Rise of Indoor Winter Markets
From the northernmost county in Maine to the tiny village of Peacedale in southern Rhode Island, winter farmers markets are here to stay.
BY ROSIE DEQUATTRO / ILLUSTRATION SYLVIA KIM
Farmers markets have become an increasingly popular choice in our foodshed. Many more folks than ever before think “local” when they think about buying food. And they no longer stop thinking about it when summer ends.
In the past 10 years, interest in local foods has ignited an emergence of winter farmers markets, fueled not only by the sustained demand for local foods but also by the availability of new technologies for growing, keeping and marketing those foods year-round. This season (2016–17) there will be at least 150 winter markets operating across New England—indoor spaces transformed into beacons of conviviality and sustenance during the cold, spare months ahead. From the northernmost county in Maine to the tiny village of Peacedale in southern Rhode Island, winter farmers markets are here to stay.
The numbers show that starting in about 2008 (or a few years later, according to some states’ records), when winter farmers markets hardly existed, there has been explosive growth in their numbers.
“Winter farmers markets came out of the gate pretty quick then leveled off,” says Rick Macsuga, marketing representative for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. This year in Connecticut, Macsuga anticipates the numbers to hold steady at about 20. In Vermont, New England Farming Association’s Erin Buckwalter concurs: “We had huge growth a decade ago,” she says. “Over the last few years I see a definite leveling off. Right now it’s pretty consistent. We’ll have about 18 to 20 winter markets this season.
Dave Webber at the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, says, “In the 2015–16 season there were 43 winter farmers markets in Massachusetts, compared to just six in 2009. The last couple years the number has held steady.” Even little Rhode Island, which will have at least seven winter markets this season, experienced an overall rise over the decade. The steepest growth in the number of winter farmers markets in New Hampshire occurred from 2010 to 2016. Starting with six, the latest number is now up to just under 30. And in Maine in 2012, there were 10 or fewer winter farmers markets; now there are about 35.
Most states agree that the drivers of the change are: consumers’ increasing interest in local foods; growers seizing the opportunity to prolong the market garden income stream by expanding their growing seasons (using latest high-tunnel and greenhouse growing technologies); farmers making available value-added products such as maple syrup, honey, preserves and wine; and improved meat, poultry and seafood processing techniques that make it possible for producers to offer these products year-round.
There are even some promising trends that may support a further increase over the next decade. Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets, says that the markets are finding more diverse locations to set up in. In Bangor, the winter market is in the conference room of a restaurant, resulting in a win-win for both market and restaurant. The markets also provide a good opportunity for farmers to sell CSA shares. Indeed, Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the Division of Agricultural Development for the State of New Hampshire, says, “I don’t think winter markets are viewed as unusual anymore. People come to expect farmers markets to be available year-round now.”
As of this writing, the details for the 2016–17 season of each winter market are not finalized, most states report. Find what you’re looking for by consulting the websites of each of these agricultural organizations.