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Writer and editor Melanie Haiken, picture
Posted by Melanie Haiken on November 30, 2011
Writer and editor Melanie Haiken, picture

Napa: Farmstand Adventures

Posted by Melanie Haiken on November 30, 2011

Road Journals Blog—Wine-tasting may be the primary activity of choice for visitors to the Napa Valley, but vino isn’t this verdant area’s only agricultural product of note. In fact, until the early 1960s, fields of hops and other grains were as likely to line Napa’s country lanes as grapevines.

bees on a honeycomb

Bees work their sweet magic. |Todd Huffman/Wikipedia

Today, a number of interesting family farms are still tucked around the valley’s edges, primarily on the lesser-traveled east side along the Silverado Trail. Many of them sell their produce and other products primarily at the valley’s Farmer’s Markets, but a few are open for visiting; some even offer tours and demonstrations. A few of my favorites:

Marshall’s Honey at the Flying Bee Ranch

Did you know that a third of all our food depends on bees for pollination? Learn fun facts like this and discover the intricacies of beekeeping at Marshall’s, an active apiary in the southeastern end of the valley. If your enthusiasm runs deep, schedule a weekend tour. My group gasped when one of the beekeepers opened a hive for us, pulled out a frame of bees, and showed us the queen—an experience not easily forgotten.

159 Lombard Road, American Canyon; (707) 556-8088.

Clerici Ranch

Raising “artisanal” chickens and Cornish game birds is a full-fledged passion for Barb Clerici, who documents her efforts—and provides great recipes—on her blog, aptly titled That Chicken Ranch in Napa. Their free-range eggs, available at a farmstand at the corner of the Silverado Trail and Oak Knoll Road, are absolutely the best I’ve ever tasted; Barb claims its all the fresh fruit the chickens eat.

I first spotted the farmstand because it’s unstaffed, with nothing but an honor box requesting donations. I had to pull over and pinch myself that someone could still be so trusting in this day and age.

Come early to get eggs before they sell out; they’ll improve any egg dish, but try scrambling them on their own to get the full flavor.

Seasonal produce, from tomatoes to walnuts, is available as well. For chicken, go to the ranch itself; all-natural free-range chickens are available frozen or, by appointment, freshly killed that day. Barb recommends bringing a cooler stocked with ice to keep the meat cool on your drive home.

2224 Oak Knoll Avenue, Napa; (707) 722-2241.

Silverado Trail Strawberry Stand
No one seems to know the name of the family that runs this beloved local institution, and every time I’ve been there the kids who staff it have been shy and tongue-tied.

But when the strawberry stand at the corner of Silverado Trail and Trancas opens in early spring, it’s big news to local chefs and fans of fresh fruit. With good reason: these strawberries, though smaller than the ones you see in the supermarket or from the more southerly Watsonville-area farms, have an intense flavor and firm, almost crunchy texture you’ll come back for year after year.

Silverado Trail at Trancas Street (next to Silverado Veterinary Hospital, where Silverado takes a jog to the left), Napa

This blog post was first published in November 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.