Traditionally, the onset of winter meant the end of farmers market season. However, in recent years, winter farmers markets have become increasingly popular. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), there are over 1,200 of these farmers markets operating across the country. This is almost a 38 percent increase from last year.
From 2010 to 2011, the number of winter markets in New York, the top state for these markets, increased from 152 to 180. The state has been the recipient of several grants to support and promote access to healthy foods. For example, New York’s Oneida County received grant funds to develop a year-round market in downtown Utica.
For consumers, winter farmers markets provide an opportunity to enjoy winter crops like squash and pears, fresh from their local farmers. For the farmers and vendors who sell at the markets, it means increased financial opportunities. “Our sales at the winter market even out our income over the year, eliminating some of the highs and lows of our financial situation,” said Skip Paul, a farmer at Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton, Rhode Island.
In addition to increasing financial opportunities, winter markets allow farmers and vendors to solidify their relationships with customers. An extended season enables market customers to get to know their local farmers better. “The biggest impact for us is really doing local networking and selling,” said Rhode Island farmer Lauri Roberts. “Selling directly to customers really means a lot to us.”
It also means a lot to us, here at USDA, that local producers can provide consumers with this direct buying experience, while at the same time, offering them fresh, healthy, locally-grown foods. We even hold our own winter farmers market, which features local products such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, honey, herbs, handmade soaps, baked goods and more. In addition, through USDA grants, such as those offered by the Farmers Market Promotion Program and Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, many of the nation’s winter farmers markets can look to us for support in their marketing initiatives.
So, where can YOU go to find one of these great winter farmers markets? Check out the National Farmers Market Directory to find a market near you.