A Market for All Seasons

A Market for All Seasons
For years, your local farmers market underestimated you.

It assumed that you would allow wind, rain and bitter cold to come between you and your fresh produce, artisanal foods and straight-from-the-farm dairy products. That you would rather shop in the cozy comfort of your supermarket, even though it meant delaying your support of local farmers until the sun shone again.

But you showed them, didn’t you?

You rallied support for a handful of winter markets across the country, and thanks to you and thousands of locavores just like you, year-round and winter farmers markets are booming from Seattle to St. Paul, Minnesota, letting apples, root vegetables and leafy greens share the limelight with their more colorful summer siblings.

Chris Curtis is the director of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which runs seven farmers markets in Seattle, including the year-round University District market, which Travel & Leisure put at the top of its list of the country’s best farmers markets.

“What’s really fueled the year-round farmers markets is that farmers have gotten so much better at providing fresh food during the winter,” she says. “They may not be the sexiest crops, but it’s really quite remarkable to see the farm tables piled so high.”

So what are those not-so-sexy crops? It depends on where you live, of course, but Curtis lists apples, pears, plums, beets, cabbages, brussels sprouts, potatoes and kale, along with dairy products, artisan cheeses and pasture-raised meat and poultry.

Shopping outdoors for fresh produce has become a year-round pursuit

“Everything you need for Thanksgiving is on the tables at the farmers market,” she says. “You can get a local turkey that was raised just a few miles from where you live, and raised sustainably.”

St. Paul native Jack Riebel, chef of Butcher and the Boar in Minneapolis, recommends stocking up on fresh garlic and greens. “Buy all the garlic you can at the market,” he says. “I buy like 15 pounds and cellar it. And anytime you can buy local lettuce and spinach, it’s a plus.” Isn't it?

Shopping outdoors for fresh produce has become a year-round pursuit

Chef Riebel is a longtime supporter of both local farmers and his hometown farmers market, which weighed in at No. 7 on Travel & Leisure’s list. “I shop from farmers year-round because the freshness and seasonality of the products [for my restaurant] are paramount,” he says.

But until recently, most consumers didn’t have the same all-season access to farmers that many chefs enjoy. With winter markets, they suddenly do — and customers can’t seem to get enough of the bounty.

“We have a very loyal base of shoppers,” says Curtis of the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance. “They become addicted to the experience and want to see their farmers every week.”

In rain, in wind, in bitter cold, devotees of farm-fresh food bundle up, round up the kids and head to the market, and it’s not only the farmers who benefit, says Riebel. “When you have a strong farmers market,” he says, “you have a strong community.”