The Boonville Farmers’ Market
Connecting With Local Food #3
by Barbara Goodell
“Reclaiming our food means reclaiming community, engaging its economic interconnectivity of specialization and divisions of labor, but at a human scale, promoting awareness of resources and local exchange.” --Sandor Katz The Art of Fermentation
Kate Castagnola distinctly remembers the first Boonville Farmers’ Market planning meeting, “It was shortly after we moved here in December of 1990. The meeting was at the Hotel. Lauren was there, Alan York, Pippa and Steve, Karen Bates, and Theresa Simon—I can't remember whom else because I didn't know very many people yet! The first market was outside the Hotel in '91--I was working there and made the coffee and scones to sell at the bar--it was a big whoopty-do kick off for the first Boonville Farmers’ Market.”
Karen Bates and Theresa Simon were the catalyst. Karen recalls that Theresa was working at the Apple Farm and they were discussing what to do with their extra fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Karen knew about other farmers’ markets and had contacts. She designed and drew the logo. The Hotel was game. “It was sweet, lovely. I remember Jack and Joni Davis, Gail Meyer—even though no one had much to sell--everyone gathered in the small parking lot at the back door of the Hotel to support the concept.” Coincidentally Rita, Tim and Karen’s youngest and now 22, was born a month or so before the very first Boonville Farmers’ Market (BFM).
The location, now in the larger parking lot, is key. Johnny Schmitt has offered the parking lot of the Boonville Hotel since the market’s inception even though the Hotel staff has to alert most of its overnight guests to park outside on the street. If someone breaches that promise, early Saturday morning the BFM managers have to ask the Hotel staff to find the car’s owner!
The success of the 26 markets each year falls on the shoulders of the market managers. Such luminaries as Susan Addison, Janet Anderson, Barbara Bowers, Jen Burnstad, Kate Castagnola, Karin Espeleta Moore, Rob/Barbara Goodell, Taunia Green, Lauren Keating, Lynda Mc Clure, Bill/Bebing McEwen, Jessica McIninch, Suzi Miller, Diane Paget, Mary Pat Palmer, Jackie Potter-Voll, Bernadette Restuccia, Darius Richmond, Shayla Salzman, Theresa Simon, Jesse Spain, Bill Taylor, Renée Thompson, Wendy Rowe, and Cindy Wilder have served up to four years on the job.
What is it like to be a BFM manager? Imagine putting on a big event each week—set-up/take-down, storage, and advertising—a lot of responsibility. Plus there are before and after the season MCFARM meetings; bookkeeping for each market; writing articles; getting a diversity of vendors/products; storage of the signs, tables, placards, and umbrellas; arranging music; maintenance/replacement of equipment; coordinating the market position of each vendor; screening vendor applications; talking with health inspectors; taking and adding photos to the scrapbooks; collecting/reporting weekly stall fees; keeping dogs out of the market; printing BFM T-shirts, bags, and hats; conducting activities; and making sure all the vendors and customers are following County regulations during market hours. They also need to learn how to process food stamps and WIC. In short, they ensure that the vendors, customers, and Hotel are happy with the market—well, most of them anyway. The compensation for all this? Fifty percent of the vendor’s stall fee (~8.5-10% of their gross sales) becomes the commission paid to the market manager or divided with co-managers. They can do what they wish with those funds, including donating back to the market. Twenty-five percent of the stall fees also become the market's operating/advertising fund for the next season. Then, twenty-five percent goes to MCFARM overhead (office management, space rental fees, insurance, meeting costs, etc.) In other words, market managing in Boonville is a community service.
Three-year manager Susan Addison relates, “I had a great time working with the vendors to bring fresh local produce to the community. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to get to know lots of the folks in the Valley. It also provided a lively venue where friends and neighbors could chat and catch up with one another's lives. I am delighted that the Farmers Market continues to thrive after 22 years.” Bill Taylor of Floodgate Farm reminds us that the, "Boonville Farmers' Market offers an alternative to expensive Santa Rosa or Ukiah trips for food, reducing global warming and putting better quality food into your hands, and your money into the hands of your farmer neighbors rather than the big oil companies. Remember the cost of driving is 4 to 5 times more than the gasoline; it is over 55 cents per mile or $20 for a roundtrip from Boonville to Ukiah."
Current managers, Bill and Bebing McEwen, emphasize, “There is a lot of problem solving involved.” Their daughter Shekina (10 years old) is learning how to deal with the public and set up/take down the market, including their produce stall. She can observe her parents working hard and has learned to make sales and give change. They feel that she also understands that you cannot always depend on others for your food supply. Bill and Bebing enjoy the broad range of people at the market and sharing healthy food. Bill adds, “Fresh berries instead of a corn dog.” Bebing feels the community aspect of the market is so important that some people come just to talk with their friends and neighbors.” They form part of the ambiance. Bebing provides a nicely displayed, tasty selection of fruit-and veggie-infused water for these hot days.
The McEwen’s sell their produce as well as manage. That has not always been the case. Karen remembers that initially they preferred to have managers who were not vending because it was extremely difficult to do both well. However, for years Renée Thompson was able to do both with aplomb. Then for many seasons from one to five co-managers became the vogue. On the advantage of co-managers, Cindy Wilder said, “Over my 4 years I worked with several and each one of them brought their flavor to the market.”
Vendors at the market are hoping for a large group of customers to make their extensive efforts worthwhile. Brock Farms might be the longest-term vendor—replete with their famous Early Girl tomatoes and summer produce. One of the newest is Amanda form Philo Hill Farm—she brings arugula, lettuce, and greens, but will have a larger variety as the season matures. Another is Russian Creek Farm from Potter Valley; Ben and Val have pork, chicken/duck eggs, lettuce, and other greens. By last week the summer veggies and fruits had not come in, but AV Community Farm had sold most of their greens by 10:15, with some lovely lettuce still available.
As a member of the Mendocino County Farmer's Market Association (MCFARM), it is a requirement that all BFM produce, meat, and food vendors register, obtain licenses/permits, pay fees to MCFARM and the County, and observe State regulations—of which there are many. The initial decision to be a part of MCFARM centered on obtaining insurance. At the first organizational meeting Tom Smith and Steve Hall emphatically objected to joining MCFARM—too many regulations and fees. Another issue over the years has been pricing. Regular vendors work really hard to get food from their farm to your fork each week. Count those hours! When someone either comes to good-spiritedly give away their surplus produce or to sell at low prices, the other vendors are impacted.
At the market a wide range of live, local volunteer musicians usually provides an upbeat atmosphere whether it be the Ukeholics, Billy Owens, Rodney Pfeifer, Off the Cuff, Michael/Leslie Hubbert, Stevie D. and friends, or other percussionists. Shoppers can take a break at the open tables and enjoy the music.
In addition to all the garden produce, nuts, fruit, fish, cheese, flowers, bakery goods, and nursery items, the market also welcomes arts/crafts, jams/jellies, herbs, body care products, knife sharpening, massage, and more. For what is currently available at the market you can join the AV Foodshed email list (see below), consult the AVA, or call 895-9348. Laura Baynham shops at the BFM because, “It’s great to come to get what is not yet ready in my own garden—or extend the season.” You can also sport a BFM T-shirt, cloth market bag, and a stylish hat to support the market. As a way raise funds to support low-income customers there was once even a line of Eat Local underwear for sale!
Special activity features have always been a highlight. Suzy Miller especially appreciates the tomato tasting, local music, pumpkin carving, and all the kid’s activities. Some of the other specialty days over the years focused on: wool/ spinning; carrots; peppers (Great Balls on Fire!); corn/acorn/squash; nuts; olives; beans; berries; zukes; fruits; potatoes; stilt walkers; food drying; food preservation; face painting; flowers; herbs; cooking demos; salsa and tortilla making; huevos rancheros; solar cooking; apple tasting; grilling; spring/fall plant sales; Mr.Eleven; book signings including Alice Waters; local food potlucks; lavender; chef demos; gala costumed Halloween; gourds; book exchange; and organized local farm tours. The AV Foodshed brings its old-fashioned apple press to the market in September and October so anyone with extra apples can come to turn them into cider.
Each manager adds to the BFM scrapbooks, which are available for viewing at the market. The photos are incredible—kids as they were growing up, in college, and beyond; locals selling and purchasing freshly-picked food over the years; costumed parties, and the community in action--some people still active and others now only in memory. Jackie Potter-Voll’s news articles are a delight to read.
The BFM is open from May through October on Saturdays from 10-12:30. In shopping at the Boonville Farmers’ Market you recycle your dollars back into the community, support productive jobs, feed yourself truly fresh, healthy food that grew close to home, and mingle with your friends and neighbors. The luscious, sweet, juicy Suncrest peach made famous by David Matsumoto’s Epitaph for a Peach is too tender to be mass marketable. Gowan’s grows that peach and tasting it one hot summer day at a farmers’ market was a special experience I will never forget.