Farmers market opens
The Tuesday night farmers market returns this week with new vendors, new management and an added focus on youth, the Hispanic community and recycling.
The market opens tonight, May 3, with a ribbon cutting on the Plaza at 5:15 p.m. followed by an evening of entertainment with a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta theme. At 5:30 p.m., the cowbell will signal the official opening of the market, followed by a performance of Flamenco dance by the students of the Sonoma Ballet Conservatory at 5:45 p.m. and music by the Trio Sol de Mexico Mariach Band at 6:30 p.m.
"The new thing we really put in is the marketing to the Hispanic community," said Bill Dardon, president of the Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market (VOMCFM) board, about the opening fiesta. "That, to us, is exciting because it's never really been looked at."
The newly formed VOMCFM board, which was selected by the Sonoma City Council to replace longtime market manager Hilda Swartz in December, has been working for months to get the right mix of vendors between growers, prepared food purveyors and artisans selling crafts and services. Their list of the 63 selected vendors includes many returning favorites such as Oak Hill Farms, Serres Ranch and Gold Rush Kettle Corn, along with offerings from new vendors, including Shiso Sushi, the Olive Press and PoPo the Clown.
Dardon said the board created a grading scale to evaluate each vendor applicant based on their location, sustainable practices, whether their business is family-owned and whether it qualifies as a small business.
"We're seeking to be an incubator for small businesses in addition to a farmers market," said Emily Fitzpatrick, vice president of the board. The board was very specific in its review, looking at the quality of ingredients in the prepared food as well as where those items came from - with local ingredients earning higher points.
"They are graded on everything," Dardon said, adding that grades are adjusted for those vendors who may not have high points in some of the criteria but overall meet "the standards of the precedents we're trying to set."
One such vendor is the ladies of Lovin' Oven, a small business started by four high school students at the Valley of the Moon Teen Center. The girls began selling baked goods and prepared foods at the Sonoma Community Center's weekly market last summer, and decided the Tuesday night farmers market would be an ideal place to expand the business.
"We saw it was the perfect opportunity," said Esther Oros, 18, one of the founders of Lovin' Oven. "We're really excited."
Oros said the girls, who are aided by five other bakers, will prepare the ingredients each Thursday, cook on Friday and Monday at the teen center's commercial kitchen, and get everything packaged for the market on Tuesday. They have worked out a schedule of who will work which markets, with the proceeds going back into the business.
"That's one thing we really tried to focus on, getting the youth involved," Dardon said. "Bring your nickels and dimes and support these vendors who come every week to give you the best they have."
The market is also working to accept EBT cards and WIC fruit and vegetable checks that provide access to fresh produce for low-income families. The market will announce in the paper when that process has been finalized.
Dardon and Fitzpatrick said it was difficult to decide on which vendors to pick, understanding that while the community wants local providers, not all produce can grow in Sonoma County. Some of the farmers will be traveling from Mendocino County and the Central Valley, but the market will retain the full array of seasonal offerings that Sonoma has come to expect each week.
"We would love to have everyone, but we are limited by the size of the market," Fitzpatrick said.
Instead of paying a percentage of proceeds, each vendor will be charged a flat rate per market depending on what type of product they sell. There are also eight to 10 spaces saved for nonprofits, which have no charge and can rotate weekly.
As per the city council's directions, Dardon said he personally spent time investigating various waste management systems. He said the market will have clearly marked bins for garbage, recycling and compost.
"My passion is the recycling program. The Plaza is a jewel that needs to be preserved," he said.
The board hired a former vendor, Andrea Davis-Cetina, proprietor of Quarter Acres Farm, to serve as the new market manager. Dardon said the board interviewed several candidates but was impressed by Davis-Cetina's knowledge as a longtime participant in area farmers markets. Liz McDonald has also stepped up to be the music coordinator for the market, with a new performer scheduled every week.
"We invite people to check out the calendar on our website for a full list of events," Fitzpatrick said.
The website, www.vomcfm.com, also has a complete list of vendors, contact information for the market staff and board and detailed information for vendors and potential vendors, including an area to make complaints or air grievances.
"We're giving the community clarity and transparency," Dardon said.
In that vein, Dardon said the VOMCFM board had been approached to apply to run the Friday morning farmers market, which is accepting RFPs until May 15.
"We have all the components to make a successful Friday market," Dardon said, without confirming that the board intended to apply.