While on vacation at Packer Lake in Sierra County I learned about a farmers market that is touted as the only “on-farm” farmers market in the state of California. Locals call it the The Romano’s Farmers Market, aka Sierra Valley Farms Farmers Market . It is not large, it hosts only 10 – 12 hand-selected vendors. It typically opens the first Friday in June and continues for 15 weeks until the second Friday in September. We were in luck it was only the first Friday in September when my sister, Gwen, and I decided to leave the solitude of Packer Lake and travel over to Sierra Valley and see what all the talk was about.
The farm sits on the northern part of Sierra Valley. This valley sits at approximately 4850 feet and is surrounded by mountains ranging in elevation from 6 to 8000 feet. The former lakebed covers 120,000 acres and receives an annual rainfall of less than twenty inches, most falling as snow. It is what I call high desert, filled with grassland, sagebrush and extensive freshwater marshes that drain into the middle fork of the Feather River. It is an important area for migratory bird species that stop over in the fall and nest there in the spring.
It was in the 80s when we arrived around 11am and the wind, which can blow pretty hard here, was gentle, a perfect vacation day. We pulled in to a dirt parking lot, found a spot, grabbed a reusable bag from the back of my car and headed off to do some serious exploring. We had heard that the farmers market is presented among unique old farm buildings; an old grainery built in 1939, now houses a produce stand and walk-in cooler and the quaint farm store, that contains the checkout stand and hand made items for sale, is part of the old chicken shed. To say the setting is quite unique is an understatement.
We wandered through looking at everything from hand made pottery to some tasty looking bakery items, from gorgeous produce to some pretty interesting pasta and olive oils from Pappardelle Pasta (a pretty large company that sells directly at farmers’ markets and a few specialty gourmet retail stores throughout the country). For not needing anything and thinking we would just take a look, we walked out with one of the biggest pineapple heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen (and now that I have eaten the softball sized wonder I can say it was one of the best I have ever tasted), a small package of Southwestern Blend (Blue Corn Ziti, Red Southwestern Chile Lumache, Green Jalapeno Fusilli and Yellow Maize Amore) that I want to use in soup this fall, Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli, a beautiful little cantaloupe, some lovely orange peppers and a couple of bottles of cold water from the cooler in the old grainery.
As we were leaving Sean Conroy, chef at Longboards Bar & Grill, Plumas Pines Golf Resort was setting up for a cooking demonstration. They evidently have one each week, something I have seen at urban farmers markets but out here in the middle of nowhere (sorry Sierra Valley folks), it was really unexpected, but a very nice touch.
Later I read on the market’s website that they also host a \”Dinner in the Barn\”, a four course gourmet meal featuring farm-fresh produce harvested specifically for the dinner. The setting is inside a historic rustic barn overlooking the farm fields. There is a farm tour before the dinner, which is catered by Moody’s Catering in Truckee. If they have one of these during the time I’m at Packer Lake next year I’d really like to go.
If you’re ever up in this neck of the woods during the summer months, seek out this market. It is definitely worth a visit.