North Bay farmers markets innovate with expanded seasons, delivery to underserved populations
Farmers markets have been around for centuries — the year 1730 to be exact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Back then, these public gatherings served as a way for local vendors to sell their fresh goods to the community. That’s still the case, but nearly 300 years later, farmers markets have greatly evolved.
Today, there are more than 8,000 farmers markets throughout the U.S., according to the department, including dozens in the North Bay area that are now selling food, staging cooking demonstrations, and many moving to year-round operations. At the same time, they’re trying to combat unhealthy diet trends, along with the ability to simply order produce delivered to your home, or even the makings of a meal.
And next month, as part of National Farmers Market Week (Aug. 5-11), the Agricultural Institute of Marin will launch a mobile farmers-market program called The Rollin’ Root, said Andy Naja-Riese, CEO of AIM. The Rollin’ Root will help low-income people who don’t have their own transportation by bringing them healthy foods and education about healthy eating, Naja-Riese said.
The program will begin in Marin, and eventually be available throughout the North Bay. The exact rollout date is pending.
Throughout Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties, organizations that manage farmers markets remain focused on supporting local farmers, protecting the environment, advocating for the underserved and educating consumers.
“I’ve been kind of a farmers-market junkie all my life,” said David Layland, president of the Napa Farmers Market Board. Before taking over as president four years ago, he frequented the markets and occasionally provided chef demonstrations on pickle fermenting and cooking with tomatoes.
Chef demonstrations are held weekly at the Napa markets, with the goal of educating people on how to cook healthy meals at home using fresh and local products, Layland said, who also serves as chair of the Napa Local Food Advisory Council. The Napa Farmers Market supports more than 60 small regional farms, with offerings ranging from heirloom apples and Delta asparagus, to potatoes, nursery seedlings and pasture-raised meats.
Next year, the Napa Farmers Market will begin operating year-round rather than its traditional April through November season that runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Layland said.
“We finally felt there was enough demand from the community, and also from our farmers,” he said. “And there’s certainly demand from the community engaged in local artisan foods.”
Three years ago, the market moved from its First Street location to the South Napa Century Center shopping complex, a move that provided much-needed access to electricity and water, and an opportunity to help the environment, Layland said.
“We don’t sell anything in plastic bottles at the market anymore,” he said. “We offer a free water-bottle refill station and sell metal water bottles at about what they cost us.”
More food operators, especially on the bakery side, have been popping up at the farmers market since the Cottage Foods Operations program was enacted into law in 2012, Layland said. The law allows vendors who meet specified requirements to prepare and/or package certain foods in their home kitchens.
The Napa Farmers Market also participates in the CalFresh food stamps program, he said. CalFresh is also known as SNAP, the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“I think (SNAP) is such an important program,” said Carmen Snyder, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization formed in 1973 to create community among food producers, and establish a stronger connection between farmers and the public. Although Farm Trails doesn’t directly oversee farmers markets, many of its farming members participate in the 22 markets located within the county, Snyder said.