Investing in the community: New farmers market manager finds her place in Nevada City | TheUnion.com

Investing in the community: New farmers market manager finds her place in Nevada City

From the moment she first strolled the outdoor local produce market on Union Street as an out-of-town-visitor, Stephanie Stevens was instantly charmed.

"It was really very impressive. Agriculture is what makes a community vibrant. People are really committed to supporting local farmers up here," Stevens said.

In January, Stephanie Stevens, became the Market Manager for Nevada City Farmers Market. Started in 2008, the market has grown in popularity attracting a vibrant downtown Saturday morning social scene that goes beyond produce.

This year, the community market opened a week earlier and beginning in December, six farmers will set up in Robinson Plaza once a month to launch a new winter market experiment through the cold season.

Stevens was a professional ballet dancer living and studying in San Francisco when she fell in love with Nevada County several years ago. Upon moving to the area in 2013, Stevens landed her first job at a small farm in Penn Valley moving rocks, setting up irrigation lines and building fences. She went on to work at a permaculture farm and became the Workshop Manager at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, organizing classes on cheese making and cover cropping. She dreams of starting her own farm someday and feels she has found her place in the world as an advocate for small farms.

"It's the only thing that I have ever felt that was really in my gut," she said.

On market day, she wakes early, before dawn to be on the street with clipboard in hand to greet the vendors by 6:30 a.m. She remembers her nerves the night before her first opening day.

"I don't think I slept much the first day. I was nervous but now I look forward to it," she said.

Each Saturday, the market boasts 39 booths with 50 vendors signed up through November with even more on a waiting list from the region's 75 mile radius.

"Now we're cross walk to cross walk," said Jane Sangwine-Yager operations manager, and a regular, "indispensable" market supporter since day one.

Community volunteers and a strong board are the backbone of the market's success. Early birds and a loyal following come as soon as the cow bell is rung with many newcomers discovering the market weekly.

A self-proclaimed dabbler in everything, Stevens says the biggest learning curve of her new 20 hour a week job is hearing the needs of folks — those tricky interpersonal relationships — and navigating the myriad of state and local food regulations. She is learning from the mentorship of the market board and has interest in pursuing agricultural law so she can further advocate for farmers.

"I think small farmers in all communities are important because they are the future of our food system," she said.

This year, Stevens welcomes familiar faces along with new farmers and vendors including: Pegasus Falafel with Israel-inspired ice cream pops made with raw cashew, coconut milk and chia seeds; local cheese from Wheyward Girl Creamery; mixed produce from San Juan Ridge-based Fog Dog Farm; microgreens and vegetable starts from Flying Cloud Farm; ceramics from Yvonne Dockter and fine teas with health benefits from NIUKA tea.

As in previous years, 211 will have a booth offering an EBT (food stamps) token match program.

"We try to encourage people to eat healthier and support local farmers," said Christina Mettert, a market volunteer for the past four years. For her, being a volunteer is a way to feel empowered in a sometimes troubling world. Mettert is among a core group of 10 – 15 rotating volunteers.

"I get to meet the people who grow our food. How cool is that?" Mettert said.

This summer, a new partnership with BriarPatch Co-op brings tasting samples such as a slaw made from Riverhill Farm and Super Tuber Farm produce.

"We're really excited about this partnership. Their chefs are a delight to work with," Stevens said.

On Aug. 27, families can look forward to a number of fun, free activities during Kid Day: a fire truck, farm-themed flash photo booth, prizes, dress up, facepainting, $2 coupons and a free raffle. Stevens likes the idea of fostering a stake in the market at an early age.

"People really feel invested. It's a place for them," she said.

For many, convenience can be a deterrent to shopping at a farmers market. Yet, that shift in consciousness and behavior is what will make a local food system thrive and a more resilient community.

"It's almost symbolic, it's a radical act to shop at market," she said.

To learn more, visit: http://www.ncfarmersmarket.org/

Contact Freelance Writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.