Sunday, January 16, 2011

Winter Farmer's Markets: Inside-Outside USA!

Note: Here's a story I did for Real Eats a couple of months ago and wanted to share. It's a great new iPad app, but also works on any smartphone. You can check it out and sign up for a free trial at
I was blown away when fall crept in that first year manning my table at the farmer’s market. In spring, people would crowd the table, ravenous for fresh fare, as if the strawberries, greens and lettuces were marked-down Manolo Blahniks. And I stood behind the table in my apron, dispensing recipes and gardening advice like a human kiosk, tallying up sales and making change in a routine that continued through the summer months. Once the heirloom tomato and corn season began I was jamming bills in my 501s as fast as a two-bit stripper, selling out of veg and berry before high noon. Then, as the first leaves scattered across the parking lot, I realized I was making perhaps a quarter of the $500 an hour I was grossing just a few weeks earlier.
Daaaaang,” the farmer next to me said as he broke down his tent. Dang is right.
Although many farmers have wisely added winter CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscriptions that carry them through the spare months, subscription-free shoppers may not be aware of the bounty available and where to get it. In the past, a lot of farmers I know have simply thrown in the towel and stopped growing fall crops. But the situation is changing for the better in some parts of the country. What’s new these days are late-season and indoor farmers’ markets that provide farmers with year-round opportunities to sell their produce and farm products. Although they’re mostly located in larger cities, small-town markets can easily adopt the model, setting up inside churches, malls and other public spaces from the California coast to Manhattan Island; up, down, and in between. 
In Chicago two interfaith organizations, the Churches' Center for Land and People (CCLP) and Faith in Place, sponsor the indoor Winter Farmers Markets offering local producers a venue to extend their income beyond the regular growing season. Held in parish halls of congregations of several denominations, these markets are open from November to April, offering customers an opportunity to purchase cheese, grass-fed beef and pastured poultry, bread, honey, vinegars, dried fruits, milled flours, sauces and salsas, preserves, cider and fresh produce as available. In some locations, farmers offer prepared meals in a cafĂ© setting. There’s no fee to farmers though they are asked to donate 10 percent of sales (above a threshold amount) to an Illinois farm crisis fund that provides up to $1,000 to farmers in crisis due to illness or unexpected expenses. Which is a very nice incentive for shoppers if you ask me.
Coastside Farmers' Markets operates two markets along the glorious California coastline in Pacifica (on Wednesdays), and in Half Moon Bay (on Saturdays) from April through the second and third weeks of December, respectively. With a long growing season locals can enjoy a diverse collection of green and root vegetables, fall raspberries, artisanal goat cheese and fresh seasonal seafood such as halibut, cod, rockfish, sardines and November’s crab catch, courtesy of Half Moon Bay fishermen. The market enjoys the support of several outstanding restaurants that boast farm products on their menus, among them Navio (located at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay), which bases several dishes on Giusti Farms’ globe artichokes and Brussels sprouts, among others.
Because of its local support , San Mateo County actually has more farmers now (by five percent) than it did five years ago, according to market founder and manager Erin Tormey.
“We have been a magnet for a lot of young, first-generation farmers who decided to take a risk with their life and doing something difficult,” says Tormey. “With guidance from older farmers, there are all these tiny little farms that have found their niche by doing a few things really well.”
Never at a loss for great shopping experiences, New Yorkers can select from 18 of the Greenmarkets that stay open year-round in Manhattan. Area farmers (from upstate New York, Long Island, New Jersey and beyond) offer plenty of options for the full-season locavore. Hudson Valley’s Migliorelli Farm brings its homegrown preserved, frozen corn and strawberries, and Evolutionary Organics sells their frozen tomatoes for a burst of summer flavor to brighten those short winter days. On the fresh side, several farmers sell an array of fall cole crops along with winter squash, potatoes, apples, root vegetables and onions. The Greenmarkets’ cheese and milk vendors are out at market even on the coldest days, though milk bottles have to be stored in vans once the temperature drops below a certain point to avoid shattering. “The "off-season" months are really the time for proteins to shine,’ says market manager Jeanne Hodesh. “And our meat and egg vendors do terrific business selling everything from lard for holiday pie crusts to Thanksgiving turkeys and bones for soup and stock-making.”
In addition, says Hodesh, the Greenmarkets entice customers by hosting Educated Eater panels, which draw crowds interested in learning more about sustainable seafood, local grains and multi-generational farms, along with recipes from guest chefs. 
During fall and winter the true test of your locavore fortitude will be to fill your pantry with some of the freshest and tastiest food for miles. To find a fall or winter market near you — or just a friendly neighborhood farmer — check out the listings at Local Harvest.

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