Agriculture

Modesto farmers market returns for 38th season

John Bava of Bava Farms, gets turnips ready for Saturday's Farmers Market Thursday morning (03-24-16) in a field on Dale Road north of Kiernan Avenue in Modesto, Calif. Bava Farms grows onions, kale, hothouse tomatoes and other vegetables to sell at the market.
John Bava of Bava Farms, gets turnips ready for Saturday's Farmers Market Thursday morning (03-24-16) in a field on Dale Road north of Kiernan Avenue in Modesto, Calif. Bava Farms grows onions, kale, hothouse tomatoes and other vegetables to sell at the market. jlee@modbee.com

The 38th season launches Saturday for the Modesto Certified Farmers Market, teeming with healthy food and blessedly free of City Hall intrigue.

Dozens of vendors will stand ready at 7 a.m. with cool-season vegetables, dried fruit from the 2015 harvest, and many other fresh and prepared goods. It’s a welcome day for local-food fans who might be weary of the controversy over who should run the Turlock market.

The Modesto venue, one of the pioneers of the farmers market movement in the 1970s, once again will be on a closed-off block of 16th Street. Opening day will feature an Easter egg hunt for kids.

John Bava, a vendor for the past decade, has kale, onions and a few other field crops ready for the opening, along with greenhouse tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers.

“Farmers markets are not what you would call big money-makers for the farmers,” Bava said Thursday morning at one of his fields on the edges of Modesto, “but they’re an outlet for the community to get natural, local produce.”

He farms a total of about 300 owned and leased acres with his brother, Dan Bava, and cousin, Craig Bava. They grow almonds, walnuts and dairy feed along with vegetables. They also gather wild mushrooms in mountain areas, but they are not yet ready for market.

Other booths Saturday will offer strawberries, salad greens, potatoes, eggs, honey, meat, baked goods, olive oil, cheese and more. The market has several craft and hot-food vendors.

Once again, low-income residents can shop at the market with the debit-type cards issued by the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. That spending power will soon double, thanks to the market’s inclusion for 2016 in a federal grant that matches what card-holders spend on produce, manager Marie Uber said. She hopes to launch it in April.

Farmers markets in Riverbank, Fresno and Visalia also are in the match program under a $3.7 million grant to the Ecology Center in Berkeley.

Another $97,207 federal grant will tie the Modesto market to healthy-cooking classes this summer for students from Roosevelt and La Loma junior high schools. The students will learn from a chef and other experts in the First United Methodist Church hall, which is on the same block.

The market’s twice-a-week schedule will run to mid-November, followed by three Saturdays in December. Its board also plans a May or June launch for a Thursday evening venue on two blocks of Tenth Street, in cooperation with the Modesto Improvement Partnership.

The 16th Street market is one of the first to open each year in the northern San Joaquin Valley. The Merced Certified Farmers Market runs year-round.

And Turlock? It will be run this year by Peter and Maia Cipponeri, who got City Council approval Tuesday after fierce protest from supporters of the nonprofit group that established the market.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

At a glance

What: Modesto Certified Farmers Market

When: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays

Where: 16th Street between H and I streets (Thursday evening market on Tenth Street could be added soon)

Online: www.modestocfm.com

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