The winter and spring weather has been a challenge for many farmers in Northern California. After years of drought, many farms faced flooding, wet soil, unusual pests and diseases due to excess moisture, and delayed planting times.

Despite these challenges, farmers also now have the opportunity to get creative with the spring offerings at the farmers’ market. For shoppers at farmers’ markets, it might seem that farmers don’t have as much to offer, or perhaps some of the products have different sizes, shapes or a blemish here and there.

The farmers’ market offers a great opportunity to connect directly with the farmers and an opportunity to learn more about the process of getting their products to market. Many farmers appreciate customers asking about their farm, and customers learn something at the same time. The good news is, warm weather is on the way, and the winter rains, despite their challenges, were truly a much-needed respite.

Summer crops are almost here. But before the tomato and stone fruit craze begins at the Napa Farmers’ Market, there are some spring vegetables that deserve the spotlight on your dinner menu.

Late spring is one of my favorite times of year, anticipating the abundance of summer fruit and vegetables growing on the farm, yet still able to appreciate the last of the spring greens. Some of the best-tasting salad greens, cooking greens and root crops (beets, radishes, turnips) are at the market now, due to warm daytime temperatures and cooler evenings. But as soon as daytime temperatures top 90°F, root crops and leafy greens become scarce until fall. So now is the time to take home some of these nutrient-rich foods from local farms.

There are so many different ways to use these late-spring crops. Leafy greens like spinach can be eaten raw in salads, juiced, sautéed or steamed. To preserve maximum nutrients, cook them as briefly as possible. The salad recipe that follows features spinach and strawberries, two of my spring favorites.

Chef Demo at the Market: Join chef Greg Cole at the Napa Farmers’ Market on Saturday, May 27, at 11 a.m., as he demonstrates Farmers’ Market Ceviche featuring fresh Alaskan halibut from Freshway Fish. The demo is free and a recipe will be provided.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

Poppyseed Dressing:

1/2 cup Champagne vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1 small shallot

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

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2 quarts fresh spinach, thick stems removed

3 pints strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered

1 cup slivered almonds

8 ounces fresh goat cheese or feta cheese

Make the dressing: In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar and honey. Finely grate the shallot into the bowl. Add the poppy seeds, salt and mustard. Slowly whisk in the oil. The dressing can be made ahead and stored for up to three days.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries, almonds and cheese. Add the dressing and toss gently. Serve immediately.

Serves 8 to 10

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 or visit the market on Facebook.

The Farmers Market accepts WIC, CalFresh EBT cards and the Senior Nutrition Program (available through WIC). CalFresh EBT users can receive double the value of the withdrawal from their EBT account at the market’s information booth.

Thea Rittenhouse is an owner of Gauchito Hill Farm in the Capay Valley and a board member of the Napa Farmers’ Market.

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