Farmers markets are not without controversy; part of a market manager’s job is to mitigate this potential as much as possible by enforcing state and county regulations.
If you’ve noticed the appearance, in recent months, of signs at market stalls that say “We grow everything we sell,” you’re seeing stepped-up enforcement, made possible with funds recently granted by the state. A core requirement of certified markets is that produce be from the farmer selling it.
Produce from a wholesale market cannot be re-sold at a farmers market. This hasn’t been a big problem in Sonoma County but in some parts of the state it is a huge issue.
Some things are left up to individual markets and this is particularly true when it comes to condiments, beverages and prepared foods to enjoy on the spot or take home.
There are no regulations that require ingredients to be sourced locally, though such vendors cannot be set up in the same area as the certified vendors.
Some managers choose vendors who use local ingredients; others pay no attention. Enjoy an omelet and you have no way of knowing where the eggs are from unless you ask.
At the Sebastopol market this Sunday, I asked Kevin Pestell of Cirque du Ferments about this. Shaun Pestell, 27, became fascinated with fermentation about seven years ago and he and his brother Kevin, 22, launched their business in June, 2014.
The Pestell brothers sell kefir, ginger beer and other beverages, kimchee, sauerkraut, pickles and an evolving array of other fermented foods year round.
“We source 90 to 95 percent of our ingredients locally,” he explained, adding that the company spends about $4,000 a month at local farms.
Everything but salt, ginger, spices and a few herbs are from Sonoma County.
Currently, Gravenstein apple and caraway seed is their seasonal kraut, made with cabbage from New Family Farm in Sebastopol and Tierra Vegetables in Santa Rosa.
Last week, they bought a thousand pounds of cabbage. During the month or two when no local cabbage is available, they rely on River Dog Farm, located in Guinda in Yolo County.
This weekend, they’ll have their new fermented Sriracha hot sauce, which previously has been available only in their drinks, for sale. All ingredients, save salt, are from Triple T Ranch in Santa Rosa.
Among their other early-fall offerings are two beverages, made similarly but with different fruit. In one, strawberry puree and Meyer lemon juice is combined with fresh mint and sage and then cultured using a “scoby,” which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
A scoby is not unlike the “mother” used to make vinegar.
Another features watermelon in place of strawberry. Both are bright, delicious and invigorating.
Cirque du Ferments has quickly become a popular fixture at the three markets they attend; soon, they will also be at the Marin County Farmers Market in San Rafael.
They also have a growing roster of individual customers with standing orders and sell four bottled beverages at Santa Rosa’s Community Market. Sebastopol’s Community Market will have them soon.
The Pestells are among a growing number of young people dedicated to truly local foods, created with care and passion, that are both delicious and healthful.