Colder weather doesn’t chill interest in farmers markets

farm-droughtUntil a few years ago, the Christmas holiday usually meant the end of the season for farmers markets across the state. They often wouldn’t reopen until mid-May.

Today, many farmers’ market vendors have found ways to bring products to market almost year-round. The Del Ray Market is one of several that now stay open all year.

“This is a really good market,” said manager Pat Miller on a recent market day. “The community really, really supports it. As you can see, here’s one of our coldest days of the year, and people are packed. So year-round (we have) our meats, we have sausages, we have chickens, we have rabbits. We have pickles, we have donuts, we have scones, we have every kind of baked good. In the winter you tend to get a little bit more prepared foods, like homemade soups, and stuff along that line, as opposed to produce.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports Virginia had nearly 250 farmers’ markets in 2014, making it one of the top 10 states for the popular shopping style. It’s so popular that many farmers have found it worth their time and cost to use hoop houses or other methods of extending their growing seasons.

“I’m here year-round,” said Luke Shlagel, owner of Shlagel Farms in Waldorf, Md. “I might miss some weeks in the winter when everything is frozen up, but as long as I have something to sell, I’m willing to keep coming.

“There’s still good stuff to be found at farmer’s markets. … My personal favorite—I like the sweet potatoes. Who doesn’t like sweet potatoes? Brown sugar and butter, and you’re set. A nice, easy dessert.”

At Del Ray and many other farmers’ markets, winter shopping is a social event. Buyers exchange recipes and ask vendors questions about how the food is raised and produced. The growing popularity of year-round markets indicates that personal touch is still one of the best ways for farmers to connect with consumers, Miller said.

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