Farmers’ Markets Bloom in Dead of Winter

More dedicated farmers are selling fresh, local produce through these cold months.
Nothing says happy holidays like a batch of fresh produce in winter. (SummerTomato/Creative Commons)
Dec 16, 2011
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Agricultural Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has good news for anyone who’s ever wished for fresh kale in mid-December, instead of another comfort carb. Merrigan announced Thursday that the number of winters farmers’ markets is on the rise, up 38 percent since 2010.

According to the National Farmers Market Directory, the number of farmers’ markets open at least once between November and March leapt from 886 to 1,225 since 2010. The uptick is a win-win for local produce fans and farmers alike.

“Consumers are looking for more ways to buy locally grown food throughout the year,” Merrigan said, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Service. “Through winter markets, American farmers are able to meet this need and bring in additional income to support their families and businesses.”

Farmers have been able to extend their growing season in part due to assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA,) which has been helping small farms to implement hoop house technology under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program since 2009. A hoop house is a greenhouse with a clear plastic roof that allows sun in, then traps the heat of the solar radiation, warming crops inside the greenhouse even in cold climates. With the freedom to grow without weather considerations, farmers can continue to produce locally grown food well into the winter months.

The White House garden boasts its own hoop house tunnels, setting an example for farmers to follow suit. Under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Program, farmers can get financial assistance from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to build one hoop house per farm. (Go here to see what hoop houses look like on presidential turf.)

An increase in winter farmers’ markets has an additional perk: helping farmers and their customers build relationships year-round.

Want in on the action? Check out Local Harvest to find a farmers’ market near you.

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