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The magical produce of Middleton Farm

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If you want to snag the pristine produce from Nancy Skall's Middleton Farm at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market, time is tight. She will be at the market through the end of April. Come May, she shifts to the Healdsburg Farmers Market, not far from her home and farm. She attends the Sebastopol Farmers Market year round.

At last Sunday's Sebastopol market, the sweet aroma of lilacs embraced her customers as they filled their bags with just-harvested rhubarb, perfect leaves of stinging nettles and tender spring garlic. Branches of lilacs hung over the table, shading baskets full of last year's dried garlics, still aromatic and delicious. By 10:30, there was not a lot of asparagus left and for good reason: Skall's asparagus is among the best you'll ever taste.

Deep purple sprouting broccoli goes quickly, too, as do long slender leeks, neatly trimmed, beautiful celery root, shallots, sunchokes, sweet-tart Washington naval oranges and broad leaves of French sorrel.

Delicious beets — white, golden, chioggia and Bull's Blood — have their fresh greens attached.

Fennel is long and delicate, with plenty of fronds to use in salads and to add to soup.

Personally, I am quite fond of Middleton Farm's Italian parsley, an ingredient that is so often dismissed — i.e., "parsley, isn't it all the same?" It's not, and this parsley is exactly what I want, with a delicate texture and robust flavor. It works equally well as a seasoning, a garnish or a simple salad with nothing more than a bit of good olive oil, a tiny squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and a turn of black pepper.

Nancy Skall and her late husband Malcolm founded Middleton Farm in 1989, and it has long had a reputation for having the finest of whatever it is they are growing. As temperatures began warming last weekend, fans of the farm's strawberries began to anticipate their appearance, which could come as soon as this week. Sweet, delicate and richly perfumed, these strawberries are among Sonoma County's most sought-after agricultural treasures.

Before long, there will be summer crops, haricots verts and other bush beans and pole beans, a rainbow of tomatoes, fragrant basil and, come early fall if weather cooperates, delicious Moon and Star watermelons.

Nancy Skall is one of a handful of farmers who pay their employees a good living wage. She also employs organic practices and understands what she grows as well as anyone you'll ever know. There is a bit of magic about her and her produce, a bit of alchemy that comes, I suspect, from deep understanding of the land, the soil and the plants that thrive in it.

Middleton Farm, located off Westside Road in Healdsburg and founded by Nancy and Malcolm Skall in 1989, sells year-round at the Sebastopol Farmers Market and attends three other markets, the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market from late fall to mid spring; the Healdsburg Farmers Market on Saturday from May through November, and the St. Helena Farmers Market from May through October.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</i>

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