West Sonoma County Trading Post Promotes Trade and Trust

It is a small outdoor market of a unique variety.

It had a first life as a milking post for cows. Then it was converted into an honor system farm stand with fresh vegetables and flowers.

Its latest iteration is something a little harder to define. And there’s no one here to explain it.

But don’t take this as a sign to stay away. All are welcome here, but this is a self-guided operation.

The sign calls it a trading post. What this means, exactly, can be found in what a visitor is looking for.

Is it a lending library? A clothing cooperative?

Located on the highway. 116 Slightly closer to Guerneville than Forestville, this hands-off crafts market is hosted by Pam and Steve Fitch, who operate the 25-acre Pocket Creek farm that lies west of the road.

It’s on their property, but Steve Fitch insists it’s a community resource. It relies on its users to follow the basic principles of how it works: don’t litter, don’t take more than you need.

On a post is taped an 8 x 11 sheet of paper with “rules” for trading, but there is no one to watch. It is a system based on trust.

There is a blue “karma box” for payment if anyone feels inclined, but it is hidden away and hard to find. It almost seems useful.

The Fitches ask participants in the system to only leave things that have a good chance of being picked up and reused.

Do not leave giant bags of clothes, which someone will be responsible for sorting. Do not leave perishables. Also, please no underwear used. Please.

The idea is to prevent waste, not to create it. It’s giving a second life to useful and interesting things in a new home.

It’s like those little free lending libraries you find on neighborhood streets that operate on a “take one, leave one” rule.

It’s something to take, something to leave outpost of the most eclectic variety.

There was a perfectly working stroller on Thursday morning along with other baby items: a support seat and a pillow which seemed to have gotten a little dirty in the dampness of the night.

Inside the structure were dozens of books. In the kitchen: “The Ex-Boyfriend Cook Book” and “Tapas”.

There was a big box of children’s books not far from a tome: “Christianity in the Twentieth Century.”

There were puzzles (hot products in the pandemic), a Connect 4 game, a sketchbook, packets of dry pasta, a zoology coloring book and a box of 24 cartons of Nestlé Isosource High Nitrogen Complete Nutrition drinks.

And there were clothes. Some in floor bins, but others hung from a rod for better access. Children’s clothes, women’s sandals, an Ace Hardware shirt, and a red t-shirt that read “Warning: Selective Audience.”

The Fitches have been on the farm for eight years and have seen the trading post take on two different lives. Everything is useful, says Steve.

“It evolved a bit over time,” he said.

It’s a real resource for some, and a place to find the occasional curio or treasure for others, he said.

He is aware that it could become an eyesore or a magnet for trash. But that didn’t happen.

Neighbors Carly and Joegh Bullock love the stand. They believe the care the Fitches took to create it prevents people from taking advantage of it – either by throwing large objects or taking more than their fair share.

“The post is like a symbol of connection, the thing that brings everyone together,” Joegh Bullock said.

And that connection means people are watching her, Fitch said.

Fitch said he once received a call from someone who was concerned that “tweakers” were rummaging through the booth.

He showed up to find two people – not adjustments to his way of thinking – sorting, tidying up and generally helping out.

“They were cleaning and organizing,” he said. “They were as happy as they could be to try on jackets. I chatted for a while and said, “Take whatever you can carry. It’s overloaded because people leave so many things.

He also got to know a man who regularly drives two women to the booth to see if they could use an item or two.

“They don’t have transportation,” he said. “His contribution was to give them a ride here.”

As you would expect with any system based solely on trust, some people don’t honor it. People have, in fact, left the sofas. Or bags of clothes. Or broken in the “karma box”.

But they are few, said Fitch.

“I think 95% of people are doing the right thing,” he said.

‘We had rubbish and rubbish put away and it’s daunting but a large percentage of people who love it are taking care of it. We actually have a large number of customers who spend time in their day tidying up space and organizing it.

And even the less good in some brings out the very good in others.

He knows two regulars who, without fanfare, will take obvious rubbish or large items to the nearby dump to keep the post area tidy and to prevent the rubbish from attracting the dumping of more rubbish.

Neighbors like the Bullocks view the operation as a boon, not a burden.

They live close enough to see the trading post through their window. They see objects come and go and see people stop, look and go.

Once someone left a water heater. Carly Bullock feared it would be an eyesore. It was gone in one day.

The Bullocks loved the farm stand. But as it evolved, they also loved the Trading Post. And the goal, to reduce waste and reuse items, is being met, Carly said.

“I would put that down to the community nature of the post and maybe because it’s something official and kind of quaint,” she said. “That people took the time to create a community offering. Maybe there is a sense of respect.

Fitch’s reputation for generosity and trust may also play a role, she said.

“I love being here,” she said. “It’s a community treasure.”

Steve Fitch also likes being here. And as long as it’s used as intended, it’s good to keep it there.

It’s a signal to a higher level of values ​​— of waste reduction, reuse, sharing. And trust.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s the thought that counts,” he said.

“And, hey, it’s free. It’s a gift.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or [email protected] On Twitter @benefield.

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