How farmers markets in Napa, elsewhere in California enhance urban economies
A typical North Bay farmers market includes an array of vendors, from farmers and ranchers to specialty food producers and craftspeople. People are drawn to farmers markets because these vendors make what they sell.
The farmers grow fruits and vegetables; the ranchers raise chickens, pork and lamb; the specialty food vendors produce everything from cookies to pickles to seafood; and the artisans create jewelry, leather goods, and soaps. There are few other places where a shopper can interact directly with the person who made the merchandise.
But farmers markets are much more than just a shopping destination. They also contribute to the local economy, build community, and enhance urban life.
Boosts local farms
Farmers markets provide outlets for small-scale farmers and incubator businesses to sell their wares, and these markets help meet the growing demand for local food. Selling direct-to-consumer gives farmers and small business owners more revenue without the costs of shipping, storage, and inventory control.
And, one USDA study found that most farmers markets customers visit surrounding stores on the same day, a multiplier effect for the local economy.
Overall, there is lots of evidence that proves when food is produced, processed, distributed, and sold in the same region, more money stays in the community, supporting the local economy and creating jobs.
Bring people together
Farmers markets bring people together. A study of Los Angeles farmers markets found that 75 percent of customers came to the market to do more than shop, 55% felt the market increased their connection to the community, 99 percent believed the market improved the health of the community, and 53 percent felt the market improves the perception of the neighborhood.
A Project for Public Spaces study also found that farmers markets shoppers have many more social interactions per visit than a grocery store shopper.
Napa Farmers Market customers spend 45 minutes on average at the market, with some remaining for more than two hours. We provide free space to local nonprofits to encourage civic engagement, hold professional chef demonstrations each Saturday to provide recipe ideas, devote space and staff time to overseeing comparative produce tastings, and host Story Time for children in English and Spanish to create positive connections to fruits and vegetables for our littlest shoppers. The positive correlation between social interaction and health means that farmers markets contribute to community well-being.
Farmers' markets help protect the environment and promote sustainability. On average, America's food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table, a significant jump from 20 years ago. By comparison, farmers' market produce has traveled less than 100 miles from field to consumer. The Napa Farmers Market average is 87 miles. The result is savings on fossil fuel and a reduced impact on the environment.
Many of Napa Farmers Market's customers are also interested in how their food is grown and produced. If shoppers don't like the answer, they buy elsewhere.
Some years ago, I asked one of our vendors why he switched to non-GMO sweet corn, and the answer was simple. His customers wanted non-GMO sweet corn, so it was switch or lose customers.
American Farmland Trust and the Farmers Market Coalition surveyed farmers selling at farmers' markets and found that 75% use practices consistent with organic standards; 48% use integrated pest management; and 81% plant cover crops, minimize tillage and produce their own compost, among other soil-health practices.
Overall, small family farms are working to protect our environment for years to come. Their livelihood depends on it.
We encourage our shoppers to stay green at Napa Farmers Market at our Green Market Booth where we offer free water bottle refills, collect egg cartons and berry baskets for reuse by our farmers and exchange single-use plastic produce bags for reusable mesh produce bags. Clearly market bins around the market encourage shoppers to compost or recycle waste as required.
Enhance food access
Lastly, farmers markets enhance public health. Many accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as CalFresh, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits.
By doing so, farmers markets are helping low-income households enjoy a range of fresh, wholesome foods. Since 2012, Napa Farmers Market has matched CalFresh benefits dollar-for-dollar. We are the only location in the city of Napa to do so. In 2018, matching dollars bought low-income families in Napa $36,000 worth of fresh produce.
Napa Farmers Market operates in a community affected by food insecurity. In response, the market's Help Feed Napa's Hungry campaign encourages shoppers to donate fresh produce purchased at the market to the Napa Food Bank. More than 7,000 pounds of donated or unsold produce has been donated to the Napa Food Bank, Napa's homeless shelter and a handful of other local nonprofit organizations to date this year.
Support the Napa market
The Napa Farmers Market was told in late June that it must find a new location to operate by April 1, 2020. The Napa Farmers Market board of directors is working with Napa city and county officials and experts in the fields of real estate and development to find possible new locations. Location consistency is critical to long-term market success and it is important for the market space to be available at the same time, year after year. And, as evidenced above, Napa Farmers Market is not just a farmers' market but a treasured community resource.
Napa Farmers Market was founded in 1986. We serve thousands of Napa County residents each week. With your support, we are confident that we will be able to transition to a new permanent location where we will continue serving our community as the best and most prominent farmers market in Napa County.