gardens, Middleton Farms, Bernier Farms and Earlybird’s Place, already have a diverse and abundant harvest, with everything from asparagus, arugula and green garlic to fresh favas, spring onions, carrots, lettuces and other greens, leeks, garlic scapes, celery root, nettles, tiny artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes and shallots. There were flowers everywhere, including tall beautiful Birds of Paradise.
You’ll find good proteins at this market, too. Gleason Ranch, which is no longer at the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market, attends weekly, with lamb, goat, pork, sausages, old-fashioned tallow soap and the first chicken the Bodega farm has had in eight months. Next to Gleason Ranch’s stall is Williams Ranch, which learned their ranching techniques from Bruce Campbell of C. K. Lamb. Williams Ranch lamb is the finest I have tasted in a long time, with a pure delicate sweetness and remarkably tender texture. The farm raises delicious goat, too. Pugs Leap Goat Cheese sells its Petit Marcel, Pave, Buche, Cabri and Cabremer and Valley Ford Cheese Co. has two delicious cows milk cheeses, both available for tasting. Fish is from Dave Legros, who calls his business Bumblebee Seafood. He was out fishing and one of his daughter’s had taken his place, offering local halibut filets, colossal Gulf shrimp, smoked salmon, wild salmon from Alaska and the best baby shrimp I’ve ever had.
Full Circle Bakery of Penngrove had its rustic hearth breads in a big beautiful basket and O’Malley’s Mobile Knife Sharpening welcomed anyone with dull knives. Vivo Vinegar and Deergnaw Olive Oil, located side by side, make it easy to head home and make a salad with some of the market’s gorgeous lettuce.
Several booths offer plant starts, including a dazzling array of tomato starts from Soda Rock Farms and among the crafts vendors it is easy to spot Architectural
Design Ceramics, with a table of heart-shaped bowls that looked like a beautiful garden. They have also added new sizes of their popular scored bowls, which allow you to grate garlic and ginger directly in the bowl or to crush anchovies without having to transfer them to another container. By the market’s end, Sophie’s Five Acres was nearly sold out of its lavender flowers and other lavender products. Whimsey & Tea’s pretty table linens and towels waved gently in the soft breeze.
Roger of J & R Roasters slowly turned his custom-made roaster full of red peppers, sending an enticing aroma over the entire market, while nearby a long queue waited to order breakfast at Mateo’s Yucatan Tamale Stand. Fans will be thrilled that the refreshing Shrimp Tostada is back on the menu, this time with tiny little cubes of raw rhubarb, along with radishes, lettuce, olive oil and Mateo’s own sizzling “El Yuca” sauce, all over a crispy tortilla. Jimtown Store offered a big array of fresh condiments for both tasting and sale, along with both sweet and savory eat-now delights that I waited too long to try and so missed out. If you need a chocolate fix at this market, Peter’s Chocolates of Sebastopol will satisfy your jones.
Master Gardeners of Sonoma County has a table as does Farm To Pantry, a group that encourages people to help glean, to share surplus produce and help with community canning, all of which benefits neighbors in need. I stood for a while in the morning light, reading the sign and letting its message fill me with much-needed optimism.
The Healdsburg Farmers Market takes place on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon from the first Saturday in May until the last Saturday of November. You’ll find it one block west of the town plaza, along Foss Creek. Now that the nearby hotel has taken over several rows of parking spaces, it is best to arrive early or look for nearby parking on the street.
A Tuesday afternoon market opens in June.