Alyx Cucci has spent almost her whole life in the city at the top of the bay, attending Petaluma Junior High and Petaluma High School. And now the 26-year-old is going to be the face of one of Petaluma’s best-loved summer events, managing of the downtown farmers’ markets.
Four years ago, she got a job with Petaluma’s Tara Firma Farms, an organic, Community Supported Agriculture farm. “I got into the farm movement,” Cucci says, “people eating real food, trying to get back to their roots.”
One of her jobs there was selling at the Petaluma and Marinwood farmers’ markets. “That’s where I met Erica,” she says, referring to Erica Burns-Gorman, longtime manager of the Petaluma Farmers’ Markets.
After Cucci had her first daughter, she says, laughing, “I planned on going back to work at the farm. I thought I could have a kid full time and work at the farm full time. I thought I’d be back to work in two weeks!”
She realized almost at once that being a mom was more than a casual, part-time job. She’s fortunate, she says, that she can often pick up shifts as a waitress: her husband is Sal Cucci Jr. and his family owns New Yorker Pizza.
Meanwhile, she and Burns-Gorman remained close and Cucci worked with her for two years. Last year, she says, they knew Cucci would eventually be running the market. “Because of working at the farm, I’d had the opportunity to be a vendor, see the market from their side.”
This year, she says, she and Burns-Gorman agreed that “instead of Erica stepping back and me being the only person there, we brought in Paula Downing, who runs the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market. She can give me another point of view.”
Cucci admits that she’s nervous. “It’s going to be new for me, but some parts are familiar: growing produce, raising animals, the slaughter process – the behind-the-scenes part of the real food movement.” And she’ll need to learn how to deal with the inevitable conflicts as well as the sometimes-intimidating rules, regulations and permits.
Still, she knows what a good opportunity it is. “It’s an established market being handed to me, plus I get Erica to help me through it. She’s put almost 20 years into the market. So this is a huge, gift-wrapped package.”
From her point of view, Burns-Gorman says, “It took a long time to find her. She’s the right person, and a perfect fit.”
Cucci smiles when asked about the farmers’ market concept. “I like what it does for the community. And I’m glad we now have the year-round eastside farmers’ market, although we’re not affiliated. The downtown markets give a strong sense of community. People look forward to them. Plus, it’s summer and warm weather – those bring people out.”
The Wednesday night market, she comments, is a very social event, while the Saturday afternoon market is “a little more kid-friendly, since it’s in the park.”
She admits it’s “a lot more work than I thought. “It’s not just showing up for three hours on a Saturday. Erica told me it’s a 40-plus hour a week job and I thought, I’ll change the way she does things to make it not so time-consuming. I tried – but it really does take that long!”
The market has a strong customer base, Cucci says, “people who shop there religiously and can’t wait for the market to open. I’m from a younger generation, and they’re becoming more interested in farm-fresh food, and talking to the person who grows it. I’m hoping to bring a lot of my generation into the market. I want to keep the people who love it and introduce new ones.”
One of her ideas is a donation-based place for shoppers to leave their pets. “Because of health permits, you can’t bring pets to the market,” she explains. This way, people can drop off their pets and do their shopping without breaking rules.
Although having two small girls has cut into her gardening time, Cucci enjoys gardening and is teaching her older daughter the fun of growing her own. And, she says, “When I’m comfortable with the market, I think being a mother and market manager can go hand-in-hand.
“Without sounding cheesy, my family and community are important to me. And if I want my girls to be successful, want them to grow up in a good community, it’s something we all have to work at. It doesn’t just happen: we have to create it.”
One thing Cucci is looking forward to is establishing her own identity. “I’ve been Anastasia Schuster’s daughter,” she says, “and Sal Cucci’s wife, and Gia’s mom and I love those roles. But I’m Alyx and I do have a name. That part’s exciting – to have a life outside those roles.”
The Saturday market is now full for the season, but there are openings for farmers at the Wednesday market. Interested crafters and vendors can get on a waiting list by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Saturday market runs from 2-5:30 p.m. May 19-Nov. 17 in Walnut Park, Fourth and D streets. On Wednesdays, the market is from 4:30-8 p.m. June 6-Aug. 29 in the Theatre District, Second between B and D streets.