Local Farmer’s Markets offer fresh produce direct from the farmer’s

From May through October, I have a standing appointment twice a week with some fruits and vegetables. Every Tuesday and Saturday, as soon as the breakfast dishes are done, I toss a heap of canvas bags in my trunk and head for the Napa Farmers’ Market. I go without a shopping list, because the pleasure for me is the serendipity—not knowing for sure what I will find that day and what will tempt me enough to cart it home. Any morning that starts at a farmers’ market is a good morning.

I’ve been patronizing Northern California farmers’ markets for more than 30 years and wouldn’t want to live in a town without one. As a food writer and cook, my life would be bleaker without the just-picked produce I find there; shopping the market also nourishes my sense of community – of living in a place where people care about small farms, the environment and each other.

Why shop at a farmers’ market when the grocery store is more convenient—and has paper towels and other life sundries to boot? I have my reasons.

The produce at a certified farmers’ market comes straight from the farm to you. It doesn’t go through a distributor or sit in a warehouse. In many cases, it was harvested just hours before. So you won’t find fresher produce unless you grow it yourself.

And at a farmers’ market, the grower receives a retail price, not a wholesale price. For many growers, that difference means survival. If you value the small family farms that make the Bay Area food scene so lively and contribute to our region’s agricultural diversity, then spending your food dollars at a market is one way to show it.

Another benefit: if you have concerns about how your food is grown, you can get the answers direct from the grower. And the growers here are serious about their food, as seen by the many certified organic fruit and vegetable purveyors, as well as eggs from pastured hens and grass-fed beef.

At the market you’ll often find produce varieties that supermarkets don’t carry because they don’t ship or store well. Napa has Bera Ranch’s awesome ‘Blenheim’ apricots and ‘Suncrest’ peaches in summer; fragile boysenberries and rare loganberries from Sebastopol Berry Farm; and Devoto Ranch’s ‘Gravenstein’ apples, (the best for applesauce) in July and August.

The farmers’ market is an outdoor classroom. One can learn so much directly from the farmers about how to select and store produce, how to grow it in my own garden, even how to cook it all. Farmers will often offer a favorite recipe and provide insider cooking tips. If you bring your children they’ll learn that produce has seasons, that onions have greens attached, that all peaches don’t taste the same, and that an actual person grew the food that shows up on their dinner table.

And they can taste before you buy. Not only getting exposed to new and different flavors, but they can help you determine whose peaches are sweetest today, or what tomatoes are ripest? At the market, you don’t have to guess. Most vendors are happy to offer a sample.

The Napa Farmers’ Market is a community gathering spot, a place where retirees meet for pastry and coffee before they shop, where local nonprofits can seek support, and where new food businesses and crafters can get a low-cost start. Like many markets, Napa’s market includes non-produce vendors as well like makers of jewelry, leather goods, and personal-care products, as well as food artisans who sell specialties like handmade granola, pupusas and hummus.

Zucchini will be plentiful at the Napa Farmers’ Market in the weeks ahead. Take some home, light the grill and showcase their flavor in this beautiful dish. NVL

By Janet Fletcher

Grilled Zucchini with Yogurt Sauce, Feta, Lemon and Dill

Serves 4

For eye appeal, use a mix of summer squash—green and golden zucchini and the flat scallopini types. At my house, we like this dish so much that we often dispense with the meat and just have grilled zucchini for dinner, with bulgur, couscous or rice.

3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 large clove garlic, grated or finely minced
Kosher or sea salt
6 small zucchini, about 1-1/4 pounds, halved lengthwise
Extra virgin olive oil
3 ounces feta cheese (about 3/4 cup), chilled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
Medium-hot coarse red pepper, such as Aleppo or Maraş pepper (see Note below), or hot paprika

Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium high.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, and salt to taste. Spread the yogurt sauce on a serving platter large enough to hold all the zucchini in one layer.

Brush the zucchini on both sides with olive oil and season all over with salt. Place cut side down on the grill and cook until nicely browned, then turn and finish cooking on the skin side until they are tender, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the zucchini to the platter, placing them on the yogurt sauce cut side up. Finely crumble the feta over the zucchini. (This is easier to do if the feta is cold.) Combine the dill and lemon zest and scatter over the zucchini, then sprinkle generously with red pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: Whole Spice in Oxbow Public Market carries Aleppo and Maraş pepper.

From Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed Press).