Don’t Turn a Cold Shoulder on Winter Farmers Markets
Lest you think that farmers markets are only a summertime pleasure, the USDA’s National Farmer’s Market Directory has news for you.
Winter markets are thriving. There are nearly 900 of them nationwide and they account for more than 14% of the nation’s 6,132 operating farmers markets.
“Fresh, local, and healthful food isn’t just a good weather offering,” says David Shipman, Acting Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. “Clearly in many places, winter markets are hot despite the cold weather.”
Case in point: New York gets top ranking with 153 winter farmers markets across the state. Also high on the list: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.
“Even in states where the traditional growing season is short, the market season is long,” Shipman says. This allows more small and local farmers to continue bringing in income for their families and their businesses, while also providing great, nutritious food to communities year round.”
Results from last year’s count of farmers markets show a 17% increase in numbers and also indicate that markets operating more than seven months out of the year have higher monthly sales than their strictly summer counterparts.
Take Brattleboro, VT’s winter farmers market. It topped $100,000 in sales last year, according to the Brattleboro Reformer. Tim Stevenson, who helped get the market off the ground says he and the board have had to turn away vendors because they’ve run out of space.
“It has grown every year. It’s been very successful,” said Stevenson. “People want to support the local economy and that is what local agriculture is all about,” he told the Reformer.
It makes good economic sense for producers to keep markets open as long as possible: the more markets, the more economic opportunity, not just for farm families but for emerging businesses including community kitchens, small independent processing facilities, manufacturers of special equipment for winter growing, and even food entrepreneurs.
As the Reformer notes: “The growth in winter markets is also driving farmers to change the way they manage the season. When farmers can rely on winter sales, they grow more root crops that store well. And the sales are leading to more innovation, with farmers using hoop houses to extend the growing season and innovative heating techniques such as biodiesel and wood pellets to warm the greenhouses.”
“The great thing is that this is providing an opportunity to diversify the direct marketing,” says Jean Hamilton, the direct marketing coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. “Those are direct dollars that are going back into the farms and that is getting farmers to think about what they are producing for the colder months.”
So if you don’t know of a farmers market near you, check out the National Farmers Market Directory and see what’s near you this winter weekend. You’ll be in good company.
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