Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the California Small Farms Conference in Davis in part because of a scholarship awarded to me by the California Alliance of Farmers Markets.
The California Small Farm Conference, which welcomed about 500 participants, is a partnership between the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and the Farmers Guild. The two-day event brought together family farmers and the farmers markets that promote their products in a venue encouraging innovation and mutual inspiration.
I’ve been with the Napa Farmers Market for just over a year now, and this conference was my first opportunity to network and learn together with my peers from across the state. On the first day, I attended the Certified California Farmers Market Manager training. One of the most surprising things to me was that many managers consider a market of Napa’s size to be big.
I learned there are many ways communities manage farmers markets: from the nonprofit Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association, which manages 60 farmers markets in the Bay Area, to the Santa Monica Farmers Markets, which are managed by the city government. My most important takeaway from the training is to stay connected to my colleagues so we can pool resources, support each other with lessons learned and celebrate success.
Before the conference, I did a little recon and checked out the Davis Farmers Market. Although I was envious of their permanent market structure, I didn’t get the same vibe as I do every market day in Napa. The missing element was my connection to the community.
Some Napa locals are still annoyed that the Napa Farmers Market is no longer downtown. My opinion is that location is less important than who comes out to support the market and fills the space. The farmers, vendors, nonprofit partners and customers who come together every week give the Napa Farmers Market its unique community feel.
I learned from the conference how important it is to promote seasonality through educational materials like produce guides, recipes and guided produce sampling. Other farmers market managers shared that all their customers, from experienced foodies to eager newbies, consider the opportunity to purchase the freshest seasonal fruit and vegetables the most attractive feature of a farmers market.
Going forward, the Napa Farmers Market will select one fruit and one vegetable as its Harvest of the Month. I am excited to announce that the April Harvest of the Month is strawberries and asparagus. Join us in celebrating these locally grown crops beginning with the return of the Tuesday market on April 2.
Kids Activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Saturday, March 30, for Story Time at 10:30 a.m.
On the KVYN Music Stage: Fred McCarty will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, March 30
Asparagus Risotto with Goat Cheese, Fresh English Peas and Meyer Lemon
This recipe is from the Culinary Institute of America.
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), tough ends trimmed
1 pound fresh English peas, shelled
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, or more as needed
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup minced onion
1 cup arborio rice
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1⁄4 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
3 ounces fresh goat cheese, broken up into small pieces
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest (preferably Meyer lemon)
1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or as needed
Grated goat cheese, for serving
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Prepare 2 large bowls of ice water. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and blanch until bright green and just tender, about 3 minutes. Lift the asparagus out with tongs and immediately place in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and cut the stalks in half crosswise.
Using the same pot of boiling water, add the peas and blanch until they are bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and place in ice water until cold. Drain again.
In a blender or food processor, blend the bottom halves of the asparagus with ¼ cup of water to make a thick purée, about 1 minute. Pass the purée through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the stringy parts. You should have about ¾ cup purée. Cut the remaining asparagus into ½-inch pieces.
In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer.
In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté until it is hot, about 3 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until almost all of the wine is absorbed, about 3 minutes.
Add ½ cup of hot stock to the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Repeat until you have used all of the stock.
Add the asparagus purée and cook until it is almost absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Test the rice for doneness. It should be firm but cooked through. If necessary, add another ¼ cup of stock and continue cooking.
Stir in the cheeses and the reserved asparagus. Reduce the heat to low and cook about 2 minutes to heat the asparagus. Add the lemon zest and reserved peas and stir gently to heat through. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and serve with a sprinkle of grated goat cheese.
Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish, 4 to 6 as a side dish
Cara Mae Wooledge is the Manager of the Napa Farmers Market. She is a passionate community advocate and thinks healthy options should be easy and fun.