Not so long ago, the end of summer meant the end of fresh, local produce for most of the country, as farmers markets tapered down operations in early fall when the ground started to harden. But not anymore. According to the US Department of Agriculture, winter farmers markets have seen a 38% increase since 2010, and today there are more than 1,200 winter markets operating across the country.
“Consumers are looking for more ways to buy locally grown food throughout the year,” Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan said. “Through winter markets, American farmers are able to meet this need and bring in additional income to support their families and businesses.”
As the USDA’s blog points out, winter farmers markets provide an opportunity for consumers to enjoy winter crops such as squash and pears, fresh from their local farmers. “Our sales at the winter market even out our income over the year, eliminating some of the highs and lows of our financial situation,” Skip Paul, a farmer at Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, RI, told the USDA.
Many markets move inside for the winter months, but not all. “We have a fire pit to help people keep warm and a very loyal following,” Judy Stroske of the Loudoun Valley HomeGrown Markets Cooperative, which runs a winter market in Leesburg, VA, told USA Today. Stroske acknowledged the weather plays a role in what’s available week to week, but there’s always a selection of meat, honey, salsa, baked goods and dairy — and, as she asserted, no refrigeration worries.
As Merrigan told USA Today,”It’s a win-win for consumers and farmers.”
The USDA credits some of the growth in winter markets to the rise in hoop house technology. Hoop houses — simple, inexpensive steel tubing draped with plastic sheeting — allow smaller farmers to extend their growing season at low cost, especially in colder climates. In fact, as USA Today reports, the USDA began helping farmers pay part of the costs for hoop houses in 2009, and has since co-funded about 4,500 — many of them in Wisconsin and Alaska.
And here’s something that may surprise you, many of the states with the most winter markets are in chillier parts of the country. Take a look at the top ten list:
1. New York
4. North Carolina
Don’t know if there’s a winter farmers market near you? Check out the National Farmers Market Directory and make it a New Year’s resolution to buy local — even in the winter.
Photo credit: usda via flickr