It didn’t take long for people to form a line in front of the booth giving away free salads on opening day of the new growers market held in the county’s government center parking lot.
“It’s excellent,” said one customer as she tried a salad of mixed spring greens, sliced radishes, berries, chopped almonds and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
“We’d like you to try it, then go buy it from the vendors,” said Cindy Fake, Horticulture and Small Farms Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension serving Placer and Nevada Counties.
Fake handed out salads and recipe cards at the Rood Center June 11, as part of a program she administers with UCCE Farm Advisor Roger Ingram.
It’s a state-funded program that is designed to boost awareness and consumption of local food while increasing dollars that go into farmers’ pockets.
On average, less than two percent of the population buys local produce regularly, according to Fake.
The tastings at the new afternoon Nevada County Growers Market at the Rood Center was the first in a series to be held in the county through the summer.
Funding for the program comes from a grant called, “Consumer Outreach to Enhance Awareness and Marketing of Specialty Crops in the Sierra Foothills” issued by California Department of Food and Agriculture through their Specialty Crops program.
The two year, nine month grant totaling $387,796 funds staffing, produce purchases, farmers’ market vouchers, education outreach, and development of informational materials.
Besides the tastings, locavores can look forward to cooking demos, farm tours, community dinners, farmer education, producer and consumer surveys, consumer outreach and education through produce cards, Facebook and a new website.
For last week’s sample salads, UCCE purchased greens and radishes from Starbright Acres Family Farm, First Rain Farm and Johnson Family Farm; strawberries and blackberries from Yoon Chao’s, Robertson Family Farm and Xiong Family Farms; almonds from Feather River Farms and EGB and olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Calolea.
“Any way to expose customers to new foods and ways to eat healthy, local produce is beneficial to farmers,” said Aleta Barrett of Starbright Acres.
Three full-time farmers work part time on the project: Molly Nakahara of Dinner Bell Farm, Dan Macon of Flying Mule Farm and Jim Muck of Farmer Jim’s Produce. Leda McDaniel, formerly of Four Frog Farm also works for the extension office, and with Nakahara, helped create the salad recipe.
“We try to build a recipe that features items available in that market that day. We try to feature ingredients that people may not be familiar with or combinations that may be new to them. Getting people to try something new that really tastes good, then providing them with a recipe and nutritional information is a great way to get people to buy more produce,” said Fake.
Giving them produce vouchers also increases sales. Most spend well above the $5 voucher, Fake said.
“We do surveys of consumers and producers to get an idea of how things are working, and thus far, it sure seems to be working, and both producers and consumers love it,” Fake said.
Diane Livingston of Grass Valley said the salad might encourage her to buy chopped nuts from a market vendor.
On June 11, UCCE served more than 130 samples of spring greens salad along with take away recipe cards and information about local produce.
Since November, UCCE has held eight tastings, most in Placer County markets. In the first six months of the program, the tastings and $5 vouchers have generated $7,000 in sales for foothill farmers.
“The tastings at the Old Town Auburn market have created a great buzz that seems to be bringing new people to the market, which benefits all growers,” said Sheep Rancher Dan Macon.
Including tastings at market helps to create an environment where customers are more willing to try new things, Macon said. Also, the voucher program at the Auburn Market has shown a redemption rate of more than 75 percent, he added.
In established markets, sales have increased for featured products between 71 percent and 149 percent with higher sales continuing for up to four weeks after the tasting, Fake said.
“Now people are excited every time we do a tasting,” Fake said.
The next Nevada County tasting will be June 29 and July 6 at Nevada County Growers Market at the North Star House.
On July 9, UCCE will return to the Rood Center market, and beginning July 25, they will set up shop at the evening Mill Street market in downtown Grass Valley. In July, look for the popular Smoothie bike making peach berry smoothies at each location.
For more information look for updates and recipes on Facebook: www.facebook.com/EatLocalPlacerAndNevada
Or website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/EatLocalPlacerNevada/
Contact freelance reporter Laura Brown at email@example.com or 401-4877.
Spring Salad with Fresh Fruit and Nuts
6 cups mixed greens or lettuces
1⁄2 cup seasonal berries and/or sliced peaches or other seasonal fruit
3 radishes, thinly sliced
1⁄4 cup chopped, toasted
walnuts or almonds
1⁄4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar, other vinegar, or lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Toss greens in a large bowl with 2⁄3 of the dressing. Divide the salad among six plates and top with berries/fruit, radishes and nuts. Drizzle the remaining dressing over each salad.
Peach Berry Smoothie
3 cups fresh peaches, pitted and peeled
2 cups fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc.)
1 cup vanilla yogurt
1 - 1 1/2 cups of ice (add more to desired consistency)
Blend all ingredients until smooth. Tangy and tasty! Makes two servings.
Recipes by UC Cooperative Extension Specialty Crops Program