The Napa Farmers Market has been open for a little over a month, so it’s a good time to evaluate how we’re doing.
Based on feedback from vendors and customers, the 2016 season is off to a great start. I attend every market and ask just about everyone I encounter, “How are we doing?” Their replies are the best way I know to assess the market’s performance.
When the late Ed Koch was mayor of New York City, he was known to stand on street corners and ask anyone passing by, “How’m I doing?” If it worked for him, it will work for me.
In the market’s previous location on First Street, the major complaint was a lack of parking. There is no lack of parking at South Napa Century Center. Parking availability is something I check every market day and I have yet to find a shortage. At worst, shoppers may have to park two aisles away, but I consider this a sign that the market is drawing a lot of customers.
One good way to assess the market’s success is to stroll down the aisles and note how many farmers and food producers have little left to sell. Recently, I put off shopping until around noon and found Arceo out of cherries and Far West Fungi out of brown mushrooms. Freshway Fish had no salmon left; Way to Life Foods had sold all of its granola; and Sweet Peabody’s had just a few scoops of sorbet left. That’s good news for farmers and food producers but bad news for late-arriving shoppers.
In the past, the Saturday market on Memorial Day weekend was challenging due to BottleRock. In 2013, we didn’t hold a market that weekend due to concerns about parking and vendor access. In 2014 and 2015, we held markets, but as expected, we had parking issues and lower-than-normal attendance.
This year, we had a crowd on Memorial Day weekend. Customers were so plentiful that we realized we may need to expand our seating area so that people don’t have to stand or sit on the curb to eat. I can’t think of a better problem to have. Vendors were a “problem” also. Four asked to attend at the last minute. Thanks to our spacious new location, we were able to accommodate all of them.
I can’t talk about the market’s auspicious beginning without mentioning the Gasser Foundation. Previously, setting up the market involved many temporary steps. On the morning of a market, we would erect temporary fencing as a safety measure to prevent people from crossing the bioswale. The first time we set up our orange plastic fence, John Stewart from the Gasser Foundation said that wouldn’t be necessary. They would build a permanent fence, and they did.
On market mornings, we would use chalk to indicate stall numbers so that vendors could find their spot. John had permanent stall numbers painted on the parking surface. Previously, we would designate handicapped parking with temporary plastic signs. John had permanent handicapped parking signs installed. These are just a few examples of how the Gasser Foundation has helped the Napa Farmers Market.
Now let’s talk about some real problems. We didn’t realize when we changed locations that we would have to reapply for permission to accept EBT cards. Many shoppers rely on EBT cards to afford healthy fruits and vegetables at the market. The market matches EBT benefits dollar-for-dollar, so this situation has inconvenienced many people. We have reapplied and are awaiting a response from the state.
The market has also had a portable toilet problem. We tried leaving the toilets unlocked, but the area’s homeless discovered them, rendering them unusable on market days. We have increased the toilet servicing and started locking them again. The market’s organizers sympathize with all who are homeless but our first concern is our customers.
Not all vendors have seen business improve in the new location. Tourists haven’t found us yet, so sales for our artisans are down a bit.
Speaking for myself and the rest of the board of directors, we’re thrilled with our new location. We’re grateful for loyal patrons who have continued to shop at the market and delighted to have many new customers, too.
Market events: Chef Mauro Pando of Grace’s Table will lead a shop-with-the-chef tour on Tuesday, June 7, from 9-9:30 a.m. The tour is free and open to the first 20 people to sign up at the market’s information booth.
On Saturday, June 11, at 11 a.m., watch chef Levi Mezick of The Harvest Table demonstrate a favorite dish.
On Saturday, June 18, bring your kids to the market for an art project open to all ages. Make one artwork to take home and one to post on the market’s “Kids Grow With Us” bulletin board. Add to your bulletin-board posting on future market visits.
The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May through October, in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. The third Tuesday of every month is Seniors’ Day at the market, with some vendors offering discounts to shoppers 65 and older. Ask about participating vendors at the information booth. For more market information and a schedule of upcoming events, visit NapaFarmersMarket.org.
Roasted Potatoes with Onions and Garlic
This is one of my “go-to” recipes when I need a quick, easy potato dish that’s also nutritious and tasty.
2 pounds red-skin potatoes, left whole if small or cut into 1½-inch chunks if large
8 to 12 small onions, peeled
8 to 12 garlic cloves, peeled
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, marjoram, sage, oregano)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream (optional)
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Combine the potatoes, onions and garlic in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with herbs, salt and pepper. Toss well, then spread in a single layer. Roast until the vegetables are browned and crisp, about 1 hour, turning occasionally with a spatula so the vegetables brown evenly. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream if desired.