The Healdsburg Farmers Market could not have had a more gorgeous day to launch its 2012 season. The air was soft, fragrant and warm but not hot and everyone seemed to be in great spirits as they greeted friends and colleagues they’d not seen since last year’s market wrapped up in November. A seasonal market’s opening day is always a celebration.

At exactly 9 a.m., manager Mary Kelley blew a whistle, signaling that the market was officially open for business. Several shoppers stopped in their tracks, looked around and asked what the whistle meant.

“Did someone just win a prize?” one man asked.

Not that long ago, nearly all farmers markets opened with a whistle. Shoppers could browse before it sounded but could not make purchases. Most markets have dispensed with the tradition, not wanting to deny sales no matter the time, but not Healdsburg. I like the practice, as it prevents early birds from snagging the rare treasures, though a couple of half-empty bins suggests that not everyone sells by the bell.

Lou Preston has returned to the Saturday market; last year he attended just the Tuesday afternoon market. His bountiful spring harvest includes fava beans and leaves, lettuce, lettuce mix, tiny arugula and beet greens, kale, chives, parsley, spring onions, carrots, beets, cabbage and cardoons, trimmed of their inedible leaves. Preston also has eggs–they’re all in one basket and you can buy just a single egg if you like–walnuts, rye, red wheat and delicious multi-grain sourdough bread.

Bernier Farms of Geyserville has fresh garlic, fully developed but not cured, along with garlic scapes, green garlic, favas, leeks, Italian parsley and other fresh herbs, dandelion greens, chard, sugar snap peas, beets, carrots and more.

Reyes Farm, located on Eastside Rd., has gorgeous asparagus, sugar snap peas, favas, kale and a big selection of dahlia tubers, which we don’t eat but gophers do, so be sure to protect any that you plant.

Nancy Skall of Middleton Farm is now at this market (when it is not in season, she attends the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market). Currently, she has tiny artichokes, several sizes of asparagus, sprouting broccoli, sunchokes, sugar snap peas, spring garlic, leeks, favas, eggs from pampered hens, fennel, celery root, beets, fresh (not cured) garlic, fragrant sweet peas, gorgeous peonies, white hydrangeas and lovely bearded irises, along with delicious fruit preserves.

La Bonne Terre’s   always beautiful display includes arugula, several types of cress, radishes with perfect greens, mint, several types of escarole, Chinese cabbage, kale, lovely lettuces and gorgeous bouquets.

Joel and Renee Kiff of Ridgeview Farm win the prize for tiniest French breakfast radishes–I prefer them small–and also have beets with beautiful greens attached, several types of tender lettuces, carrots and very pretty bouquets.

Geyserville Gardens has artichokes, sugar snap peas, chard, favas, Eureka lemons, Tahiti limes, borage flowers and plant starts. Carrot Top Farm has beautiful lettuces, arugula, wild arugula, chard, tatsoi and wild arugula plant starts.

Parsons Homegrown attends with their hothouse tomatoes, Blasi   Ranch has lemons and oranges and there are mushrooms (conventional, portobello and oyster) from Gourmet Growers in Petaluma. Earlybird’s   Place has plant starts, gourds and both bat and bird houses, all reasonably priced.

Sophie’s Five Acres has unusual and unusually beautiful cut flowers, along with dried lavender and lavender products. There’s honey and honey products from Hector Alvarez.

Bill Harris has big juicy lemons but it is his glorious flowers–especially his bird of paradise, orchids and calla lilies–that are the big attraction.

Hank Wetzel   is producing olive oil and growing great artichokes in Alexander Valley, with more to come as the season unfolds. On Saturday, his sister, Katie Wetzel Murphy  , was overseeing his booth.

Dry Creek Peach & Produce doesn’t have ripe peaches yet, though owner Gayle Sullivan   says it looks like it will be a good year. She’s at the market already, with delicious preserves.

There’s more produce, too, almost too much to mention, including microgreens, pea shoots, strawberries, early cucumbers and the year’s very first Bing cherries.

Several vendors provide a great array of cheeses, eggs, seafood and meats. Williams Ranches attends with their extraordinary lamb. Owen Family Farms also has excellent lamb, along with rabbit, pork, veal and beef and Franco Dunn attends with his delicious sausages. Paul Thornton   sells his popular smoked salmon here and Dave Legro has wild Gulf shrimp, scallops, wild salmon from both Alaska and California, Dungeness crab, baby shrimp, rock cod and, sometimes, flounder. Cheese vendors include Valley Ford Cheese Co., Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese, Spring Hill Cheese, which also has butter, and Weirauch   Creamery. There are several egg vendors, more, I think, than at any other local market.

There’s organic granola from Granola with Panache.

If you want something to enjoy on the spot, Jimtown Store offers quiches, breakfast pastries, coffee and more and Agave Mexican Restaurant is cooking up several delicious breakfast dishes. Ravenous has bagels and beautiful hearth breads.

If you garden, you’ll find excellent plant starts here, including hundreds of tomatoes from Soda Rock Farms.

This market also has beautiful pottery, cutting boards and free-standing chopping blocks, lavender and other dried flowers, body and bath products, community information booths and live music. On the second Saturday of each month, there’s a cooking demonstration by a local chef.

The Healdsburg Farmers Market, founded in 1978 and currently managed by Mary Kelley, takes place on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon one block west of the town plaza, at North and Vine Streets. For more information, visit