The variety and activity at local farmers markets this winter just might surprise you.     Until the last few years, the romance between many farmers markets and their devoted customers was strictly a May to November affair, fizzling as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey was carved. Now, more and more markets, including outdoor ones, are staying open during the winter months, making locavores and local producers so happy together.

“Farmers markets are no longer a novelty; they’ve become a necessity,” says Abby Morgan, manager of the Kennett Square Farmers Market. And to meet customers’ needs, the Kennett market as well as the West Chester Growers and Bryn Mawr Marketss are simply braving the cold and staying in the same location, albeit with abbreviated hours and fewer vendors. Others, like the East Goshen Market, are moving to indoor locations close by. See sidebar for market days and times.

Winter Market Wonderland

What you’re likely to find at a winter market might just surprise you. “A lot of people think eating local during the winter means eating only meat, cheese and bread. Not so!” Abby Morgan assures me. Some nearby producers, like Countryside Farms and Down to Earth Harvest, use hoop houses and greenhouses to extend the growing season, thus making fresh, local produce available during winter months. Also, hardy crops that store well, like apples and root vegetables, are still available when temperatures plummet.
The best way to find out what producers are bringing each week is to subscribe to your favorite markets’ mailing lists. You might also want to check out their blogs, websites and Facebook pages, especially for the most up-to-date information on cancellations for bad weather. Some markets stay open if there’s just a dusting of snow, but don’t care to brave ice storms!

Winter CSAs

If you like the idea of shopping before you shop, ask whether vendors at your favorite market run a winter CSA (community-supported agriculture). CSAs usually work like this: you pay a set amount at the beginning of the season to a farmer who then provides you with a box of locally produced goods every week or every other week. Often, you may pick up your CSA share at the vendor’s stand at the farmers market. It’s that easy.

When a CSA share is too much of a commitment, consider pre-ordering groceries week by week. Simply contact vendors in advance — contact information is generally on market websites — and ask them to set aside your order to pick up on market day. The East Goshen market is largely a pre-order market, but vendors also bring extra goods so non-planners can eat well too!  

Markets With Benefits

Besides providing healthy local food, winter markets — especially those held outdoors — offer other advantages: a few minutes of exercise, a much-needed dose of fresh air and maybe sunshine, and the chance for friendly conversation.

“It’s easy to get isolated in the winter. Going to the market keeps people connected,” remarks Molly Terlevich, who co-founded the Bryn Mawr market, now in its second winter season.

Winter is also the time when farmers are making plans for spring and summer crops, explains Donna Levitsky, co-founder and co-manager of the East Goshen market. So if you’ve developed a love of English peas or peppery arugula, winter is the time to make your preferences known.