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The first week of August is once again a cause for celebration and recognition. The week of Aug. 4 through 10 is the 20th annual observance of National Farmers Market Week. The summer harvest is in full swing across the country, so what better time to focus on farmers markets and the customers and communities that support them?

Sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the week-long focus aims to “increase awareness of the role local farmers’ markets play in creating healthy communities and in building prosperity among farmers and small businesses,” according to the National Farmers Market Coalition, a nonprofit that works to strengthen farmers markets across the country.

The Napa Farmers Market has been in existence since 1986. And although the location has changed from time to time, it has always been Napa’s farmers market. I moved to Napa from northern Illinois in 1996 and still remember being awestruck by the breadth and quality of fresh produce at the market. None of the original farmers are still selling at the market, but there are quite a few who have been with us for over 20 years.

Michele Bera from Bera Ranch has been selling her beautiful stone fruits at Napa Farmers Market for 28 years and Mark Haberger of Napa’s Big Ranch Farms is not far behind. The market must be doing something right if we can retain farmers this long.

Much has changed in the farmers market world since 1986. In 1994, when the USDA started tracking farmers markets in the country, there were 1,755. Today, there are more than 8,800. The early ‘90s was about the time that the USDA first allowed farmers markets to accept food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP).

In 2009, low-income shoppers spent $4.2 million in SNAP benefits at farmers markets. In 2018, they spent $24 million. SNAP has been a big win for both farmers markets and SNAP beneficiaries. In 2012, the Napa Farmers Market began matching SNAP benefits dollar for dollar. In 2018 the market matched $18,500, which means recipients had $37,000 to spend on healthy produce.

Farmers markets do more than just offer fresh, locally grown food. When a customer makes a purchase at a farmers market, nearly 100 percent of the revenue stays in the hands the producer. According to the USDA, farmers and ranchers receive less than 16 cents of each food dollar spent at traditional retail outlets. The rest goes to processing, distribution and marketing, among other costs.

At most farmers markets, the produce has traveled less than 200 miles, compared to an average of 1,500 miles to reach traditional grocery stores. At the Napa Farmers Market, the average distance from farm to market is 87 miles, and that calculation includes the 539 miles that dates travel from Coachella Valley.

Farmers markets also provide low-risk entry points for new farmers and educational opportunities for the public. With the farmer on site, you can ask about growing practices or get advice about how to store the produce you’re buying.

The Napa Farmers Market is a community gathering spot. Many shoppers meet friends there for breakfast or lunch. The market hosts nonprofit organizations at no charge so they can talk to people.

Napa Farmers Market has served as an incubator for small businesses and has seen vendors such as Rancho Gordo Beans, The Paris Apartment, Monday Bakery and Sweet Pea Bakery graduate from a stall at the market to a brick and mortar store.

Farmers markets also benefit the surrounding businesses. Did you know there was a Thai restaurant, ice cream shop or bike store at the South Napa Century Center until you began visiting the market?

Farmers markets are an essential part of the community. Stop by Napa Farmers Market any Tuesday or Saturday, buy what you need for dinner, pick up a gift, then relax with a cup of coffee and a snack and listen to one of our local musicians. If you’re at the market at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, you can watch a cooking demonstration by a local chef, using products available at the market that day. How cool is that?

Kids activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Tuesday and Saturdays for Story Time at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. There might be coloring, matching games or other fun activities, too.

On the KVYN Music Stage: On Saturday, Aug. 10, James Patrick Regan will be performing. On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Bruno Grossi will be the guest musician.

Harvest of the Month: Through August, enjoy a comparative tasting of melons at the market’s Education Station at 11 a.m.

Grilled Nopales, Pepper and Corn Salad

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Adapted from “The Barbecue Bible” by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing).

8 nopales (cactus paddles)

2 Anaheim peppers, preferably red

4 ears corn, husked

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped tomatoes

Juice of 1 or 2 limes

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

2 avocados, sliced

4 to 6 scallions (white part only), sliced on a diagonal

1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco

If the cactus paddles have not been trimmed, lay them on a flat surface. With a sharp knife, trim the base of the paddle. Trim the outside edge of the paddle with a knife. Carefully slice or scrub the thorny nods from the trimmed paddle. Rinse.

Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. Brush the nopales, peppers and corn with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then grill until soft and slightly charred. The nopales and corn should take about 5 minutes on each side. Grill the peppers until well blistered, then place in a plastic or paper bag for about 20 minutes to loosen skins.

When the nopales are cool, slice into 1-inch strips. Cut corn kernels off the cobs. Remove the skin, stem and seeds from the peppers then cut into 1-inch strips.

In a large bowl, combine the nopales, peppers, corn, tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro and a light drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, garnish with sliced avocado, scallions and queso fresco. Serve at room temperature as a salad or side dish.

Serves 4.

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David Layland is president of the Napa Farmers Market’s board of directors.

Located in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa, the farmers market is open Saturdays year-round and on Tuesdays, April through September, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, to sign up for the newsletter, visit napafarmersmarket.org

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