One thing you must do this winter is visit a winter farmer’s market. That’s right, winter is still farmer’s market season in many parts of the country, even in the Pacific Northwest. Agriculture keeps producing even when the warm days of summer are gone. Many farmer’s markets run year-round. If you haven’t found your market, don’t delay. Those farmers, fishers, and ranchers are eager to see you.
What can you find at a winter farmer’s market? It depends on where you live. I live in the Pacific Northwest. We get lots of fresh winter greens like chard, mizuna, and collards. We see lots of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips, celeriac, and horseradish. Many winter markets carry stored fresh fruits like pears, apples and kiwi. You will also find winter squashes, nuts, cheeses, and mushrooms. To go with all your delicious produce, many markets also have proteins like frozen seafood, lamb, beef, and pork.
Still need encouragement to get out the door? Here are five reasons to visit (and love) a winter farmers market this month.
1. Winter is the best time to eat vegetables that actually get sweeter after a frost.
We are used to summertime being called the “peak of ripeness” but many cruciferous vegetables, those being from the taxonmic family Brassicaceae (vegetable Latin you can impress your friends with) do well in cold, and even thrive in it. When the temperature drops, these vegetables protect themselves by creating sugar and storing it in their plant cells. Lots of vegetable science for you. Just know that cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, and mustard greens are at their prime in wintertime.
2. Even if your family lasts 20 minutes at the winter farmer’s market, your kids will remember it forever.
The novelty will make grocery shopping fun and less like something to check off your to-do list. Kids are cooped up indoors for so much of the winter. It’s great exercise to put on a jacket and boots and head out the door. Even if the weather is cold and drizzly, your kids may think they had the best time ever. Plus, hot chocolate always tastes better when you are actually cold. Yes, I give my kids a cup of hot cocoa while we are waiting for the kale chips to bake. Makes everyone happy.
3. Your learn first hand where your food comes from, how it is produced, and how to appreciate it.
On the way to market I ask my kids what they would like to know about farmers or farming. It’s amazing the questions they come up with. Sometimes young kids need to be reminded when it is appropriate to talk to strangers and how to engage in polite conversation. We also talk about gratitude and recognizing how hard folks work to bring the food to market. I remind my kids that if they see something they are interested in or that excites them to pay the farmer a compliment. Food producers are proud of what they have to offer. A kind word is much appreciated.
4. A winter farmer’s market is for everyone.
Whatever your tastes, budget or cooking skills you can find something lovely at a winter farmer’s market. I am often asked if it’s more or less expensive to buy food from a farmer’s market. There is no one right answer to this question. It all depends on the season, the amount, if it is organic, market location, etc. Just know it is not automatically more expensive. Plus, about half of the states have a Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) where you can use your WIC or Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Vouchers to purchase certain items. Check this map to see if your state accepts WIC or Senior Vouchers at farmer’s markets and contact your state agency for more information.
5. Your family becomes a driver of economic innovation.
And you thought that was only for billionaire tycoons. Let me explain. It takes a lot of ingenuity to get food to you at a winter farmer’s market. Farmers often have to use innovative techniques such as extending the growing season with high tunnels, or using different varieties of seeds that grow better in cooler temperatures. When you buy from a winter farmer’s market, you are essentially voting for particular agricultural innovations. Your full grocery bags actually help strengthen and stabilize markets for some producers.
Where to find your winter farmer’s market? Check out the USDA’s comprehensive Local Food Directories: National Farmers Market Directory to find a market near you!
Farmer’s markets are always a fun way way to connect with your neighbors and help your community thrive, and especially during the winter. Have you had a family adventure at a winter farmer’s market? Tell us about it in the comments!