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Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market gets a jumpstart

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 | Posted by



On a breezy Friday morning, the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market is as pleasant a place to be as I can imagine.

Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market in 2004. (PD FILE)

Hilda Schwartz, who has managed the market since 1987, sits at her stall in the middle of one of two rows of vendors, offering her beautiful photo cards and photographs, chatting with customers and vendors and handing out information.

Jacqueline Aubin of Aubin Farm sits alongside Hilda’s stall with eggs from her flock of happy chickens. Her prices — which range from $3.50 a dozen for small to $5 a dozen for super jumbo — are the best I’ve seen at any market.

Selections at this market reveal, if you are the observant type, the place where they are grown: Sonoma Valley is warmer than, say, Russian River Valley, and farmers who grow here are harvesting things several weeks earlier than those further west. Paul’s Produce, one of the market’s largest vendors, has extraordinary spring onions, gorgeous leeks, plump bulbs of fennel, red-stemmed dandelion greens and a huge selection of salad greens, including beautiful heads of lettuce.

Oak Hill Farm has a stunning display of tulips, anemones and ranunculi at the front of its stall, before an enormous variety of spring produce that stretches over three or four tables. Tiny French breakfast radishes are going fast and there’s a huge pile of beautiful Nantes carrots. There’s chard, dandelion greens, lots of lettuce, fennel, fat red beets and pristine asparagus. Side-by-side bins of leeks and spring onions are nearly empty.

Next to Oak Hill Farm’s stall, a smiling Adam Parks of Sebastopol’s Victorian Farmstead is offering his beef, pork and lamb. He makes the weekly drive to Sonoma because there currently is no room for him at the Sebastopol Farmers Market.

The same is true of the French Garden Restaurant Farm — there’s no room at the Sebastopol market — which has a beautiful display of citrus, leeks, little artichokes, breakfast radishes, broccoli rabe, cabbage, sugar snap peas, several varieties of both lettuce and braising greens, and tiny microgreens. One little stall offers hand-mixed sprouts, shoots and flower petals that are so popular they are often sold out before the market is half over. An eclectic farmer has a selection of gorgeous succulents, bouquets and mustard greens.

There’s a line at Mike Zakowski’s stall, where he is pulling hot giant pretzels from his wood burning oven. A rack of rustic bread loaves, baked long before sunrise, stands nearby. He calls himself “The Bejkr” (pronounced baker) and is a bit cranky about the fact that it is rarely spelled correctly in articles about his handcrafted breads, which are wonderful. You can tell from the way he handles his pretzels and the care with which he wraps a baguette in brown paper that he is a man of focused passions. His business card, printed on paper made of hemp and recycled consumer waste, shows a man hauling an oven by bicycle.

Several vendors will be familiar to anyone who attends local farmers markets. The Ortiz Brothers have their excellent produce, Hector Alvarez offers his honey; beeswax candles, garlic and dried chilies; Spring Hill Jersey Cheese has its array of cheeses — including the very popular curds — and its butter, preferred by such chefs as Douglas Keane of Cyrus Restaurant. There’s an enormous array of mushrooms, including the delicious maitake, and smoked wild salmon from Alaska.

These days, every farmers market has information booths, and the Sonoma market is no exception. The Java Wagon offers coffee, tea and breakfast items and the selection of hand-made crafts is both unique and interesting.

This market is a sweet place both to shop and to linger. Hilda works hard behind the scenes to weave the sort of balance of vendors required to offer both a good selection to customers and to allow each vendor to make enough money to warrant their attendance.

The Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers Market takes place year round on Friday morning from 9 a.m. to noon. It is located on First Street West in the parking lot of Depot Park, across from Depot Hotel.

Email Michele Anna Jordan michele@micheleannajordan.com.

Writer Spotlight

Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

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