In loving memory of Paula Downing: A Remarkable Steward of Sonoma County’s Farmers Markets


Sonoma County lost a cherished treasure and a dear friend to our Sonoma County Farmers’ Markets in early August. Paula Downing sadly passed away, at the age of 82 in her Sebastopol home, overlooking the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Paula’s influence on our community’s farmers markets was nothing short of transformational, and her legacy continues to thrive in the heart of our community.


In the early 1990s, Paula played a pivotal role in the creation of the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market. For the first two years, she was a vendor and served as a board member for the market. Then, when the original market manager had to leave due to family obligations, Paula’s 25 year tenure as the manager of the market began, where she brought to fruition the vision of the market organization: transforming it into a community based event, one where people would come not just for the sake of buying produce, but as a way to pass the time and connect with others. 


Paula’s journey as a market manager continued with the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market, located in the east parking lot of the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. Under her guidance, this market evolved into a vibrant hub for locals and visitors of Sonoma County. 


Paula’s commitment to small farmers was unwavering. She always went the extra mile for each member farm, providing assistance personally or by connecting them with the resources they needed. Her deep understanding and love for farmers made her a beloved figure among the farming community. Her impact was felt far and wide.


Pegi Ball, the current market manager, fondly remembers Paula as an unwavering source of support and wisdom. She shared, “Paula was incredibly supportive and knowledgeable. She reached out to me when I was just starting, answering my questions and offering unwavering support. Her mentorship was invaluable, and many vendors owe their success to her guidance.” Despite her unique personality that sometimes led to friendly disputes, Paula’s dedication to farmers and agriculture was unquestionable, earning immense gratitude from all who crossed her path.


Paula’s markets were not just places to buy fresh produce; they were vibrant community centers. She organized special events throughout the year, from tomato tastings with guest chefs to customer appreciation days and holiday-themed festivities. Paula also made a significant contribution by advocating for fair compensation for farmers, putting an end to the practice of endless requests for donations. 


In addition to her market work, Paula was a passionate advocate for the environment, clean air and water, local foods, and the preservation of biodiversity. She was an integral part of Slow Food Russian River and played a crucial role in efforts to save the Gravenstein Apple. Her impact extended beyond markets, as she tirelessly worked to protect headwaters, combat the use of DDT, and save old-growth trees in Oregon.


Paula’s sister, Barbara, highlighted the remarkable dedication Paula displayed in taking on all these demanding roles. She remarked, “Paula willingly dedicated herself to this challenging work out of her love for the community and her sense of duty.”


Paula’s infectious energy and dedication to her passions were felt by all who knew her. She leaves behind a legacy that will forever shape the landscape of Sonoma County’s farmers markets. While we mourn her loss, we also celebrate a life well lived—a life filled with love, advocacy, and a profound impact on our community. Paula, you will be deeply missed, and your spirit will forever inspire us.


In honor of Paula Downing

October 15, 1941 – August 7, 2023