As we discussed in November, there are plenty of farmers and backyard gardeners here in Michigan (as in other cold places across the nation) who use techniques to extend the growing season. To match this increasing enthusiasm for year-round growing, there has been a subsequent increase in the number of winter or all-year farmer’s markets offering this locally-grown produce to the public. For instance, Ann Arbor, Flint and Detroit all have well-established year-round markets, and in Ypsilanti we’ve had a winter edition of the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer’s Market for the last three years now. This year, we also had the MIX Marketplace pop-up holiday foods market in Ypsi, and there is talk that it will eventually be a weekly fixture from January through April. These are all such great developments for local food production, and I feel like there are so many similar stories from across the country and the world.
In general, farmer’s markets are increasing in popularity, with a 17% increase in the number of markets reported by the USDA since 2010. The trend towards more winter markets also has a national scope. A web-search for “winter farmer’s market” had hits for 28 different markets in 12 states (in just the first three pages of results). People are clearly interested in eating local food all year, and this is great news for eaters and producers alike.
This is great news for producers because winter markets help them maintain contact with enthusiastic customers for longer, which, in turn, makes their business more economically viable. This is great news for eaters because winter markets give them access to healthy, high-quality local products for the whole year. For me, personally, the news is especially positive as I have previously equated winter with having to eat the processed, “out-of season” foods that I try to avoid the rest of the year.
Since I grow the majority of my own food, it’s often relatively easy for me to avoid those processed foods from April through December. But, by February, I usually can’t look at another jar of pasta sauce or pickled beets. This year I tried to further delay that eventuality by working even harder to freeze, dry and can my way to winter-time personal food security. I froze everything from watermelon juice to tomatillos to chimichurri, pickled everything from garlic scapes to green tomatoes to purslane and dried everything from peaches to squash to peppers. I was not leaving my winter access to homegrown food (and salsa) to chance.
But even if this tactic works perfectly, it’s great to know that I still have access to the farmer’s market (and perhaps even one in walking distance from my house) if I want it. Now, when I think of winter, I no longer have to dread the bland, over-processed food I used to have to eat in these cold months. Instead, I can look forward to the best tasting kale and daikon radishes ever! Therefore, it is in this way that winter farmer’s markets have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for winter, while opening up a whole new terrain of access to locally-grown and produced food.
So why not take advantage of the opportunity to eat local food this winter? It truly brings an added satisfaction for locally-grown food that you just can’t get when it’s ubiquituously available in the summer. Perhaps it’s the scarcity, perhaps it’s the flavor or perhaps just it’s the realization that you can eat food harvested out of the snow – in Michigan! Either way, being able to eat locally-grown food in the winter is a gift that inspires. Who knows? It may even inspire you to try a new recipe, break out the seed catalogue, start planning your garden for next year or start thinking about that one rare variety of seed you hope to find during seed swap season (for me this year it’s lemongrass).