This is an attempt to wrap up the history of our Healdsburg Farmers Market within this column. It needs to cover my management from 1990 to 2004, followed by Mary Kelley’s 10 years of guidance bringing us up to 2014.
We met today to pool our remembrances of those past years. The underlying theme of those 24 years was a continuation of an already unique gathering of farmers, representing Healdsburg, meeting Tuesdays and Saturdays, selling local produce grown within 10 miles of the market.
We found ourselves remembering the sellers that supported the market — practically all of them, appearing year after year, rain or shine. Some made their living from agriculture — Pedro and Mario Ortiz, Ramon de La Herran, Vince and Mercedes Soto, Wayne and Lee James, Jim Neufeld, Tom and Marilyn Engle, Hector and Sandra Alvarez, Paul and Yael Bernier; for others, it was a second income, like Dr. Bill Harris, Malcolm and Nancy Skall, Jack McCarley, Mike and Jan Tolmasoff, Earl and Myrna Fincher, Ed and Maureen Miller, Bert and Mary Villemaire, Paul and Pam Kaiser. The list is long and the memories strong.
There were brand new farmers, young and enthusiastic — Nick Broderic and Rachel Erickson, farming acreage up Felta Road; and wise, seasoned old timers like the Don Winsetts and Joe Gradeks — both farming property on West Dry Creek who could write the book on orchard care.
Up and down the aisles, there were enough answers to all farming’s questions to fill an encyclopedia. Since the British already had accomplished that series, managers Mary and Renee each visited most all the farms represented at the market and wrote a story about the farm and the farmer. These stories appeared as the main feature in a quarterly newsletter published for the market.
The newsletters were kept in a plastic holder attached to small A-frame sign boards that Carl Hegerhorst made for the market. Carl was the first woodworker that sold at the market. He fashioned beautiful cutting boards and bird houses. Next to him was Amanda, a weaver of baskets that were perfectly elegant in their artistry.
In those years, there was a limit to craft sellers. That limit was no more than five and the craft had to have a relationship with agriculture.
One of the main differences between my and Mary’s management of the market was Mary’s reaching out to the community for volunteer help. Coming from a career in teaching, Mary knew the importance and possibility of a farmers’ market also being an educator to the consuming public.
Her major in college, Natural Resources, combined with her childhood growing up within a farming family in the Imperial Valley, directed her to that pathway of connecting the community and the farm. She suggested that the market hire student assistants as well as contacting the high school and reminding them that the market would be a good source of volunteer hours for citizenship work.
Mary also created a Facebook presence, filled out all the paperwork and meetings for food stamps, and created the nonprofit Friends of the Market. It took years of meetings, study, and record keeping to establish the Friends. Mary hastens to include the dedication of four others: Sharon Vyborny, Katie Murphy, Wendy Dayton and Susan Rose.
The purpose of the Friends was and continues to be to educate the public as to what a farmers market truly is — the reason it was created. Their brochure lists the seven categories California recognizes and promotes in a Certified Farmers Market:
Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts, Honey, Shell Eggs, Cut Flowers, Nursery Stock.
These are the core venders who should be occupying spaces at a market. The years covered from 1990 to 2014 tried to keep to this goal. Often visitors to our market would tell us, “You have the truest farmers market I have ever seen.”
Mary and I were pleased to hear that.
Still, we recognized that everyone loves a cup of coffee and a sticky bun on a cold Saturday morning and we cannot grow that in a field of dirt.
Early on, Downtown Creamery and Bakery provided a small outlet which we organized at the market. I would pick up our Saturday order at 6:30 a.m., have brewed a restaurant size percolator on a timer at a certified kitchen and emptied it into a giant thermos, provided paper cups, cream and sugar and stir-sticks at every market. My husband, Joel, hosted this popular mini-kitchen table
Later, we were thrilled to have Jimtown Store hop on board, anchoring the first space in the first aisle. It was a little bit of home for all of us — to have hot coffee and one of their wonderful carrot muffins after we set up.
I have to push that 700 word limit a bit just this once, closing by remembering some incredible moments in time during the nineties decade:
• Tom Engle’s choice to celebrate his 80th birthday at the market
• The introduction by Kelly Parsons to hydroponically grown tomatoes
• Lew Sbrana’s Community Band playing at the market birthday
• The community chorus singing carols at our last December market
• The Phipps family selling Meyer Lemonade, saving the proceeds to buy a horse
• Carrot Top farm - Maureen and Ed MIller — joining our band of sellers, with the assistance of their three little boys, all with carrot tops.
• Doug Stout — market founder — setting up along Foss Creek the Literary Guild table in his later years, and telling me,”I get such joy being a part of the market still, and watching all the customers.”
So many gave so much of themselves with such thoughtfulness and generosity.
The list is longer and my word count maxed out but names keep coming: Donna Biasotti, Pat Marchand, Angela Basurto -but the face I will conclude with is that of Paula Coombs Wurlitzer, who drove to Williams each week to meet her brother who would transfer Coombs Farm apricots from Orland. Paula’s dedication to marketing a superb product, fresh from her family’s orchard, was a pursuit from the heart. All of her many fans were blown away by her strength of will as her body weakened. She set a high bar to reach for all of us left behind.
Renee Kiff weeds and writes at her family farm in Alexander Valley.