After suffering a bit of an identity crisis, the St. Helena Farmers’ Market is back to embracing its core mission of bringing the community together through an appreciation for healthy food and the farmers who grow it.

The Friday morning market season resumes May 5 and continues through the end of October at Crane Park, with the usual lineup of food vendors, artisans and educational offerings. The organizers who met with us last week seemed reinvigorated and optimistic compared with their last appearance in 2015, when declining foot traffic was causing them to question the market’s long-term viability.

Board President Wendy Strachan said organizers were forced to take stock last year. Are they running an outdoor grocery store? A craft fair?

They finally settled on an answer we can heartily endorse: the Farmers’ Market offers the opportunity to be a classic small community, a place to meet friends and hear what’s going on around town. The chance not only to buy a tomato, but to chat with the farmer who grew it.

That community-oriented (rather than strictly commercial or industrial) business model is reflected in the storytimes for kids, the annual student art competition, cooking demonstrations with world-class chefs like Christopher Kostow, weekly lectures, school outreach programs run by Amanda Tuttle, the CinemaBites film series at the Cameo, and the Food of Love project, in which kids cook meals for cancer patients and their families.

By the end of the market’s 2016 year, confidence was restored and the foot traffic was inching back up. Hours have returned to the familiar 7:30-noon schedule, after an unsuccessful adjustment last year. That sense of stability is an encouraging sign for one of St. Helena’s most enduring (entering its 31st year) and popular traditions.

Strachan, boardmembers Stacey Bressler and Clark Bentley, and market manager Ed Smith told us about a few new initiatives this year, including a bag swap where you can borrow a reusable bag and bring it back the next week. There’s also a special “mini-fiesta” promotion on May 5 to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

But on the whole, the market is doing the same thing it’s done for going on 31 years: Helping St. Helena feel like a small town.

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