In spring, summer and fall, farmers' markets are a staple of life in communities throughout New York's Hudson River Valley, where I live. But come November, most stow away their tents and tables, victims of Old Man Winter's imminent approach.
This year, however, my hometown of Red Hook is trying something new: a winter farmers' market offering produce, meats and dairy products from area farms one Saturday a month. The heavy turnout for the first market held December 13 in a beautifully restored 18th-century inn and stagecoach stop in the village's downtown proves people are hungry for healthy, local produce regardless of the plunging needle on the outdoor thermometer.
A welcoming feeling of warmth pervaded the inaugural market, equally the result of its historic setting and the sense of community spirit shared by all in attendance. The offerings certainly couldn't have been more diverse. Hearty Roots Community Farm, which is spearheading the market, featured carrots and other root vegetables that looked like they'd just been plucked from the ground. Rib-sticking soups were ladled out by Gigi Market. Ken Migliorelli, whose family farm supplies Manhattan's busiest greenmarkets, arrived with baskets of apples and pears. Montgomery Place Orchards sold honey, flavored vinegars and jams. There was just-baked bread and fresh poultry as well as wonderful earrings crafted out of rooster feathers. Just as important, there was plenty of laughter and camaraderie.
The market's success was heartening for me not only because I take pride in my town. It also means that Scenic Hudson, the organization I work for, is on the right track. Over the last 10 years we've worked with the town and its farmers to protect a dozen farms in Red Hook, guaranteeing they continue contributing to the town's rural economy and charm while providing the region with great-tasting fruits and vegetables whose carbon footprints are minuscule.
Winter farmers' markets are really catching on, not only across America's Snow Belt but all the way to the less climate-challenged West Coast. Some feature an astonishing array of produce. For example, in Providence, R.I., the cold-weather bounty normally on hand from area farms includes 21 fruits or vegetablesfrom arugula and radishes to broccoli and bok choy. At the new weekly winter market in downtown Livermore, Calif., in addition to picking up traditional produce, you can satisfy your craving for persimmons and walnuts, while at the Indy Winter Farmers Market in the heart of Indianapolis baskets can be filled with everything from maple syrup to mushrooms. Farmers in Portland, Maine, offer a streamlined process: They send out an e-mail listing available produce. Customers submit their selections, picking them up on market day at a central location.
Winter farmers' markets are a win for everybody. Other businesses benefit from the influx of residents venturing downtown for fresh apples, eggs and cauliflower. For farmers who plan ahead, devoting a portion of their fields to storage crops and root vegetables or building greenhouses to grow crops like lettuces and tomatoes, it makes a livelihood threatened by so many unforeseen factors (like the weather) a little more viable. As one farmer selling produce at a new winter market in Connecticut recently told the New York Times, "It's a start to having a year-round income for a small farmer." "There's less pressure to make all your money in the short growing period there is," remarked another.
But the biggest winners are consumers and the environment. Those of us who frequent new winter farmers' markets now have outlets to the freshest foods all year long. And by passing up that apple flown in from New Zealand for one picked off a branch right down the road, we're doing our part to save the planet. Munching that homegrown McIntosh may not halt global warming tomorrow, but when you figure the average meal takes 1,200 miles to reach our tables, it's a darn good start.
Ned Sullivan is the president of Scenic Hudson. Scenic Hudson's mission is to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors.
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