Just because winter is here, that’s no reason to stop eating locally grown and produced food.
Farmers markets, a growing-season staple in many area communities, have begun spreading across the rest of the calendar. According to the state Department of Agriculture, wintertime farmers markets are taking place in Easton, Marshfield, Plymouth (where there are two), and Walpole.
Winter markets are an idea whose time has come for both consumers and farmers, according to Lorrie Gampp Dahlen, manager of the Marshfield Farmers Market, whose “winter series” takes place on the third Saturday each month until May at the Marshfield Fairgrounds.
“So many people came to Marshfield’s November farmers market that we had to extend it another hour,” Dahlen said. Originally planned for three hours, the market now runs four.
“It started three years ago,” Dahlen said. “At first the idea was just to keep in people’s minds that we have a farmers market.”
But state grants to help farmers extend their growing season through upgrading greenhouses or building relatively expensive “high tunnels” — unheated spaces where plants are sheltered by tall plastic enclosures — encouraged local farmers to grow cool-weather crops such as root crops, herbs, and greens like lettuce and arugula through the winter months.
Marshfield’s winter markets have four local vendors who bring crops to the monthly sessions.
Summer Dreams Farm offers mixed lettuce, parsley, and cilantro. Garretson Cranberry Farm & Market offers cranberries in addition to mixed greens, kale, and celery. Rise and Shine Farm sells varieties of beets, sweet potatoes, onions, radishes, and turnips. Meadowmarsh Farm produces watercress, a green that grows under water in the farm’s flowing stream.
Next month’s market, with its theme “Starting Something New,” features a demonstration by builder Doug Lowry on how backyard gardeners can build a high tunnel for growing winter crops. Last year’s demonstration by Lowry on building birdhouses was a big hit, Dahlen said.
“This is just a wave traveling across this country,” said Barbara Anglin, manager of the Plymouth Farmers Market, in its fourth season of holding winter sessions on the second Thursday of each month.
When Anglin started her indoor operation at Plimoth Plantation in 2009, there was only one other winter market in the state. Now, the state says, the number is 41. Anglin’s winter market got its start after a poor tomato growing season had local farmers eager to recoup lost sales by extending their season.
Small farmers in particular have warmed to the idea, she said.
“They are becoming more creative about how to plan in the summer to extend the season and store more crops. So many people have taken to the idea that eating local food is better for everyone,” Anglin said. “The customer base for local food is growing exponentially.”
A case in point, this month’s market drew an estimated 700 shoppers to the plantation’s visitor center.
Next month’s Plymouth Farmers Market will have a special theme, “True to Our Roots,” highlighting the 40th anniversary of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimoth Plantation. The market will feature 40 vendors, with farmers, food-makers, and artisans offering products such as dried cranberries, winter squashes, salad greens, fresh eggs, herbs, raw honey and beeswax candles, alpaca woolens, preserves, breads and buns, pastured meats, and chocolates.
The market will also feature Native American events, including singing with drums, a demonstration of fire cookery, and “earth-based art and craft” pieces made by local artisans.
As popular as these markets have proved, it’s not necessarily easy to get one started, said Chris Kennedy, whose Kennedy’s Country Gardens in Scituate discontinued a winter farmers market after one year.
“It’s still in its infancy,” Kennedy said of winter markets. “You have to have a produce vendor who commits to come on every market. It’s more challenging” to find those growers in the winter.
The Easton Winter Farmers Market is seeking to meet that challenge by moving indoors to Simpson Spring, a family-owned water bottler at 719 Washington St., for sessions every Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market’s offerings include greenhouse-grown produce, local baked goods, pickles, pasta, chocolate, olive oil, eggs, cheese, jams, and crafts.
Another new venue offering weekly sessions, the Plymouth Winter Farmers Market takes place at 10 Cordage Park in North Plymouth every Friday, from 3 to 7 p.m. Sponsored by Explore Historic Plymouth Inc., the market features some 20 vendors selling produce, baked goods, herbal products, olive oil, cheese, meats, and gluten-free products.
The twice-monthly Walpole Winter Farmers Market will take place Jan. 13 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the VFW Hall, 108 Robbins Road. It will offer butternut squash, sweet potatoes, maple syrup, homemade pies, and other products.
All in all, those who put “eat more locally” on their New Year’s list of resolutions won’t have to wait too long to get started.