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Farmers' markets spring to life

By Paula Harris

IF YOU GROW IT they will come, especially if it's fresh, juicy, crunchy, fragrant, or ripe. Growers are once again beginning to showcase their flourishing yields of locally grown fruits and veggies and setting up stalls at farmers' markets in parks and parking lots around the North Bay.

It's a movable feast of greens, squash, berries, peaches, herbs, and much more that signifies the arrival of warm weather, frosty drinks, sizzling barbecued veggies, and cool salads.

Each local farmers' market has its own particular character. In some instances, the markets are more akin to community meeting places, with the addition of live music and arts and crafts exhibitions. Some markets hold cooking demonstrations and samplings. And many farmers are becoming savvy about the value of the personal touch and are offering customers recipes, information, and the occasional story about their produce.

What occurs is an old-fashioned social exchange that's rarely achieved (with any real sincerity) in the big-box supermarket down the street. So, for a change, forsake that squeaky warped-wheeled wire cart and instead select a woven basket and troll the stalls at the nearest farmers' market.

Here's what's going on locally, according to the latest information from the California Federation of Certified Farmers' Markets.

Sonoma County

Cloverdale: Downtown Plaza; Saturdays, 7 a.m. to noon, June-October; 894-4470.

Healdsburg: West Plaza parking lot at North and Vine streets; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, May-December; and the Plaza; Tuesdays, 4 to 6 p.m., June-October; 431-1956.

Petaluma: Walnut Park, Fourth and D streets; Saturdays, 2 to 5 p.m., May-October; 762-0344.

Santa Rosa: Oakmont, bank parking lot, White Oak and Oakmont drives; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, year-round; 538-7023.

Original Farmers' Market, Santa Rosa Veterans Bldg., 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa; Saturdays and Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m. to noon, year-round; 522-8629.

Wednesday Night Market, Fourth and B streets; Wednesdays, 5 to 8:30 p.m., May 31­Sept. 6; 524-2123.

Sebastopol: New Town Plaza, Petaluma Avenue at McKinley Street; Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., May-November; 522-9305.

Sonoma Valley: Depot Museum parking lot, First and Spain streets; Fridays, 9 a.m. to noon, year-round; and Sonoma Plaza at Napa Street; Tuesdays, 5 to 8:30 p.m., April-October; 538-7023.

Napa County

Calistoga: In front of the Sharpsteen Museum, 1311 Washington St.; Saturdays, 8 to 11 a.m., summer months; 942-4769.

Napa: First and Main streets; Thursdays, 4 to 8 p.m., May-September; and West and Pearl streets; Tuesdays, 7:30 to noon, May-October; 252-7142.

St. Helena: Hwy. 29 and Grayson-Crane Park; Fridays, 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., May-October; 265-8602.

Yountville: Compadres Bar & Grill parking lot, 6538 Washington St.; Wednesdays, 4 to 8 p.m.; year-round; 257-8481.

Marin County

Novato: Sherman and Grant streets; Tuesdays, 4 to 8 p.m., May-November; 800/897-FARM.

Pt. Reyes Station: Toby's Feed Barn, 15479 State Route 1; Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., May-October; 415/633-9153.

San Rafael: Civic Center, Hwy. 101 and San Pedro Road; Sundays and Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., year-round; 800/897-FARM.

Shopping Hints

  • Forget the shopping list--just get to the market and see what looks good, then go from there.

  • Look, smell, touch, and try to sample and compare produce at different stalls before you purchase anything.

  • Be adventurous. Ask the grower for advice on how to select and prepare unusual items if you need to.

  • Tote your own bags or baskets--keep the squashable items in their own bag.

  • Take the kids--it's more fun and entertaining than the supermarket. Buy them fresh-baked breads and honey sticks (and encourage them to chat with a local beekeeper, so they appreciate the work that goes into food production).

  • Shop early for optimum variety and freshness. Or shop late in the day while growers are packing up and haggle for a cheaper price.

  • Get to know the farmers. Quiz them on selection and cooking procedures. Become a "regular."

  • On warm days, plan to go home immediately afterward or bring a cooler to stash delicate items like ripe strawberries or tender spinach. Be careful about leaving the fresh produce in a stifling car. Try to eat the goodies on the same day.

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  • From the May 4-10, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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