The Calistoga Farmers’ Market provides residents and visitors with a delicious and exciting way to start the weekend.
Going on 20 years, each Saturday, the market takes place at Sharpsteen Plaza at 1311 Washington St. from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Vendors start arriving about 7:30 a.m. to set up their booths and get a cup of coffee from the breakfast booth, run by the market’s manager, Karen Verzosa. Verzosa has run the operation along with a helper since 2004.
“We usually have an average of 24 to 34 vendors, a little fewer in the winter months. They come from as far away as Monterey to right here in Calistoga.” As for customers, “We typically have between 300 people and 500 people come every week,” she said.
Matt Sarconi, a customer at the market, said he enjoys coming because of “the great food and the friendships that I have developed with vendors. My wife and I moved here three years ago. The friendly, kind atmosphere at the market is a large piece of what attracted us,” he said.
Anna Wingfield, owner of Napa Valley Au Naturel, said she sells her essential oils at the market because the atmosphere is quaint.
“I come because I think the market’s got a good vibe. I also love doing alchemy at my house and bringing the oils here,” she said.
Verzosa said that one of the nice aspects of the market is the breakfast booth.
“In January 2012, a market-run breakfast booth was set up to ensure coffee was always available at the market. The breakfast booth sources from local restaurants in order to promote their products. (For example, the) coffee beans (come) from Calistoga Roastery and baked goods from Bella Bakery. All vendors are offered a free cup of coffee every morning,” said Verzosa.
Verzosa also said it is rewarding to bring together a mix of farmers and artisans.
“We don’t charge vendors an arm and a leg to be here. That way many different people can come,” said Verzosa, adding many of the produce vendors come from Sonoma County and the Central Valley, due to the fact that much of Napa County is dedicated to winegrape production.
The market features seasonal organic and traditional produce, jams and jellies, farm eggs, fresh flowers, nuts, meats, and cheeses. Customers can also buy seafood, olive oil, teas, tamales, crepes, and artwork ranging from jewelry to African baskets.
Farmers from The Patch, based in Sonoma, bring vegetables ranging from California pink garlic to Romano beans. Triple T Ranch, based in Santa Rosa, brings a wide variety of peppers, from Serrano to Diablo, pickling cucumbers, and sunflower salad shoots. Far-away producers like Tu Universo Organic Farms, based in Watsonville, bring green beans, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, and artichokes.
Karine Cargo, a vendor for Howell Mountain Fruit Spreads, a jam and jelly producer based in Angwin, likes coming to the market because it runs year-round and people are friendly.
“We sell all kinds of chutneys, including plum, golden plum, blackberry plum, apple, and quince. All of my recipes are low-sugar. We use apple juice (instead of sugar) in a few,” said Cargo.
Part of the reason the market operates so smoothly is that Verzosa is there to listen. She continuously walks through the rows of stalls, talking for a short bit with every vendor. She also offers to man their booth so they can take bathroom and phone breaks as needed.
The market, which is funded by stall and application fees, operates under the auspices of the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce and is overseen by a volunteer advisory board from the community. One of the market’s special programs is the distribution of market gift certificates to organizations like the UpValley Family Centers, the Boys & Girls Club, and senior communities in Calistoga.
“We also donate them to fundraisers like (those at) the Sharpsteen Museum to include in their raffles. Our goal is to encourage people of all income levels to shop at the market. The vendors in turn redeem these certificates from the market manager or use (them) to pay their stall fees,” said Verzosa.
Verzosa said the market’s success is due to collaboration between vendors and loyal shoppers. She said the part of the reason the market is well-attended is that it is one of Napa County’s two year-round farmers markets, the other being in the city of Napa.
Santa Rosa Seafood co-owner Salvatore Svedise drives over the mountain because of the high customer turnout.
“We see over 100 people come to our booth. I sell fish and seafood here from all over the world, from live crabs and smoked salmon spread from Alaska to local rock cod and sea bass,” said Svedise.
Marina Tolstunov, a customer who splits her time between San Francisco and Calistoga, said Svedise’s “black cod and wild salmon are to die for.”
Jennifer Rugge, an artist based in Nevada County, comes to sell her paintings made with natural earth paints, mineral oil, and beeswax twice a month.
“My sister, Tammy Rugge, lives here in Napa County. I stay with her. She also comes to the market, selling her own fabric artwork,” said Rugge.
Oralia Garcia, who sells homemade tamales at the market, has been a vendor since 2004.
“My sister and I run La Prima Pizza in St. Helena. We also sell these tamales, making them from a recipe from my grandmother, who is from Jalisco. We usually sell 24 dozen every Saturday,” said Garcia.
Artist Christopher Sullivan lives on Lake Street in Calistoga and is at the market every Saturday with his colorfully painted, glow-in-the-dark rocks, a big hit with kids young and old.
Additional vendors based in Napa Valley include Napa Valley Tea Company, Big Paw Olive Oil, La Crepe Escape, Ambrosini Olive Oil, and Robert Redus, a jeweler and artist who spends half the year in Calistoga and half the year in New Mexico.
Verzosa said people of all ages are welcome at the market.