The Sonoma Valley offers a cornucopia of farmer’s markets, from the year-round Sonoma Valley Certified Farmer’s Market on Fridays in the Arnold Field parking lot to Sonoma’s Tuesday Night Market on the Plaza (May-September). It’s a pleasure to support these hardworking farmers and to buy our food locally. You’ll have a lot more fun if you understand a few basic do’s and don’ts, the farmers will appreciate your savvy, and you’ll be able to build a great relationship with the neighbor growing your food.
Given all the fun that surrounds Sonoma Valley’s farmers markets—particularly the Tuesday Night Market on the Plaza—there may be a temptation to treat the market like it’s a party. Just remember that this is a work night for the farmers, and they really appreciate people customers who navigate the market with these seven simple rules, all endorsed by Sonoma’s beloved Hilda Swartz, longtime Manager and Fairy Godmother of the Sonoma Valley Certified Farmers and Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Markets.
- Be an early bird, but not too early: Early in the morning, farmers are busy setting up their tables and displaying their goods before the market’s start, but if you arrive on the earlier side of the official market hours, you’re guaranteed to get the first pick of all the beautiful produce. “It’s worth the effort to come early,” said Hilde, “but the customers are really pushing us on Friday mornings,” said Hilda. “We’re grateful for their enthusiasm, but we really need to make sure the farmers are set up first.”
- Come prepared: For easy and speedy transactions, come prepared with cash (small denominations, please!) and reusable shopping bags or baskets. Farmers are bound to their tables for the entirety of the market, so leaving to get change or search for a bag is a big inconvenience. Forgot yours at home? No worries. Hilda mentioned that mesh vegetable sacks will soon be available for purchase for cost at the Friday market.
- Seasonal means of the season: Our farmers always bring the freshest, seasonal California-grown produce to the market, so when you ask for acorn squash in May or tomatoes in December, just be warned: you may get a few strange looks. Check out CUESA’s Vegetable Seasonality Chart for some ideas before you go.
- Sample with dignity: We all know the people who use confuse food samples with lunch. The farmers do, too—too many, in fact. Ask politely for a sample before grabbing one, and please treat it as a taste of their goods, not a meal. That means no seconds or double-dipping—we see you!
- Ask good questions: Curious about one of those crazy Buddha Hand citrons? Never tried cranberry beans before? Don’t know the difference between sustainable and organic farming? Just ask. But please be mindful of your timing. Having a table full of customers is a tough time for farmers to answer too many questions.
- Haggling is bad manners: Farmers work hard to set their pricing. If you wouldn’t haggle in a supermarket, you shouldn’t haggle at a farmer’s market. However, if you show up in the last few minutes of the market, some farmers may be willing to give you a discount—at their discretion, of course.
- Keep your kiddies on their best behavior and keep your dogs at home: Got a sick toddler who loves touching things? Please keep their hands off the table. Have a puppy who wants to come along for the adventure? Unless they are a leashed and certified service dog, the law says they aren’t allowed on market grounds—and this includes the Plaza, too.
“Remember, support your local farmers!” Hilda said. “We are fortunate to have a lot of small local farmers in Sonoma County. And if you haven’t tried our dates yet, come sample the 27 different varietals of organic dates we now have at the Friday market. They’re delicious!”