A thriving winter market is a farmer’s best friend

We all eat 365 days a year — so why not have a farmer’s market year-round?

Last year, we partnered with Plumer-Bowers Farmstead and Herbal Alternative on a “trial” winter market.

Seymour’s market normally ends on the last weekend in October. This makes sense for standard produce: things like tomatoes, peppers, and melons are planted in Spring and are harvested during the summer and fall.

But more farmers are growing food year-round. Farmers in northern climes, such as Maine, have been proving that it’s possible to grow veggies year-round in unheated greenhouses (called “hoop houses”). And better yet — they’re showing that people want local food year-round.

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Farmers in Indiana are jumping on board. They’re planting crops like greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.) and radishes in fall, and then harvesting throughout the winter. Many also sell storage crops, like potatoes, onions, and squash — things that they plant in summer and harvest in late fall, for sale in the winter.

And of course, livestock farmers like us have meat to sell.

Since we raise our animals outside on pasture, we often harvest the most animals in late Fall, just before the grass starts to die off for winter.

The timing is largely an economic consideration: we want to keep the animals on pasture, gaining weight and happy as long as there’s food to eat in the pasture (the pasture is relatively “free”) — but then take animals to the butcher before we have to start feeding hay and extra feed (which we have to pay for out of pocket).

We head into winter with loads of frozen chicken, pork, lamb, and turkey.

The hens keep laying eggs, too. Hens slow their production down dramatically if there are less than 14 hours of light in a day, so in the winter we have a light on a timer in their coop. On especially cold days, we get almost no eggs, but we still have plenty to sell.

There are Winter Farmer’s Markets in the urban areas (at least two in Indianapolis and several in Louisville), but we don’t sell there — we want to feed our neighbors here in rural Indiana.

Would people in Jackson County show up for a market in winter? We knew that it was a lot to ask the Seymour Farmer’s Market to take on organizing an unproven idea like a Winter Market, so we made a pitch: let us try hosting a winter market in 2017-2018. If customers show up and it seems viable, we can do a larger, official market in 2018-2019.

You’ve probably guessed it: customers were excited for the Winter Market. We kept things simple: market was once per month, on the third Tuesday, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. We hoped to catch folks on their way home from work or after picking kids up from school. We were blown away by the response: We actually sold more food on some Winter Markets than at the regular summer markets.

This year, the Seymour Area Farmer’s Market was eager to make Winter Market official. We’ve stuck with the timing (once a month, on the third Tuesday), from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

We did change two things: First, we invited more farmers to join us. And because so many wanted to sell their food at the Winter Market, we had to changes locations. The Herbal Alternative was sad to see us go — but happy that market was thriving.

This year, the winter farmer’s market is in downtown, in the lobby of the Reno’s building at Chestnut and Second streets.

Customers can find local cheese and butter, fresh greens and other veggies, meat (chicken, pork, lamb, beef, turkey), eggs, popcorn, and flour. As spring approaches, we look forward to adding early season veggies like broccoli and cabbage.

The response from customers has been uplifting and affirming: We know that Seymour-area farmers can grow good food year-round, and that Jackson County families are ready for that good food, every month of the year. Maybe we’ll see you at Tuesday’s Winter Market.

Nate and Liz Brownlee operate Nightfall Farm in Crothersville. Send comments to [email protected].