Winter is a wonderful time to get outdoors. Besides fighting cabin fever, a winter day can be inspiring. Inspiration might come in the form of a brisk walk with your dog, a trip to the ice-skating rink or even a visit to your local farmer’s market.
With over 3,600 farmers markets now operating year round, it is easier than ever to find fresh local food in your own community all year. The demand is growing exponentially for farmers markets to expand their seasons and even to transition to year-round markets.
“We have actually seen people with tears in their eyes when the markets close for the season,” recalls my husband, Mitch Berliner, about Central Farm Markets. “We decided five years ago to run one of our markets year-round, and this year we have just added our second winter market in response to the high demand and our ability to draw farmers from across three states.”
Even with temperatures sometimes starting the day in the teens, the farmers and artisan-food producers, layered from head to toe, can be found each week cheerily greeting customers with their local meats, eggs, cheeses, fish, baked goods, prepared foods, wool and alpaca products and fresh produce. Items like tomatoes, hearty lettuce, leafy greens and even cucumbers are adorning the tables at winter markets as more and more farmers employ sustainable heating methods and use hoops and greenhouses to grow and protect crops, even though the temperatures are freezing outside.
Unlike the summer months, when the farms hum along, turning out tons of fruits and vegetables, winter presents some challenges for the farmers and vendors besides just a cold selling day. During the winter, chickens lay fewer eggs, greens take longer to grow and even the goats (think cheese and yogurts) slow down. Yet new technology, coupled with careful tending of crops and animals, brings a wonderful variety of foods to the winter farm markets. Some farmers even enhance their market offerings with prepared foods like homemade bone broths, wonderful winter soups, chili and stews and vegetable quiches, all made with farm-raised products.
For market-loving patrons, extending the season also often provides a much-needed excuse to get outdoors. Leaner crowds mean more opportunities to connect with the farmers, too. On the very cold days people shop quickly, but on the slightly warmer days, they may linger with a cup of coffee, chatting with friends or getting a new recipe from their favorite vendor.
Be adventurous, and next weekend, bundle up and go see what your local winter market has to offer. You will be pleasantly surprised.