October is, arguably, the most beautiful time in the northern hemisphere. This is certainly the case at the Sebastopol farmers market, where golden light streams down onto a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, red and every shade of green, punctuated by the deep purple of beets, bright pink of radishes and pale mottled skins of pears and Delicata squash. Last Sunday was a perfect fall day at the market and this coming Sunday promises to be the same.
I was particularly excited to see the first pomegranates of the season, in time for Halloween. Alongside the first of the year’s pomegranates were the first of the season’s persimmons, at the Schletewitz Family Farm’s stall.
Nancy Skall of Middleton Garden had her beautiful Moon and Stars, a huge yellow watermelon that she had cut in half to make it reasonably portable. A couple of weeks ago, I carried half of one to my car, nearly dropping it twice. It took me a week to finish it and each bite underscored why one farmer chased after me, begging for some of the seeds. This is one of the most delicious melons I have ever tasted.
Nancy also had a few Neapolitan green beans, likely the last of the year, that were snapped up quickly. She has beautiful pears, too, along with tomatoes, her famous garlic, tiny zucchini and more, including what may be her last torpedo onions ever. Because they are so labor intensive, she has decided not to continue growing them.
Several vendors are still harvesting tomatoes and they are, perhaps surprisingly, still quite delicious, though if you have a sensitive palate you can tell, primarily by their texture, that they are nearing the end of their time. There were Padron chiles, too, from several vendors and if we are very lucky, there will be more this week, though they, too, are just about done for the year.
I was happy to spot spinach among Laguna Farm’s diverse harvest; I wish more local farmers were growing it, as spinach is never better than when it is just harvested. They also have Easter Egg radishes with good greens attached. Don’t let the holes in the radish greens scare you off; yes, the holes are made by nibbling insects but they are still perfectly fine and excellent sauteed quickly and then stirred into potato soup.
Orchard Farms has little strawberries, little watermelons, all manner of salad and braising greens, several types of broccoli, radicchio, parsnips, beets and more.
Tom Armstrong of Armstrong Valley Farm is an excellent farmers; a couple of weeks ago he had the most delicious pears, though their season may have passed. His eggs are delicious, as are his tomatoes and squash. He’s also one of the few farmers who currently have shallots. Strong Arm Farm is another; they also have locally harvested seaweed, honey and more.
The Patch’s harvest is as abundant as ever, though their supply of heirloom tomatoes is dwindling, as you would expect at this time of year. But there are still plenty, along with lots of Romano and Blue Lake green beans, summer squash and onions.
Earthworker Farms has its popular sprouts and Triple T has duck eggs, chicken eggs and, if you arrive in time, quail eggs, along with both late summer and early fall produce and their popular hot sauces. Smiling Sun Farms has a beautiful fall harvest, New Carpati Farm has shiitake and oyster mushrooms and Hector Alvarez has both plenty of honey and honey products and fresh produce, including a lot of tomatoes, garlic and some of the first spaghetti squash I’ve seen this year.
If you’re feeling under the weather, you should try an agua fresca from Rainbow’s End Farm. There are usually two kinds, one a tad sweet and one not sweet at all, and they are full of fresh herbs like nettles that boost the immune system. It’s now a weekly ritual and I’m hoping it keeps winter viruses at bay.
Nathan Boone of First Light Farm has recently dug a new crop of potatoes and they are gorgeous. He also has tender butter lettuce, large and small cabbages and more.
There are two cheese vendors in Sebastopol right now, Weirauch Farms of Penngrove and Javier Salmon’s Bodega Goat Cheese. Javier also has dulce de leche made from goat milk but be careful; it is beyond irresistible. Weirauch Farm is always introducing new cheeses or new batches of familiar cheeses and they are always so very good. The farm currently has a batch of hand-made sheep’s milk soap, too.
If you stop at every stall, you’ll see fresh gourds, a huge array of pumpkins and other winter squash, all manner of apples, beautiful bouquets, bread, plant starts, flowering tropical plants, medicinal herbs and lavender products made by a young girl.
Princess Aisha has her outstanding shea butter, along with African drums, jewelry and, perhaps the best thing of all, her radiant smile and sincere warmth.
There are several crafts vendors at the market; most tend to participate every other week, though the African basket booth is a weekly vendor. Rosso sells its pizzas and Lata is almost always on hand with her delicious Indian food. She’s finally posted a sign about her tapioca, which for a long time was a well-kept secret. It’s delicious and quite good for you. Both her chai and her mango lassi are tops, too. Patisserie Angelica has delicious beverages, ethereal scones and other baked goods.
A few vendors were missing from last Sunday’s market. Mateo Granados, exhausted from both his new restaurant and a big weekend catering job, was shopping but not serving, which left a big hole in the market. Brock Fulmer of Black Sheep Farm, usually a weekly presence, has not been for weeks, as he’s lost several key employees at his ranch in Potter Valley and so much stay on the property to take care of his animals. He’s missed, hugely.
Owen Family Farm, another weekly presence, was absent, too, and so there was no meat at all. Paul Thornton of Paul’s Smoked Salmon took the day off, as well, but Dave Legro did a brisk business with his own smoked salmon. Dave was also selling Coho salmon, flounder and clam chowder.
The market was dazzling on Sunday for reasons other than what you could buy. The people-watching was great fun. One older woman wore a gorgeous, nearly translucent kimono that glistened in sunlight that poured through what I suspect was an antique parasol. A heavily-made-up young woman, in heels, a pencil skirt and t-shirt with a swirling pattern, her long blonde hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, rushed through the market as she were late for a curtain call. An older man handed out Senior Bucks as he indulged in a highly provocative conversation about Irish redheads.
I mention these elements to remind us all that the market is about more than shopping. It’s about taking the time to linger, to chat with friends and strangers, to linger in the commons, something that is overlooked as farmers markets become more popular. In recent weeks, I’ve been stepped on, jostled, pushed aside and yelled at by shoppers whom I suppose are bringing their supermarket habits with them. But the joy of shopping outside, of talking to those who grow our food and those who enjoy it, is a crucial element and should not, in our rush to buy the freshest and best produce, be lost.