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As farmers markets close for winter, shoppers and sellers consider next steps

Posted by  October 29, 2013 10:31 AM

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Hearty fall produce remained in bounty at the booths of a dozen farm vendors at SoWa’s last farmers market of the season in the South End.

Pumpkins, squash, radishes, carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes.

The farms providing produce for SoWa's last market of the season were nowhere close to running out of crops for the winter months. But many of the farmers markets in Boston, like SoWa Open Market in the South End, are shutting down until spring, forcing farmers to lose their city customers and shoppers to lose their favorite farm vendors.

"Winter markets in Boston are few, far between, and not profitable," said Eric Lipseir, who works for Spring Brook Farm in Littleton. The farm's greenhouse allows for year-round produce, but the only indoor markets near Boston are in Somerville, Cambridge and Brookline, and Lipseir said these markets don't have the aesthetic needed to pull large crowds.

"The winter market in Wayland, Mass is so busy and popular because it's in a greenhouse,” Lipsier said. “There are plants everywhere.”

That market, however, is in such demand that Spring Brook Farm has been on the market's waitlist for four years.

Boston Public Market Association, a nonprofit organization which hosts markets in Dewey Square and City Hall through November, is making strides in creating an indoor market near North Station. Although a start date has not been identified, the State's Market Commission accepted a 28,000-square-foot building, located at 136 Blackstone St., as the future home of a permanent indoor market, according to BPM's website.

See Sowa Market celebrate its last Sunday of the season.

Sowa Market shoppers voiced the need for a place in the city to buy farm produce year round.

"I would love to see an indoor space in Boston, like San Francisco's Ferry Plaza market," said Sara Shank, a resident of the South End. Like many market-goers, she finds alternative sources during the winter months like Foodies Urban Market in her neighborhood. Her friend, Sara Walker of Cambridge makes a weekly trip to southern New Hampshire to buy produce. Deborah Hull, 60, orders produce from Boston Organics, which is shipped to her home in the South End.

Most farms sit tight during the cold months and wait for the customers to come to them, whether through farmstands, seasonal farm activities or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs which hook customers up with a weekly share of the farmer's seasonal crops.

"Our farm is only half an hour outside of the city," says Elizabeth Nolan, 28, who works for Langwater Farm in North Easton, Mass. "I hope that some Bostonians make the trip."

The root vegetables they're picking now – like squash, watermelon radishes and carrots – will last all winter, but instead of hunting for indoor markets to sell at in the city, she said the farm is finding creative ways to draw crowds to the farm.

"Right now we're doing hayrides,” Nolan said. “School groups come and we teach them about organic produce. Last week a Girl Scout troop came for a tour. Usually when people come for an activity, they buy some of our produce as well.”

The farm also sells Christmas trees during the holidays, and uses the kitchen at a nearby church to make relishes and jellies from their crop of hot peppers.

All help to make it through the winter until the markets open again in spring.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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