Nationwide, winter markets grow

Thursday, December 9, 2010 PUTNEY - Four years ago, when the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont first started tracking winter farmers' market, there were only two in the state.

Today, there are more than 20, and every year more communities are experimenting with winter markets.

Putney, this year, is hosting a parttime winter market, with the next one scheduled for Dec. 19 at Green Mountain Orchards.

And cold weather markets are not only a Vermont phenomena.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of winter markets across the country has increased by 17 percent since the last survey was done in 2009.

The survey found that winter markets are growing in hot, and cold weather states, with New York, Massachusetts and Michigan being among the states reporting the most winter markets across the nation.

Tim Stevenson, executive director of Post Oil Solutions, helped start the winter market in Brattleboro, which is celebrating its fifth year this winter.

He said interest from both the public and from vendors has been growing every year.

The winter market in Brattleboro topped $100,000 in sales last year, and Stevenson said the market board has to turn vendors away because there is only so much space at the River Garden, where it is held on Saturday afternoons.

"It has grown every year. It's been very successful," said Stevenson. "People want to support the local economy and that is what local agriculture is all about." David Shipman, acting administrator of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, said the national survey shows that the trend is growing in all climates and communities.

And he said the increase in markets and sales is leading to more money in the pockets of small farmers.

"Fresh, local and healthful food isn't just a good weather offering," said Shipman. "Even in states where the traditional growing season is short, the market season is long. This allows more small and local farmers to continue bringing in income for their families and their businesses, while also providing great, nutritious food to communities year round."

Jean Hamilton, the direct marketing coordinator at NOFA Vermont, said that even with all of the challenges associated with a winter market, communities seem to be willing to make them work.

Winter markets require heat and lighting, which cost money, and the indoor spaces usually are more limited than the outdoor areas devoted to markets during the spring, summer and fall.

"Municipalities know that a market brings people downtown," she said. "So people are willing to try to make it work."

Hamilton said in Vermont, the increase in winter markets has grown out of the holiday markets, which many municipalities held before the explosion in fulltime winter markets.

She said with more people committed to local food, the time was right for the increase in the number of winter markets.

She said the growth in winter markets is also driving farmers to change the way they manage the season.

When farmers can rely on winter sales, they grow more root crops that store well.

And the sales are leading to more innovation, with farmers using hoop houses to extend the growing season and innovative heating techniques such as biodiesel and wood pellets to warm the greenhouses.

"The great thing is that this is providing an opportunity to diversify the direct marketing," said Hamilton. "Those are direct dollars that are going back into the farms and that is getting farmers to think about what they are producing for the colder months."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer. com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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