Food + Travel

In R.I., locavores thrive year-round

By Margaret Mallory
Globe Correspondent / April 1, 2009

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. - Local produce from Rhode Island and Massachusetts farms has been on sale every Saturday here all through the winter. And even though little is growing, there is plenty to buy. This is good news for the locavores who didn't pay upfront for one of the few winter CSAs.

Now in its second year, the Wintertime Farmers' Market shares space with a group of artists, booksellers, and photographers in a restored red brick mill, appropriately renamed Hope Artiste Village. Walking indoors is entering paradise. Colorful food stalls line both sides of the spacious and bright hallway. Well-stored apples, turnips, carrots, butternut squashes, onions, leeks, and glorious sweet potatoes greet the buyer along with cage-free eggs and artisan cheeses. There are samples galore.

There's more than storage vegetables and dairy products. Meat lovers will find pasture-raised beef, pork, and poultry from Pat's Pastured, Stoney Hill Cattle Farm, and Aquidneck Farms. Allen Farm and Baby Greens, among others, sell crisp sprouts as well as micro greens, planted six weeks earlier and harvested that morning. Plenty of lobsters, scallops, and mountains of clams are available. Behind a huge sign that says "live lobsters," a Matunuck Oyster Farm worker plucks out a giant crustacean - claws are safely wrapped in blue bands - and hams it up to entice buyers and entertain the kids. Cutie Pies and Olga's Cup & Saucer, both bakeries, sell baguettes, loaves, and pies.

A market experience, winter or summer, is different from shopping at a supermarket. Farmers here are eager to talk about their produce and animals. Stoney Hill Cattle Farm, for example, posts an informative diagram of where exactly on the steer its brisket and sirloin come from. We learn that a typical 1,200-pound steer yields only 500 pounds of retail meat. Of that, 22 percent is cut into steaks, 22 percent into roasts, and 26 percent made into ground beef or stew meat. The remaining 30 percent is fat, bone, and shrinkage.

At noon vendors sell samosas, spinach calzones, pizza, goat cheese quiches, and other grab-and-go lunches. Representing Ama de Casa, an initiative of St. Teresa's Church of Providence that aids local immigrants, Rahila Butt is on hand serving fragrant spinach and potato curry from her native Pakistan. She hands out printed recipes in case you want to go home and make it.

In a side room, risd.caters, a group from Rhode Island School of Design, offers cooking demonstrations and hot samples of food. One Saturday they pass out crisp fried oysters and another market day it's smoked pork dipped in a fruity mustard sauce made by Marcia's Chutneys, a local company. If you're looking for a beverage, you'll find Rhode Island cider and Newport Vineyards wine.

Foodstuffs for sale come from Jack's Snacks, a dog bakery, and Hopkins Farm, which makes jams and mustards. Red Horse Farm sells yarn and displays photos of sheep available for adoption. Kafe Lila ice cream flavors include jasmine orange blossom and an exotic blend of rose and white peony. Lila differentiates between organic ice cream made from Rhody fresh milk and vegan ice cream made from organic soy or rice milk. Honey, pesto, and maple syrup are here. April will bring ramps and asparagus. And if you absolutely can't live without citrus - the one exception to local here - you can purchase oranges and grapefruits shipped from Florida.

When it's chilly outside, these growers and farmers insist you can be a locavore, even if it's only one day a week.

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Allen Farm offers pea greens, pesto, salads, and more at Wintertime Farmers' Market. (Margaret Mallory) Allen Farm offers pea greens, pesto, salads, and more at Wintertime Farmers' Market.