Mary Kelley, manager of the Healdsburg farmers market, has noticed a shift in what her customers want.
“There’s been a huge demand, a real hunger, for local, grass-fed meats and poultry,” she says.
And the market has delivered. As is the case with nearly all our farmers markets, the Healdsburg market is now an outstanding destination for humanely-raised meats and poultry from Northern California.
Gleason Ranch of Bodega participates weekly, with a varying selection of grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and lamb and free-range pork. They are also currently taking orders for pastured heritage turkey.
On the first and third Saturdays, you’ll find Williams Ranches of Sebastopol, with their outstanding lamb and goat. On second and fourth Fridays, John Ford Ranch of Willits offers its beef and Owen Family Farm of Hopland is on hand with lamb, goat, veal and beef. On fifth Saturdays, all three participate.
Paul Thornton, with his big smile, dry sense of humor and delicious smoked salmon, is a weekly vendor, as is Franco Dunn, with his finely-crafted sausages. Dave Legros sells his Bodega Bay wild Pacific King salmon, which he catches himself, here, along with a variety of other fish and shellfish, all outstanding. Dave is one of the most reliable and consistent sources for local salmon.
There are plenty of egg vendors this year, too; it is the first season when there have been enough eggs to satisfy demand. Vendors include Bernier Farms, Early Bird’s Place, Foggy River Farm, Healdsburg Farm Fresh Eggs & Produce, Hector’s Honey, Ridgeview Farm, Wyeth Acres and Zyborny Ranch.
When it comes to cheeses, Kelley prefers those cheese makers who manage their own herds. Currently, you’ll find Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese of Willits; Valley Ford Cheese Co., which produces cow’s milk cheeses, and Spring Hill Cheese Company of Petaluma, which has one of the two butters sold at this market. McClelland’s Dairy also sells their European-style farmstead butter here.
When it comes to produce, it is never more abundant than it is right now, as summer’s harvest overlaps with fall’s. You can find everything from herbs, apples, peaches and pears to chiles, lettuce, melons, tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash and more.
Certain farmers are known for what you could call their specialty, though it’s not necessarily a stated one. It’s more like word-of-mouth praise, based on knowledge customers develop week after week, year after year. Highlights include Foggy River Farms’ microgreens, Ed Miller’s Little Gem lettuces, Soda Rock Farm’s tomatoes, Ridgeview Farms’ melons, School House Ranch’s sweet corn, Bernier Farms’ garlic and Middlton Farm’s strawberries.
When it comes to Middleton Farm, farmer Nancy Skall is nothing short of magic. Her raspberries are the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere and her Spanish Musica green beans are so good it is hard to find the right words to describe them. Her garlics are both beautiful and delicious. Bernier Farms has a diverse harvest, too, including excellent Padron chiles; everything this Geyserville farm grows is top notch.
This coming Saturday marks the final market day for La Bonne Terre, which always has some of the best carrots around, along with outstanding lettuces and herbs and gorgeous flowers. Attendance drops off after Labor Day, Kelley explains, and Bert and Mary Villamaire of La Bonne Terra, get ready for their annual visit to France.
Although it is a terrible year for prune plums, Gary Blasé has a small crop and Ken Gradek, who has returned after a hiatus of several years, has pears and peaches grown in Dry Creek Valley.
It has also been a bad year for olives and many olive oil producers have announced their will be no 2011 olive oil from their local groves. If you’re curious about this, you might want to ask Russ Messing, president of the Healdsburg farmers market board and proprietor of Deergnaw olive oil, which he sells on Saturdays.
There is an abundance of prepared foods at the Healdsburg market on Saturdays, both to enjoy on the spot and to take home. Jimtown Store always has a big array of delicious baked goods and hot coffee, along with a selection of their condiments. Mateo Granado’s Yucatan Tamale booth does a brisk business at this market and if you’re looking for lemonade, you’ll find it at the Zen Lemonade booth.
Strong Arm Farm has seaweed, pickles, preserves and honey and also has a second certificate that allows Carolyn and Terry Harrison, formerly of Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery, to sell their Foxwhelp apples. The farm is operated by Scott Knippelmeir and Heidi Herrmann, who is an instructor in sustainable agriculture at Santa Rosa Junior College.
J & R Roasters fills the market with the seductively sweet smoky aromas of red peppers charring in hand-cranked basket rotated over a gas flame. These peppers can be used right away or frozen to use in the off season. And you never know: You may find Judy and Roger grilling other produce, too, especially at this time of year.
Mei Ibach, who is enjoying great success with her bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) at the Santa Rosa farmers market is selling her sauces and condiments at the Healdsburg market. Because both the sauces and the chutneys can be served with fresh produce, it is a prefect fit for this market. Savvy Productions, located in Healdsburg, sells its pickles and preserves.
Education is quite important to Mary Kelley, especially the sort of education that both encourages customers to buy the market’s fresh produce and that shows them how to use it. Several programs are in place this year that emphasize this. First, Community Foundation Sonoma County has raised funds that allow the market to match the first twenty dollars spent by customers who participate in CalFresh. This means that when $20 is taken off your Calfresh card, you receive $40 in market bucks.
The market is now working with Donna del Rey of Relish Culinary to present cooking demonstrations on the second Saturday of each month.
Finally, Patricia Hegerhorst has set up the Carl Hegerhorst Memorial Scholarship, in honor of her husband, who sold his gorgeous wood work at this market for years. Carl passed away last October. Both Pat and Carl were educators and the scholarship will support a graduate from Healdsburg or a nearby high school who continues his or her education and who has had a connection to the farmers market.
The Healdsburg farmers market takes place on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at North and Vine Streets, one block west of the town plaza. The market opened for the season on May 7 and is scheduled to close on November 26. But could that change? Markets evolve and as demand for local foods increases, a growing number of customers wish this market could operate year round so stay tuned.