It’s hard to imagine Sebastopol without a farmers’ market. Sebastopol’s agricultural roots go deep and the area has a long history of agricultural production. Hop fields, berry farms, orchards and vineyards have all seen their time in the sun. Even the “wizard” himself, Luther Burbank, had an experimental farm in Sebastopol. Due to its climate and soils Burbank claimed Sebastopol is one of the best growing regions in the country. Yet it wasn’t until 1986 that the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market first opened in downtown Sebastopol.
The Sebastopol Farmers’ Market is a member-run not for profit that began with a group of intrepid farmers who were eager to get a local market started. The group was made up primarily of energetic counter culture “back to the landers,” as one of the initial members puts it. In the 80s the organic movement was still in its infancy and yet most of the market’s members were already all in. They were obsessed with how to make a living on a farm. Under the influence of permaculture and regenerative farming practices they set out to live the dream they envisioned. The trailblazers began forging a community of farmers that would come to serve the community at large. High on the list of priorities was ensuring that the produce and other goods offered at the market were grown locally. Thereby, reducing the need to truck, ship, or store fruits and vegetables. This ensures farm fresh produce, while at the same time reducing carbon footprint. In turn, this also creates a circular relationship of food resiliency. Supporting local farms and farmers ensures access to fresh nutritious food in the event of a disruption to the now global supply chain. Be it from natural disaster or other emergency. It also stimulates the local economy and maintains Sebastopol’s bucolic rural agricultural setting.
At first the member-vendors felt awkward; it the space provided by the city. This was pre-plaza Sebastopol and a large asphalt parking lot was all that existed at the time. As one of the initial members recollects, vendors felt “swallowed up,” by the parking lot. Signage was poor and there was little to no marketing. The City of Sebastopol however, loved it. The city was very supportive of the farmer’s market and moved the market to the movie theater parking lot across the street while it constructed the downtown plaza to accommodate the market. Although, there were growing pains, “We didn’t know anything about the legal aspects, nor did we care,” recalls one of the initial members. Permitting and paperwork were all hurdles that had to be overcome along the way.
The market has continued to grow and thrive. Once a seasonal market the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market is now year-round, providing those in the know with seasonal fruits and veggies that pair culinary endeavors with calendar months.
Staying true to its Haight Ashbury roots, Sebastopol Farmers’ Market also partners with other not-for profits to bring local produce to those in need, or who are lower income. For example, working with Petaluma Bounty and Petaluma People services the market is currently offering Cal Fresh and pandemic EBT clients a $10 match program at the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market essentially doubling Cal Fresh and pandemic EBT clients purchasing power at the market. The market also does its part in supporting the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) clients. Helping bring nutritious food to the 20 percent of Sonoma County residents who are food insecure. Other partners include Catholic Services, Food Banks, and the Center for Wellbeing in order to increase outreach and provide the less fortunate with market budgets and recipes.
Sebastopol Farmers’ Market is currently taking stock and rebounding from the impacts of the last year. The market was able to stay open during the pandemic shelter-in-place orders. A silver lining for farms, farmers and markets is that they are essential businesses. Restrictions were implemented immediately to make the market as safe as possible. One of the biggest bummers to come out of the restrictions was that there could not be any music at the market. The musical performers bring a joy to the weekly event that everyone misses. Another challenge posed by the restrictions was on the limited real estate. The market was already tight on space and having to keep farm and vendor tents six feet apart was a challenge. In addition, some members opted not to participate during the pandemic due to their own health concerns, dropping member participation below numbers normally seen only in winter. A go fund me account has been set up to compensate for the missing vendors and other revenue losses incurred by the pandemic. To support the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market and to donate you can go online to sebastopolfarmmarket.org. “It’s been a challenging year, but we were successful in keeping the market open and having the people who come to the market feel safe,” stated farmers’ market manager Carla Rosin.
Looking to the future, Sebastopol Farmers’ Market is exploring options and partnerships for expansion. Space is tight in the plaza and there are the issues of parking and traffic to contend with. The market is taking a thoughtful approach and exploring how a move or partnership would affect their farmers, patrons, and the community as a whole. Ideally finding a location where families could spread a blanket and enjoy not only the music but also events, cooking classes, kids programs, as well as include more farmers, vendors and crafts. Until then you can still find the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market every Sunday between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the Sebastopol Plaza on Weeks Way in downtown Sebastopol. As the market looks forward market manager Carla Rosin has nothing but gratitude looking back, “I can’t say this enough, we are all so appreciative for the love we have gotten from the community. It’s amazing, we have farmers selling out weekly. We are so happy to be able to bring fresh food to the community. We wouldn’t be where we are without that.”