Raise your hand if you think farmers’ markets and “buying local” are only for summer. How many of you live in California and think that? I’ll get to you later.
A summer-only mindset is a missed opportunity for farmers and shoppers alike. Shoppers, what do you think farmers do the rest of the year? Farmers, why limit yourself?
Even in the coldest climates, there are intrepid growers who realize summer’s way too short a selling season to sustain a farm and are figuring out how to provide better local ingredients through the “slow season.”
One of my heroes is Chris Kurth of Siena Farms in Sudbury, MA. He is married to talented chef and cookbook author Ana Sortun of Oleana and Sofra. Their farm, a delicious mainstay at the Copley Square Farmers’ Market in Boston, is named for their daughter Siena.
For years, Chris has been lobbying farmers and market operators to think year-round. He reports that after almost two decades of preparation, the Boston Public Market Association is about to build out a large, multi-vendor year-round farmers’ market in the Quincy Market neighborhood. Although most existing farmers’ markets in the Boston area run mid-May through Thanksgiving, more winter markets are popping up every year, including ones in Somerville, Jamaica Plain, and Wayland. The issue is whether winter markets offer enough to make the trip worthwhile for farmers and shoppers.
Three winters ago, Siena Farms began operating its own very small year-round farm store in Boston’s South End. “We’ve given a lot of thought to this ‘winter question’ over the last few years and are trying to ramp up our winter production as well as sales each winter,” Chris says. “One significant step we made was going year-round with our CSA distribution” (which you can learn more about here).
“The more we focus on winter vegetable production, the more we learn about how to store things in the root cellar (dirty rather than clean, for example), how surprisingly long and well a lot of crops do actually store, and also what fresh crops we can grow (micro-greens in the greenhouse, Belgian endive forced in a warm, dark environment from field grown root stock, and so on.). It’s a fun, tasty, and profitable challenge.”
Don’t tell me there’s nothing good and local to eat during a northeastern winter. This week’s Siena Farms CSA share includes rainbow carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage, kohlrabi, winter squash, watermelon radishes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Storage crops, yes, but it’s up to the farmer to believe it’s worth doing the job well enough to keep those foods appealing and salable.
That, plus locally grown fresh salad greens (instead of ones shipped from afar whose shelf life is almost spent before arrival), should brighten even the grayest winter day.
For southern Californians who think eating local is a summer activity only, you are missing three fabulous growing seasons right in your back yard. Please join me on my next farmers’ market tour, February 19, when we uncover the secrets of a glorious winter market.
If you’ve got a winter market you’d like people to know about, please share it in the comments section below, and include a bit about what’s on offer. The first 10 people to share will receive my “5 Smart Things to Do with Winter Greens.” And let me know here if you have photos. I’ll share the best in a future post.
Tune in next time when we look at more winter markets from different areas of the country to inspire you to support and encourage your own local, brave farmers.
Here are a few tasty recipes to get you through the season:
Want more? Secrets of Winter Farmers’ Markets, Part 2
All photos in this post are courtesy of Siena Farms, Sudbury, MA