Local towns have decided to ride on the coattails of their successful summer farmers markets to bring fresh produce and camaraderie to their residents in the winter.
Salem began offering its first winter market on Nov. 20. The city also held its first summer farmers market this year. Jane Lang, volunteer manager of the Salem winter farmers market, hopes both markets become annual community events.
“The summer market was so successful, we had so many people say, ‘Oh, I wish this could continue on,’” Lang said.
The Salem market, Lang said, was created for the southern tier of the state — Salem, Windham and Pelham — an area where she there is not anyplace like a farmers market for community members to buy fresh, local produce in the winter. Each market date features between eight and 15 vendors, a decrease from the summer market, Lang said.
“We’re not getting crowds of people, but the people we’re getting are spending, which I think is the important thing … for these [farmers] this is their business — they’re not a Walmart or Market Basket — it’s their livelihood and it’s nice that we can support them,” Lang said.
The Salem Farmers Market is held the first and third Saturday of every month through March 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.. Because of the holidays, the January markets have been moved to Jan. 15 and 29.
Whether it be homemade jams and relishes or goat cheese and raised beef, Lang said people attend the winter markets because they know they are getting the freshest products possible.
“And the people that provide these products take a lot of pride in what they’re doing,” she added. “I think people really appreciate that.”
Lang said she plans on bringing in performers throughout the market season, including an Irish singer she is “very excited about.”
“I’m trying to reach out to the community to try farmers markets because I bet they would never go back into a grocery store again,” Lang said, with a laugh. “The prices may be a little higher but the quality is so much more superior.”
Lang noted the storage life of farm-fresh products as another reason to shop at farmers markets.
“You are getting such a fresh product that it will have a longer life,” she said.
Farmers markets, Lang added, have proven to be a great way to bring communities together, despite poor economic conditions.
In Derry, farmers market director Beverly Ferrante shared that sentiment.
“It’s about the camaraderie … when you come in, whether it be summer or winter, groups come in talking politics, there are people that graduated together from Pinkerton Academy in the ’50s and ’60s that hadn’t seen each other for years,” Ferrante said. “It is almost like old home day.”
The first Derry winter farmers market began Sunday, Nov. 7, and will be held at 31 West Broadway in Derry on the first and third Sunday of every month through March 20, from noon to 4 pm.
“We chose Sundays because there are enough Saturday markets out there and we were able to pick up extra vendors from those markets,” Ferrante said. The market, she said, draws an average of 23 vendors. Ferrante added that she has already gotten calls for summer market registration.
Filling the basketball court of the Derry Recreation Department are sellers of root vegetables, meats, dairy products, fruit, organic eggs, pickles, jams, fudge, ice cream and gluten-free snacks. Artisans, local wineries and coffee makers also participate in the market.
The students from the agricultural division at Pinkerton are able to learn the farming business by participating at the markets. They also sell homemade doggie treats and collars at the venue.
“They are preparing themselves for their future. … It’s a great tie-in, it really is, because again, it’s working for the community,” Ferrante said.
The local 4-H club has also been invited to show their workmanship and animals at the market in February and March.
“It is just another piece to educate the public,” Ferrante said.
At the end of each Derry farmers market, unsold food donated by farmers is brought to local soup kitchens by members of the Rotary Club, Ferrante said. Community members are also welcome to bring non-perishable items to market to be donated, she added.
Concord will kick off its second winter farmers market at Cole Gardens, 430 Loudon Road, Concord, on Saturday, Jan. 8. The market will be held on the second and fourth Saturday of every month through March 26, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Concord market has grown from 20 to 32 vendors this year.
Concord Farmers Market director Joan O’Connor visited her first winter market, held at a greenhouse in Rollinsford, in 2009. At the market, she said, she found herself “floating” at the thought of being able to buy shrimp directly from a boat captain and fresh garlic. While doing Christmas shopping at Cole Farm that year, she told farm owner Charlie Cole about her experience. When Cole told her he would be closing off half his greenhouse come winter, she asked if he would be willing to host a farmers market in the unused space.
“He said, ‘Sure, if you can get 50 people coming through my door in the dead of the winter on a Saturday I would be happy,” O’Connor said.
The first winter market drew 1,000 people in four hours.
“I kept saying to Charlie, ‘Are you happy?’” O’Connor said.
While O’Connor and Cole now split the $30-per-vendor fee, it is the vendors that are raking in the profits. One vendor, O’Connor said, made $1,500 in one hour during one market and another made $1,700.
“It makes me feel good, helping 20-some-odd farms,” she said. “I slept well that night.”
In the past, O’Connor said many farmers did not store vegetables for the winter as winter markets were scarce. The Concord market features four certified organic farmers and one conventional grower, she said.
“Now that they know we have a market they are growing crops and storing them in bulk,” she added. “They are getting really good with their hoop houses and greenhouses.”
In addition to veggies, meats, nuts, organic bread, honey, cheese, chutney and mushrooms are among the offerings found at the Concord market. O’Connor also peddles her “famous composting worms” at the venue.
“It’s a destination,” O’Connor said, adding that shoppers come to the market from as far as Tilton, Meredith and New Boston.
O’Connor hopes for the Concord farmers market to grow to a point where it can be held year-round.