In January. farmers are reading seed catalogs and planning their spring strategies. Many are farming, as well; we are blessed with year-round farmers markets with plenty of freshly-harvested produce.

The Santa Rosa farmers market is our largest and it thrives in the winter. In addition to market regulars, heavy hitters like Triple T, Bernier Farms and Orchard Farms, which attend weekly with a great diversity of crops, others come and go, as their harvest and the market’s space allows.

In December, Strong Arm Farm attended a single market with their canned goods, pristine produce and seaweed. They’re now taking a break.

This ever-changing parade is a great reason–one of many–to make the market a weekly habit. Not only is it the best destination to fill your pantry and larder; it is also full of delicious surprises. But to see those surprises you need to know the market.

Certain farmers return to the Santa Rosa market at this time of year. Nancy Skall of Middleton Gardens in one: She is back, much to everyone’s delight, with onions, shallots, leeks, sunchokes, delicate Italian parsley, pears, extraordinary preserves and, now and then, some of the most delicious eggs you’ll ever taste. She’ll be at this market until the Healdsburg market opens in May.

Tierra Vegetables has returned, too, with an excellent selection of dried shell beans, along with root vegetables, winter greens and more, all organically grown. Canvas Ranch of Petaluma has a selection of dried beans, too, along with their own seasoning mix, lavender spray, lettuces and sturdy winter greens.

Other crops to watch for at this time of year include radishes, fennel, beets, winter squash, celery root, salsify, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, Romanesco, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts leeks, cabbages and potatoes. Earthworker Farm has miner’s lettuce and yacon, a delicious root vegetable from South America. Several vendors have persimmons and apples, there’s plenty of delicious citrus and one vendor, DeSantis Farms, has avocados.

Several meat and poultry vendors now attend weekly, some on Wednesdays and others on Saturdays. There’s chicken, duck, duck eggs, goat, lamb, pork, beef, handmade sausage, pate, bacon and pancetta. Santa Rosa Seafood often has a diverse selection of oysters and clams and they usually have fresh crab, as well, along with a large selection of fish and shellfish, most of which is not local. Some of the county’s best cheeses can be purchased at this market and Bellwether Farms has its delicious sheep’s milk yogurt here, too. There’s excellent butter from Spring Hill Farms.

There are raw fermented foods, like sauerkraut and courted from Wild Rose, and a variety of pickles and preserves from several vendors. Several farms are now producing their own hot sauces, too. I’m particularly fond of Jalapeño hot sauce from Triple T Farms. A few vendors have olive oil and a couple offer vinegar.

Triple T Farms also has fresh chicken on Saturdays. It’s not displayed; you need to ask for it. There are around a dozen chickens each week and it’s a good idea to get to the market early if you want to snag one.

If you’re new to the farmers market habit, it is helpful to have a strategy. First of all, don’t shop with a list–let the market speak to you about what is fresh, especially when it comes to produce, eggs and meats. If your pantry needs refilling, shop at the market first, before heading to a supermarket. You’ll likely find nearly everything you need. After you’ve shopped for the basics, put them in your car and then enjoy a bit of leisure at the market, enjoying delicious foods (including our best chocolate) and beverages amidst interesting artisans offering their creations, everything from tiny earrings and wooden spoons to bird baths, outdoor furniture and chicken coops.

The Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market is managed by Paula Downing; it takes place in the east parking lot of the Veterans Building at the corner of Maple and Brookwood Avenues. The Wednesday market is , rain or shine, from 8:30 a.m. to noon; Saturday closes at 1 p.m.

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