No vendors to talk to, no customers to schmooze, no cowbell to ring. Tuesday nights lately, Bill Dardon just doesn’t know what to do with himself.
For five months, he worked the Plaza as the president of the Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market. It was the first year for the new group after winning the city contract away from the previous, and contentious, management,
The biggest compliment for the 2011 season, Dardon said, was the lack of any controversy. “There was no drama,” he said. “We had an incredibly successful market.”
The event finished the year financially sound – vendor fees will actually be lowered next year – and with an improved experience for attendees. “One goal was to change the ambience of the market, and I think we did that. It has new life.”
Dardon considers himself the ambassador, walking the event to speak to framers, vendors and shoppers. He started and ended each market with the ringing of his now-famous cowbell. The hands-on approach was a welcome change. “It’s the spirit you bring to it,” he said.
Dardon has been in Sonoma real estate for 37 years and has operated The Real Estate Company on the Plaza since 1987. Still, the veteran businessman admits that when he formed the non-profit Valley of the Moon Certified Farmers Market and pursued the city contract, “I had no idea what I was walking into.”
One key was to run the market like a business, with strong leadership. He gives credit to his board members, a group filled with energy and ideas. “All chiefs and no Indians,” he said. “It’s not supposed to work, but it does.”
The market eliminated commissions from vendors and went to a flat booth fee. More, diverse vendors were brought in, and the market area expanded to encompass the Spain St. side of City Hall.
While it’s still a “farmer first” market, the range of prepared foods grew, as did the diversity of vendors and activities.
After 12 years of applying, Popo the Clown was finally approved.
When Tarot reader Kristine Gorman applied for a booth two years ago, she said the then-manager laughed in her face. 2011 was different. She was approved – why not? – and had a great year.
Another sign of the times is Sheana Davis of the Epicurean Connection. She had her battles with the prior management, but said the experience this year was nothing but positive.
Said Dardon proudly, “We did not have one vendor complaint this year, not one.”
As other improvements he cites an aggressive recycling and composting program, a “free speech zone” for equal political access, and highlighting the activities of non-profit organizations. And the addition of weekly music “really put it over the top.”
Even after throwing a vendor appreciation dinner, and budgeting charity donations and the 2012 fee cut, “All the bills are paid and we’re in the black,” he said. “It was a total success.”
Seeds for 2012 have been planted. The application process is underway, and the board has added several new members. Bill Dardon is planning on the long haul. “As long as I’ve got the energy and the ideas, I’ll be here.”
Photo by ValleyoftheMoonPhotography.com