Op-Ed:Claire Morenon & Philip Korman: Eating Locally, even in winter

Feb 8 2014

Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 8, 2014. By Claire Morenon & Philip Korman.

Northampton– Many people have embraced eating locally because of the quality, the benefits to our environment and local economy and the opportunity to connect with those who grow our food. But many residents don’t realize that farmers’ markets continue with a wealth of local farm products when winter comes around. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but an echo of how our communities fed themselves in days gone by.

The first winter farmers’ market in Massachusetts was a one-day Winter Fare held in Greenfield in February 2008. It was organized by volunteers and was a huge success. Two years later, CISA brought the one-day Winter Fare model to Springfield and Northampton, and when 2,000 people swarmed the Northampton Winter Fare, we knew there was strong year-round demand for local food.

Six years after that first Winter Fare in Greenfield, the Pioneer Valley boasts eight winter markets that run regularly throughout the winter, providing farmers and other businesses with a steady source of income and providing the community with regular access to locally grown foods.

Today, the work lies in educating more people about what is available during the winter, how to prepare winter vegetables, the challenges farmers face in bringing products to winter markets and the excitement of sharing the local bounty in winter.

Even in our cold climate, farmers are able to grow a wide variety of greens and herbs throughout the winter, and many staple vegetables and fruits are well-suited to long storage. Farm products such as meat, cheese, honey, maple syrup and grains, as well as prepared foods such as pickles and jam, are not limited by the seasons. As more and more consumers seek out local food for its quality and flavor, and as a way to support the local economy and maintain open spaces, taking advantage of that year-round bounty just makes sense.

The explosive growth in winter markets has depended on the willingness of local farmers to invest in the greenhouses, storage facilities and year-round staff. Winter farmers’ markets have higher operating costs than most summer markets, because free indoor spaces are hard to find. Farmers and market managers have taken on the risks associated with these increased costs because consumers have asked for local food during the winter. Everyone has been rewarded by bustling markets overflowing with food, music and community. However, growth takes time, and these winter markets are still young. They need support and community patronage.

To support these outlets, CISA shifted Winter Fare into one-day special events at four regular winter markets, with workshops, bartering and activities for kids. Over the last two weekends, Amherst Winter Fare was held at the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market, at the Amherst Regional Middle School, and the Greenfield Winter Farmers’ Market gathered at Greenfield High School. These events drew hundreds of shoppers and over a hundred people attending the workshops.

This Saturday, Winter Fare comes to the Northampton Winter Farmer’s Market, held weekly at Smith Vocational High School, and to the bi-monthly Springfield Winter Farmers’ Market at Forest Park.

These Winter Fares are an opportunity to show off what the winter farmers’ markets are doing all winter long. We hope newcomers will visit the markets and be inspired to make small shifts towards seasonal eating and supporting local farms throughout the year. Regular shoppers can take advantage of the opportunity to share the joy of local food by bringing a friend to the market and helping to spread the word about winter markets.

When the special Winter Fare days have passed, the winter farmers’ markets will continue to offer local goods and a community gathering space. We hope they will continue to grow with community support.

Buying from our farmers is an inspired act of commerce that puts food on our tables and shapes the kind of community we want to live in. Not a bad start to the weekend!

Claire Morenon is program coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. Philip Korman is CISA’s executive director.

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