A new brochure has been published for the Healdsburg Farmers Market and in a short paragraph titled “The Market Story,” it reads that the market was “established in 1978 by two families, the Kiffs and the Bernier.”

Renee Kiff

Renee Kiff

The Berniers, Paul and Yael, were certainly part of those beginners, but the Kiff family was still residing in Marin County, unaware not only of the new Healdsburg Farmers Market, but even ignorant that farmers markets existed at all.

So, I write this column to correct the error and give tribute where tribute is deserved — to 10 folks who really worked to bring Healdsburg a farm to table market.

Their names are Doug Stout, Tom Peterson, Grainger Brown, Karen Tovani, Paul and Yael Bernier, Wayne and Lee James, John and Dorothy Fineren. While it is true that my family has been selling produce at the market since its first year, we had nothing to do with the creation of the market.

It was the brainchild of Tom Peterson, who needed a means to sell his cherry tomatoes and obtain some income. He received help from a planner at Sonoma State University who obtained a grant to begin a market.

A gentleman named Robert Brent owned a prune drying shed at Haydon and East Streets and Tom arranged to have that leaky old structure become the home that first year of our new market. Though rather rustic, it was airy, provided shade and shelter and worked out quite well.

All those folks named were part of the market planning but some played a more public role than others. Doug Stout, retired English Professor from San Francisco State and his wife Kazumi Nishio, greeted me as I arrived for the first time, unannounced, with a station wagon full of fresh figs and no knowledge of what to do with them.

They welcomed me and provided a table, a scale, an umbrella and the promise of a space at the market for as long as I needed it. It was a most pleasant morning, meeting the other vendors and experiencing the surprising world of selling fresh fruits and vegetables grown by the men and women standing behind the tables.

There were probably 10 vendors that first year. Most of them all ended up helping to grow the market. Mercedes and Vincent Soto were among that group, and the parents of Lee and Wayne James — Esther and Walt James, contributed expertise and wise leadership to all of us younger families.

I have many memories of Dorothy and John Fineren working always to make the market progress and become better. We all became quite a cohesive group, forming a market board of sorts, with a real treasurer. Wayne James of Tierra Vegetable filled that role for years.

Tom Peterson was our manager for those first years and then it was shared by Doug Stout. Lee James, Wayne’s sister, took on that job during the years we occupied a dirt lot on Healdsburg Avenue after the city had demolished the entire block before the Swenson Building was built. On summer afternoons it was convenient to have the old drive-in on the corner so that we could buy a soda or a milkshake.

In those years the market had a small metal shed where all the tables, umbrellas and scales were kept — the same ones provided to the vendors from that first market in 1978. When we got there, we would go over to the shed and get a table. One afternoon I was dragging the table across the gravel to my space and I heard Lee’s no-nonsense voice raised, “Pick up your table, Renee!”

That was the last time I ever dragged a market table, I kid you not.

The next market manager was Dorothy Fineren and it was Dorothy who guided us through many years, always with a tremendous dose of humor and an ability to plan ahead and involve everyone. You simply enjoyed being around anything Dorothy had in mind for the market. 

She organized the Pumpkin Festival, the Zucchini Races, the baking competitions, the FFA Parade float and the picnics. She was the first one at market and the last to leave. Rain or shine we were there, although the market season was a bit shorter those years. We opened our first market at the FFA fairgrounds on Memorial Day and closed the end of November.

A lady named Margaret Brown would yell, “Market’s opened!” 

Next column: When the market bought a bell.

Renee Kiff weeds and writes at her family farm in Alexander Valley.

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