Winter Farmers Markets Are Flourishing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeventeen percent of the 7,222 farmers markets in the United States are now operating winter markets.   According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) during 2011 (the latest calendar year with available statistics) there were 1,225 farmers markets operating in the winter, an increase of 38% from the 886 winter farmers markets operating in 2010.   Most remarkable is that five of the top ten states for winter markets are in cold, Northern states:
(1) New York, 180 winter markets; (2) California, 153 winter markets; (3) Pennsylvania, 78 winter markets; (4) North Carolina, 73 winter markets; (5) Ohio, 50 winter markets; (6) Maryland, 48 winter markets; (7) Florida, 46 winter markets; (8) Massachusetts, 43 winter markets; (9) Virginia, 40 winter markets; and (10) Michigan, 33 winter markets.

The expanded adoption of hoop house technology, which has enabled many smaller growers to extend their production seasons at low cost, has been a contributing factor to the growth of winter farmers markets.  Hoop houses have allowed growers to produce locally-grown products for longer time periods and in colder climates.

Kathleen Merrigan, USDA’s Deputy Secretary, aware that “Consumers are looking for more ways to buy locally grown food throughout the year,” emphasizes that American farmers have been able to “bring in additional income to support their families and businesses” through winter markets.  Deputy Secretary Merrigan oversees the day to day operation of the USDA’s many programs and serves on President Obama’s Management Council where she and other Cabinet deputies work to improve accountability and performance across the federal government.   She previously managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort by the USDA to support local and regional food systems. [Editor’s note- Kathleen Merrigan abruptly resigned her position with the USDA in late April.]

My hometown of Albany in upstate New York, with its average annual snowfall of 63.9 inches is listed 24th on a list of the Top 101 cities (population 50,000 plus) with highest average snowfall a year.  Yet, a few miles north of Albany in neighboring Troy (Rensselaer County), the winter market operated by the Troy Farmers Market is thriving and attracts hundreds of visitors on Saturday mornings throughout our cold upstate winter.

During a recent visit to the Troy Farmers Market on a particularly bitter day in February, I was still able to purchase locally grown greens.  Monkshead Nursery located in Stuyvesant (Columbia County) had fresh salad greens available at $7.00 per pound, which compares favorably to Olivia’s organic greens which cost $6.00 for 11 ounces at my local food co-op.  (A pound of greens, like a pound of feathers, is a bountiful amount.)  I also purchased a 1/2 pound of delicious organic pea shoots for $7.00 from Little Seed Gardens in Chatham (Columbia County).  For days in frigid February, we enjoyed fresh (locally grown) green salads.

The local bounty available in winter is exemplified by  Denison Farm, located a few miles from downtown Troy in Schaghticoke (Rensselaer County) which is a mainstay of the Troy winter market.   Its offerings included baby Swiss chard, mesclun, yellow and red onions, garlic, shallots, daikon radish, beets, celeriac, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, butternut squash and five varieties of potatoes: (1) white, “Salem”; (2) yellow,  “Satina”; (3) Red Maria; (4) Adirondack Blue and (5) Loretta fingerling potatoes.   Denison Farm, Monkshead Nursery and Little Seed Gardens all offer CSA (“community supported agriculture” shares).

Dairy products were also widely available at the Troy market.   A piece of Feta cheese from the Argyle Cheese Farmer (Washington County) and a quart of milk from  Battenkill Valley Creamery were irresistible.  It took enormous willpower to put off the purchase of a quart of Battenkill Valley’s super premium homemade ice cream, made from the farm’s cows.  But not on my next visit to the Troy market: I’ll cave in and relish the difficulty of deciding among the 14 ice-cream flavors available.

I try to follow the guiding principle cogently crafted by Michael Pollan in his Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual to “Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much” and his specific rule #26 to “Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.”  A sign for Sweet Tree Farms’ maple bacon ($13.95/lb) caught my eye, but my sighting was too late since the day’s supply at the market was sold-out.  My preparation of baked beans utilizing an old Horn and Hardart recipe, requiring a couple slices of bacon, will have to be delayed to a later day.

No visit to the Troy farmers market is complete without a purchase of raw honey (exactly as produced in nature and which comes straight from the extractor and is never filtered or heated beyond natural hive temperatures) from Lloyd Spear, beekeeper par excellence.  Amie Collins, the friendly and helpful manager of Lloyd’s stand at the Troy market, persuaded me to purchase a five pound jar of Lloyd’s “Rare Honey, Raw Alfalfa.”  Amie’s offering me a taste of this light amber honey with its exceptionally mild and delicate, yet buttery, flavor was persuasive marketing.
(Frank W. Barrie, 2/13/13)



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