Sonoma’s popular Tuesday Night Market negotiating a return

During a rare sunny break in a cold and stormy week, the City of Sonoma’s ad hoc committee on the Tuesday Night Farmers Market met around a picnic table in the Plaza on Jan. 5 to discuss ideas, plans and goals for the coming season of the popular mid-week event.

The Tuesday Night Farmers Market has been operated for the past six years by the Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market group, which hopes to continue its management of the combination farmers market, music concert, city picnic and food truck extravaganza. The event has come under some criticism over its scale – up to 2,000 people or more spread across the south end of the seven-acre plaza every Tuesday evening from early May into October.

But fears that the Sonoma City Council’s decision to appoint a committee to evaluate the market meant that the event itself was in jeopardy do not appear warranted.

“There has been a lot of anxiety about what is happening,” said Councilmember Amy Harrington. “Our fiduciary duty is to review the contract before approving it blindly.”

That anxiety erupted even before the City Council voted at its most recent meeting on Dec. 19 to appoint the two-person ad hoc committee she and fellow councilmember Gary Edwards comprise. Posts on Facebook, comments to articles in this paper and elsewhere, demonstrated a fear that the city planned to cancel the popular party, which Harrington and Edwards both insist was never the Council’s intent.

Although the original directive was to appoint a subcommittee of five or more, the two-person ad hoc structure was chosen because it’s a leaner and more efficient way to arrive at a quick decision, said Harrington. “If we had a formal committee, all these meetings would have to be announced,” she said, including the discussions she and Edwards have already had, separately and together, with members of the VOMCFM board.

The meeting last Thursday in the Plaza was one such informal meeting: not officially announced or “noticed,” but publicized by Harrington on her Facebook page, by the VOMCFM on theirs, and spread by word of mouth. The result was a dozen or so people gathering around the picnic table to discuss what features of the Tuesday Night Farmers Market they’d like to see retained, and what might be improved.

Edwards, who has been critical of the scale of the Tuesday market in the past, sought to qualify his objections. “A lot of people don’t want to step up and say things; that’s why we have elected officials to help voice their concerns,” he said. “I don’t’ really have a problem with people getting together, but it has to be based around a true certified farmers’ market.”

In particular Edwards, among others, is hoping that the balance of farmers at the Tuesday Night Market compared to other vendors can be corrected. Last year’s market had about 18 farm stands, but 20 food vendors, six wine and beer stations, 14 artisans and nine packaged food booths, according to the vendor list on the sonomaplazamarket.org website.

“If we can preserve the farmers, and make it productive for them, then they’ll give us the opportunity to manage the rest of the stuff,” said Edwards. “What I’d love to see is the market get back to the core values of a certified farmers’ market.”

Also of related interest is the new ordinance banning nearly all public smoking, Measure W, passed in November by the city’s voters. That bans smoking of any type, noted Edwards, though the City does not intend to enforce the new regulations right away. “We are working with Sonoma County Health Department on the roll-out of the regulations,” said former City Manager Carol Giovanatto before her recent retirement. “We will be holding a forum for business and landlords the end of February for education and signage updates. Our focus is to assist the businesses and the public in understanding all the new regulations.”

Although multiple requests to board members of the Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market remain unanswered at press time, the two councilmembers on the ad hoc committee are positive about their progress so far. “Our goal is really to come out with a ‘together’ message, an agreement on the direction we are going,” said Edwards. “I think we’re getting there, we’ve had very productive conversations and I would say there’s not going to be any issue getting the extension for the year that’s been requested.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com