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Napa Farmers Market

Napa Farmers Market: Giving thanks for pandemic growth at the Farmers Market

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A friend of mine has a wise saying in times of trouble: “never waste a good crisis.”  What he infers by this is there is always something new to discover about ourselves or our world as we emerge from challenging times.  The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded many of us of all the things and people we should be grateful for, but it has also brought about other behavioral changes that, while still new, are making us better people in better ways.

There are many examples of this all over Napa, but I certainly have witnessed it at our own Napa Farmers Market. I think about the early days of the pandemic and how our Board of Directors and the market staff sprang into action.  In a short period of time, we had to secure new funding, assure our farmers we would not abandon them, vacate our regular site and establish a new one, apply for PPP loans, establish safety protocols with vendors and customers, and ensure public health standards.  Fortuitously, our Market Manager also has a formal education and work history in public health, so we hit the ground running and maintained market operations.  This was important because, little did we know, the Napa Farmers Market would become an essential community service as one of the safest food shopping experiences during the pandemic.  We also didn’t know at the time that we would see the largest attendance rates in the history of the market. 

As we peeled back the other distractions and activities in our lives, so many of us had the opportunity to think about the types of healthy food we put in our bodies.  We thought more about where our food comes from, how it is grown, distributed, and transported.  Many of our residents for the first time discovered the benefits of buying directly from growers.  Cooking more at home allowed us to develop culinary skills we never knew we had, as well as develop a new appreciation for seasonal harvests.  I have personally witnessed shoppers developing new relationships with their favorite vendors and farmers and taking more time to think through their food habits.  

My wife and I learned how to use the market as our primary source of food during the pandemic.  We now focus on what we need, what works for our budget, and we rarely have the impulse purchases we used to have at the grocery store.  Some health and nutrition experts advise you to shop only the perimeter of the grocery store because that’s primarily where you find most of the healthy items.  The Farmers Market is basically the perimeter of a good grocery store, only better.  That’s not to say we don’t once in a while enjoy some of the specialty food vendors’ ready-to-eat treats, or an extra loaf of sourdough from one of the local bakers. 

Behavioral changes are not always easy, and I also want to thank our local shoppers at the market who had to adjust to wearing masks, standing in lines, and not sampling foods.  The majority of you were so respectful of our volunteers and staff.  You appreciated the efforts made, respected the fact that the farmers still needed to have a livelihood, and made it easier for us to host the market.  Occasionally we would have someone who wanted to make a political statement or become impatient with those of us enforcing public health guidelines, but those moments only stand out because they were so rare and unnecessary. 

Through the many challenges of this pandemic, the Napa Farmers Market has emerged as a true community asset, stronger and better in every way.  With the assistance of our local officials and support our community, we have helped farmers stay in business, we have given residents a safe place to shop, we have addressed local food insecurity issues at a record level through our food access programs, and we’ve provided Napa a place to showcase the best of ourselves as a community.  In many ways, the pandemic has strengthened and refined our sense of purpose, and our energy to fulfill it.  The Napa Farmers Market's mission is to support local farmers and provide an inclusive place for our community to purchase farm-fresh, sustainably grown produce, specialty foods, and artisan goods directly from the source.  We strive to educate the consumer, preserve the environment, address food insecurity and connect people to our community partners.  All these goals have taken on greater importance over the last 20 months, and we are grateful for the clarity and community support we’ve gained.

We look forward to emerging from the pandemic with our local community stronger, better, and more vibrant.  Thank you for allowing us to serve Napa during these times.  We made sure indeed, that we did not waste a good crisis. 

Emilia and Joseph entered a contest to win a 'dream' wedding at Napa's Meritage Resort. Watch them get the good news here.

 

 Sandy Sauter is a member of the board of the Napa Farmers Market.

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