Early Saturday morning, vendors at the Oakmont Certified Farmers Market stand by their beautifully arranged booths, awaiting the customers who trickle in slowly. Musicians–on harmonica, mandolin, banjo and guitar–fill the market with pretty melodies that mingle with the soft murmur of conversation. The air is soft and warm but not overly so and there is a languid quality to the morning. Why hurry? This is a happy market, where everyone seems to know everyone else.
Three farms–Laguna Farm and the French Garden Restaurant Farm, both of Sebastopol, and Ortiz Brothers, of Santa Rosa–provide an array of spring produce, including some of the year’s earliest basil, started in a hoop house in Sebastopol in April. There’s nearly every leafy green you can think of–arugula, chard, spinach, bok choy, beet greens, turnip greens, kales, many kinds of lettuce and very fresh salad mix. There is a big selection of leeks, all vendors have beets, two have carrots and there are plump heads of garlic, still green and fresh and juicy. There is plenty of fresh Italian parsley and beautiful green onions. Fresh favas are in full swing now but don’t wait too long or they’ll be tough; some have already toughened up–you can tell by their size and by the firmness of a bean’s skin.
Ortiz Brothers also has broccoli, cauliflower, red and green cabbages, two kinds of radishes and beautiful mixed bouquets. Lilia Viramontes of French Garden has a few baskets of cherries, both Bing and Queen Anne, tucked away almost out of view but they still go quickly. Some items at Laguna Farms’ stall are priced a tad lower than the prices you see at the other markets the farm attends.
Carson’s Catch offers wild salmon and cod from Alaska’s Bristol Bay and, for those who have the time to linger, conversation about the current environmental threats the pristine region faces. Carson Hunter will be heading up to Bristol Bay in a couple of weeks for another season of fishing.
Jacqueline Aubin of Aubin Farm’s sits next to market manager Hilda Swartz’s stall, just as she does at the Sonoma Valley Friday farmers market. Aubin Farm eggs are both delicious and among the least expensive of any pastured eggs, ranging in price from $3.50 to $5 a dozen. Hilda oversees the market, chats with both vendors and customers and sells beautiful photo cards.
The market’s cheeses are from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese of Petaluma; they have a huge array, including yellow cheddar, white cheddar, raw white cheddar, flavored cheddars, smoked cheddar, cheddar made of goat milk, several Jack cheeses, a smoked colby, lemon-flavored quark and, my favorite of their products, European-style butters. The company also recently introduced locally-made sour cream, which is among the selections at the market.
Capay Extra Virgin Olive Oil features an olive oil made Spanish varietals grown in Capay, California, and processed in Sonoma County. Sensational Soups and Sauces’s booth serves, in part, as a gathering place, as both vendors and customers buy coffee, bottled water and breakfast pastries from the locally-based company. Selections change weekly, with turkey chili, carrot curry, clam chowder and artichoke soup among the day’s offerings.
Several craft vendors complete the market. Pat Ryan, a retired upholsterer who lives in Oakmont, was inspired to make shopping bags when San Francisco banned plastic bags about three years ago. He already knew how to sew, a necessary skill for an upholsterer, and had a lot of leftover fabric. Recently, he’s added animal prints to his selection and they are so popular he has a hard time keeping them in stock, especially the wine bags, which sell for $3 each.
Curtis Larson has been working with wood for more than fifty years, he told me, and has been selling at the Oakmont market for about 12 years. He makes beautiful bowls and cutting boards from gorgeous tropical hardwoods, along with tiny toast tongs, big wine racks, attractive step stools and one of the most inventive and pretty trash “cans” I’ve ever seen.
Susan Davis sells “teacup gardens,” plants, mostly succulents, in pretty teacups set on matching saucers. If you look closely, you may notice that there is often a resonance between the plant and the pattern on cup and saucer. The little gardens are $8 each and make lovely hostess gifts.
Joan Frey, who has a cattle and walnut ranch on nearby Frey Rd. and sold her homegrown produce many years ago when Hilda Swartz managed the Santa Rosa farmers market, now sells her handmade crafts, paintings, crocheted and knitted scarves and purses, light switch covers and more.
Peggy Bastress of Jungle Maiden Organic Jewelry, sells her handmade necklaces, bracelets and earrings at farmers markets in Occidental, Sonoma and Glen Ellen, as well as Oakmont.
This market is a great resource, obviously, for residents of Oakmont but it is also a great place for anyone who lives in east Santa Rosa or Kenwood. The Oakmont Certified Farmers Market takes place every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, year round, in the Wells Fargo Bank parking lot, located at 6585 Oakmont Dr.