Napa Farmers Market: Building Community Around Local Food
by Cara Mae Wooledge, MPH | photos by JL Sousa
This summer is shaping up to be the best yet at the Napa Farmers Market! The season is already sizzling with July’s featured Harvest of the Month picks: sweet corn and plums. Shop and support local farmers and small business vendors every Tuesday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. If you haven’t visited us in a while, we’re located in the City of Napa parking lot, the old Cinedome Theater site, at 1100 West Street in Downtown Napa.
As we begin to put the pandemic behind us, now is the perfect opportunity to reflect on how the Napa Farmers Market was able to build community around local food during a year filled with unprecedented challenges.
Farmers Markets are Essential
In 2020 the Napa Farmers Market remained open and operating as an essential food business without interruption. We accomplished this incredible feat thanks to strong support from Napa City and County government, local businesses, and community partners. Before COVID, the market was enjoyed by many as an optional activity. During the early days of “pandemic panic buying”, the Napa Farmers Market became the only place folks could find some staple items, like eggs.
We all experienced first-hand the fact that farmers markets are essential businesses that support local food systems by keeping farmers farming, small businesses operating and getting local food directly to customers. Rutherford-based Long Meadow Ranch joined the Napa Farmers Market after hearing the call to action at the 2010 Napa County Local Food Forum. Owners Ted and Laddie Hall want to ensure their California Certified Organic produce, meat and eggs stay in our community. “Farmers work so hard to cultivate crops, raise animals humanely and harvest the bounty for everyone to enjoy,” explained Laddie. “Farmers markets play a crucial role in the farm-to-fork destination by providing a place for us to directly connect and build relationships with customers.”
Last year the Napa Farmers Market welcomed 81,224 customer visits while providing community access to local food in a safer shopping environment. Many customers told us our market was the only place they felt safe going outside their home. Even though it wasn’t a typical shopping experience, it provided a much-needed sense of normalcy and routine. Although we couldn’t do all the fun activities like Story Time and Chef Demos, the Napa Farmers Market still served as a community hub for people to connect with their neighbors and the people that make their food.
For our farmers, the Napa Farmers Market remaining open for business without interruption was a crucial lifeline for their small, family-owned farms. Our market served as the home for 37 local and California farms in 2020. In addition to farmers, we supported 71 small business vendors, including 56 Napa County based businesses. Ariella Wolkowicz launched her bagel business, Toasted, in 2016 at the Napa Farmers Market. “I am forever grateful to the Napa Farmers Market for doing whatever they could to allow vendors to operate during COVID,” says Ariella, “As always, the market has provided a space for small businesses to reach the community and provide a source of socialization, learning and connection.”
Fighting Local Food Insecurity
A key component of the Napa Farmers Market’s mission is to address local food insecurity through food assistance and nutrition incentive programs. The numerous economic challenges of 2020 caused a sharp increase in program utilization with nearly 400 low-income Napa County families receiving a record breaking $65,115 in food assistance dollars. Eight years ago, with $500, the Napa Farmers Market started offering CalFresh Market Match, which doubles the value of CalFresh (“food stamp”) benefits to purchase fruits and vegetables. Since 2012, we have provided $122,656 in Market Match dollars to low-income households.
Beyond increasing tight food budgets, CalFresh customer and mom of three, Diana G. says, “Market Match helps me feel good about what I’m feeding my kids. When we shop at the Napa Farmers Market, we feel like we’re a part of our community and my kids know where their food comes from.”
In May 2020, the Napa Farmers Market formed a new partnership with Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center to create the Fruit and Veggie Bucks program to distribute $27,800 donated by Alfredo Pedroza. As a trusted organization, Puertas Abiertas CRC identified Latinx families in need of additional food assistance. Eligible families received $100 of Fruit and Veggie Bucks vouchers to buy produce at the Napa Farmers Market for up to three visits. An additional benefit of the program is the increased sales to Latinx family-owned farms: $20,495 (74%) of Fruit and Veggie Bucks vouchers were spent with five Latinx-owned farms between June 2020 through February 2021. To keep the program going, we jointly applied for and were awarded $20,000 from the 2021-2022 Napa County Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. We are continuing to seek an additional $40,000 from community partners to fully fund our expanded Fruits and Veggie Bucks program.
In addition to food assistance dollars, the Napa Farmers Market is a major source of fresh produce donations in our valley. Last year 33,649 pounds of fruits and vegetables were donated by our farmers and delivered primarily to the Napa Valley Food Bank, but also other organizations providing local food assistance like NEWS Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Services. The Farmers Market to Food Bank program collection and distribution would not be possible without the dedicated support of Napa Valley CanDo and Feeding It Forward Napa Valley.
Become a Friend of the Market
With a return to normal life on the horizon, the Napa Farmers Market is launching a new fundraising program to support our activities: Friends of the Market. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on community support to help us fulfill our mission of providing equitable local food access and educational programs. Funds raised will empower us to offer an enriched customer experience and enhanced education activities, as well as maintain the existing food assistance and nutrition incentive programs that help to feed hundreds of our neighbors.
The Friends of the Market campaign launched June 1 and will run through July 31, 2021. Friends who give $100 or more will receive an exclusive Friend of the Market canvas shopping bag as a special thank you gift!
Donating is easy:
Mail: Send your check to Napa Farmers Market, PO Box 10822, Napa, CA 94581
At the Market: Tuesday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
We thank everyone for their support throughout the pandemic and beyond. Together we can build community around local food. See you at the Napa Farmers Market!