The first Cotati Farmers’ Market of the season bustles with life. Booths with fresh fruits and vegetables and local arts and food vendors fill the park. The Cotati Farmers’ Market takes place every Wednesday evening from 4:30–7:30 p.m., June 2nd through September 29th at La Plaza Park in downtown Cotati at the corner of West Sierra and Old Redwood Highway.
Kelly Smith is the executive director of Agricultural Community Events Farmers’ Markets. The nonprofit operates nine markets throughout Sonoma County and has run the Cotati Farmers’ Market since 2013. The group has also worked to ensure that local markets are accessible to everyone. All of the markets that the organization runs accept CalFresh benefits. In partnership with Petaluma Bounty and the Berkeley Ecology Center, the nonprofit also offers Market Match. The program provides an incentive for CalFresh users to shop at local Farmers’ Markets by matching CalFresh benefits dollar for dollar. The program is available at the Cotati Farmers’ Market for up to ten dollars. This has allowed locally grown, fresh food to be accessible and affordable for CalFresh customers.
Smith says that throughout last year’s fires and lockdowns, the Cotati Farmers’ Market has become more important than ever. It has served as a gathering place for the community, and as an essential service, remained open throughout the summer and fall of last year, despite lockdown orders and smoky air.
The market is already a malleable event, prepared to adjust to changing weather and conditions. When the pandemic rolled around, Smith knew that the local Farmers’ Markets would be able to adapt. Some local Farmers’ Markets implemented curbside pickup programs and sanitation stations were set up at vendor booths. After only having essential vendors at the market, The Cotati Farmers’ Market welcomed back artisan vendors last year. This season, the market maintains plenty of space between booths, suggests that everyone in attendance maintain six feet of social distancing and requires all customers to wear masks. Kelly says it took customers some time getting used to wearing masks at the beginning, but overall, the process has gone smoothly. Now, with California just around the corner from easing restrictions on mask wearing on June 15, Kelly says they occasionally have to remind customers to keep their masks on. Although the market is completely outdoors, it is still mandatory to wear a mask for the time being.
Kelly says the Cotati Farmers’ Market had a lot of success when they switched the day of the market from Thursday to Wednesday evenings last year. They also extended the market through September, which is prime time for harvesting fall produce. The decision to extend the market’s season was made as it became clear that the Farmers’ Market was an important hub for community building in the midst of the pandemic. Since then, the Cotati Farmers’ market has served as a valuable space for people to interact with their community and engage with local businesses and agriculture.
Brenna Stevens is a life-long resident of Cotati. She studies writing, politics, and Spanish at Sarah Lawrence College. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and playing.