Part of a growing trend in the past few years, vendors who typically set up at summer farmers markets are finding refuge indoors, selling their products even in the coldest months.
People like Beth Simpson are making it happen. After vending perennials at farmers markets in Concord, she decided to start up a winter farmers market of her own this year. She co-owns Rolling Green Nursery (64 Breakfast Hill Road, Greenland) and installed a new greenhouse in 2011 for her business, a setting perfect for cold weather markets.
Farmers are implementing season extensions, producing more cold weather root crops and working with the USDA for greenhouse and growing grants. Many smaller producers of sauces, meats, baked goods, jams, honeys, crafts and others are benefiting from being able to take their goods to the market years round. Rolling Green has 30 participating vendors, six more than they have space for, Simpson said.
“There was a huge interest in the idea, almost immediately. Our site is off the beaten path a little bit, but it’s a great way to help our business and expose people to locally sourced products,” she said.
Between her first two markets, more than 500 people came through. Simpson says the response has been great from customers and from vendors.
“Our mission is to encourage healthy living,” Simpson said. “Earlier this season we were offering morning yoga in the greenhouse, and this market is a continuation of those ideas.”
Rolling Green sells a wide variety of herbs and lettuce, but she said the future plan is to grow more and more vegetables in the greenhouse for winter sale. For now, Brookford Farm, Coppal House Farm, Heron Pond Farms, Jesta Farms and others are providing fresh, local vegetables and other products.
Volunteers at the Salem Winter Market (37 Lake St., Salem) have been working under the guidance of director Jane Lang for the past three years. She says their energies for running the off-season market comes from a strong passion for buying fresh and buying local, but also the need for a place to gather.
“At one of the town elections I was helping somebody campaign and I began watching people commiserating. It seemed they hadn’t seen each other in a while, and I thought, ‘This place needs a farmers market, a place to meet everybody’,” she said.
Although it is a town of close to 30,000 people, Lang said, Salem is very spread out. It has no main, central gathering area on which to congregate, but the farmers market, she said, is providing that, plus an education.
“When I think of all the trucks delivering produce to supermarkets, I say, ‘Here’s all this great produce and items being grown and prepared right here, and they’re being sold by the people who know them best,’” Lang said.
She also tries to foster customer-vendor relationships through consistency. Some vendors choose to come to markets only if they’re profitable, but Lang says showing up each week builds trust with customers and is the best way to have a successful market. “There is a turnover from summer to winter vendors, but those who are here each week are the ones that can build a client base,” Lang said.
This year Salem was also approved for EBT cards. Such customers, Lang said, may be tougher to draw in because usually they are stretching dollars, but the health and economic benefits of buying fresh, local foods needs to become more known.
“I think it’s so important to work with our communities, our farmers, and our citizens to educate entire families on these things, so children know how important these values are,” Lang said.
Joan O’Connor, manager of the Tilton Winter Farmers Market (67 East Main St., Tilton), said these values are evolving as demand for the local products increases.
After parting ways with the Concord Winter Market at Cole’s Gardens, she began looking for a place to establish another. In her search she found Dennis Gaudet, owner of the AutoServ Family of Dealerships. Gaudet became fascinated with the market concept and decided to sponsor one of his own as a way of providing summer options a venue in the winter.
“Dennis handed me the keys to a 12,000 square foot building to hold the market. I was blown away that he believed in what we were trying to do. We’re two people from two different worlds but we’re working together for hundreds of others,” O’Connor said.
For this winter, the Town of Tilton was pushing O’Connor to continue the market because of its capacity to create jobs. With a roster of 50 vendors and a waiting list almost double that size, the market consistently draws over 1,000 visitors, she said, and this year it’s opening for a second day.
“A lot of feedback I was getting was that people had to work on Saturday, so we’re opening to cater to them,” she said.
O’Connor professes she runs a tight ship, often asking her vendors to source local ingredients in their own products. Tables at the Tilton market are also left up for the entire season, so she encourages full, nice looking booths each week, she added.
“Offering good food is a responsibility to customers and their children,” O’Connor said. “Some people don’t care about where their products come from, and behind [this] building is a Market Basket, BJs, Walmart and a shopping mecca. If you want that kind of stuff, you can go buy it. But if you want to see the person who made it, grew it, and ask what they’re feeding their pigs or something, you can come here.”