Zip Up Your Parka and Go…to a Farmers Market!

, senior analyst, Food and Environment | January 11, 2012, 6:58 pm EDT
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Snow is in my local forecast for this weekend, but that won’t stop me from visiting a farmers market. And apparently I’m not alone.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the number of winter farmers markets is increasing steadily nationwide, which is good news for local growers and consumers alike.

Not just in the Sun Belt

According to the department’s updated National Farmers Market Directory, the number of winter markets has increased 38 percent since 2010, from 886 to 1,225. These winter markets also account for nearly 17 percent of the nation’s 7,222 operating farmers markets.

And that growth isn’t just occurring in warm weather states. In fact, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Michigan—all known for cold winters—are among the top 10 states for winter markets.

Hoop house at Star Hollow Farm in Pennsylvania.

According to the USDA, one of the reasons winter farmers markets are more feasible than they used to be is that many produce growers in colder climates have adopted “hoop house” technology. These inexpensive, unheated greenhouses (also known as high tunnels or passive solar greenhouses) enable farmers to extend their production seasons by sheltering plants from wind, snow, and ice and trapping solar radiation to create a warmer environment for growing plants. With this simple technology, farmers can start certain crops earlier in the spring and keep them going well into the winter.

Winter CSAs, too

Even where there’s not an organized year-round market, farmers are experimenting with other ways to extend their selling season through the winter.

I recently renewed my membership in the online CSA at Star Hollow Farm, run by the Treichler family in Three Springs, Pennsylvania. This Saturday morning, I’ll pick up a box containing a variety of fresh winter-season items, including apples, carrots, and cabbage from cold storage; kale and salad greens from the Treichler’s hoop house; and eggs from their flock of free-roaming hens.

Anecdotally, it seems that more growers are getting in on the act. One vendor at my one of my favorite DC neighborhood markets has for a few years made monthly winter deliveries to DC customers who pre-order beef, ducks, chickens, and eggs. And before the market shut down for the season in November, I noticed a number of other vendors advertising new winter CSAs.

Help support winter markets and CSAs

In addition to shopping at a winter market (find one using the USDA directory), you can help encourage this phenomenon by urging Congress to get behind programs—like the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program—that can support year-round local food systems.

And after you do that, you might want to try what I’m going to do with my CSA cabbage and eggs. (Trust me, you won’t be sorry.)

Posted in: Food and Agriculture

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  • D A Mazer

    I’ve been looking into vertical farm production. One of the huge +’s is the availability for fresh local healthy food year round (I’m in Ontario). Done properly I like to believe that it can even win on price! I would appreciate any info you may have on the subject. Thanks.

  • Bambi, of course, if you find farmers markets too expensive, you don’t have to shop there. But I’m surprised to hear you suggest that Iowa and Vermont aren’t the “real world.” Really?

  • Leslie

    Summer farmers markets are pricey, winter markets even more so. Nice if you can afford it, I suppose.

    • Leslie, maybe you should look again. Although many people assume farmers markets are more expensive than supermarkets, several recent surveys have found that’s not necessarily true. In fact, this study in Iowa (http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs-and-papers/2009-12-local-food-more-expensive), this one in Vermont (http://nofavt.org/pricestudy), and this one in the Southeast (http://www.ruralscale.com/resources/downloads/farmers-market-study.pdf) found that prices for in-season produce at farmers markets are often about the same as–and sometimes lower than–prices for comparable items at area supermarkets. This is especially true if you are interested in organic produce, as many families are.

      • Bambi

        I don’t know, but I agree with Leslie. This stuff is expensive. Especially if you aren’t earning nearly as much as 3 years ago. And food prices have only soared during that time. So sorry, like Leslie, I’m not in the market for super expensive treats at our house this winter either. Your response to Leslie seems a little insensitive, at minimum. I mean, do you really think some biased study from Iowa or Vermont matters one little bit out here in the real world? Is that supposed to make us feel better, maybe feel richer or something?

  • Miriam

    Yum, Orangette recipes always work out. I’ll have to try this with my CSA goodies!

    • Miriam, let me know if you try it! I never knew cabbage could be so delicious…