Growers cheery as winter farmers' markets swell
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP)--The snow might be piling up in Vermont, but farmers are still selling their produce. This winter, they have more venues.
The number of farmers' markets open year-round has grown from six last year to at least 11 this winter, thanks to rising demand, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont.
From Brattleboro to Grand Isle, farmers are extending their seasons by moving indoors--to gymnasiums and churches--for weekly or monthly markets.
"It's really exciting for everyone involved, from the consumers to the farmers to the market organizers, to have this community event that is continuous throughout the year," said Jean Hamilton, farm share coordinator for the association.
Winter or not, farmers' markets are getting more popular. The number of farmers' markets nationally has grown nearly 7 percent from 2006, to 4,685 this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"It benefits both the consumer and the producer," said Joan Shaffer, a USDA spokeswoman for farmers' markets.
Consumers like to meet the producers and get fresh food and farmers get another outlet for their products, she said.
Also, consumers are concerned about their food and want fresh produce grown locally and farmers are planning ahead, planting crops such as potatoes, turnips and squash that can be stored and sold in winter, Hamilton said.
The number of winter markets where customers pre-buy food from a farm for the season has grown from 6 in 2006 to 22 this winter.
At the Montpelier farmers' market on a recent Saturday, shoppers walked the three rows of vendors in the Vermont College gymnasium, while a guitarist played on the stage. They chatted with farmers as they picked out potatoes, carrots and greens; beef, cheese and eggs.
They sampled sheep and cow's milk cheeses, inspected jams, honey and yarn, and lunched on samosas--pastries filled with spiced vegetables or meat.
"It's excellent," Annie McCleary, 61, of Woodbury, said of the twice-monthly market.
"This is about re-localizing our food, our economy, our community, getting what we need to support true resiliency in our communities. I don't miss one if I can help it."
Carrie Cook, 34, of Montpelier, is another regular. "It's great to be able to get local produce so often in the winter," she said.
It's social, too.
In the small Lake Champlain community of Grand Isle, more than 150 people showed up at two winter markets held this year in a church. "People can come out and have coffee and visit with one another," said Christine Bourque, of Blue Heron Farm.
It's also a long trip--30 to 40 minutes--to big grocery stores in Burlington and St. Albans, she said.
"To be able to have all the farmers, all artisans and the bakers and prepared food people all in one place is such a great thing and people were stocking up the last time," she said.