Oregon farmers' markets open during winter
The bounty of locally grown Oregon agricultural products is usually in full bloom in late spring, summer, and early fall. But that has not discouraged several farmers’ markets throughout the state from opening the doors well into November with some operating all through the winter months. For those markets, their vendors, and their customers, the season is ripe with the opportunity to provide many of the same experiences as a warm weather farmers’ market.
“The tremendous popularity of our farmers’ markets apparently does not follow a traditional calendar,” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “It doesn’t surprise me one bit to see successful efforts to extend the season for fresh, locally grown products.”
Some 23 Oregon farmers’ markets are operating at least through most of November with a handful staying open year ‘round. The rest of the state’s 120 or so farmers’ markets will stay dormant until next spring. But, for consumers and vendors alike who want to continue enjoying the farmers’ market experience, chances are there’s one nearby still open.
“The diversity of Oregon agriculture and the different regions of the state make it all possible,” says ODA trade specialist Laura Barton. “Oregon is one of those states that has really broadened the season by running right up to the holidays or beyond.”
It’s true that the number of fresh fruits and vegetables drops along with the temperature, but customers should still be able to find something to purchase.
“It includes products that were perhaps harvested in the spring and summer that have turned into value-added products like jams and chutneys,” says Barton. “But there are also winter squashes freshly picked as well as pears and apples that were harvested in the fall and stored. Also, don’t forget Oregon hazelnuts, which were just harvested not that long ago.”
Look for such seasonal items as heirloom beans or legumes that are dried and sold at farmers’ markets along with processed grains that are good for holiday baking. Many markets feature vendors with artisan cheeses, craft beers, wine and cider. Some small-scale ranchers bring in meat products, including heirloom turkeys. Soon after Thanksgiving, the holiday season will be in full display. Nursery products and greenery provide a colorful purchase item this time of year. To supplement the items for sale, some markets add crafts to the mix. All in all, it makes for a vibrant winter market experience.
Finding fresh produce is not out of the question. Some market goers have been surprised to find bright red, juicy strawberries in the dead of winter and think they must have come from California.
“We have some farmers who extend their growing season by using hoophouses, greenhouses, and even hydroponics to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Barton.
One of the pioneers of the winter farmers’ market is the one in Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood.
“We began our winter season back in 2003 because farmers and customers asked us to run winter sessions,” says Hillsdale Farmers’ Market Manager Eamon Molloy. “We have many of the same vendors and have added others since that time. We have a wide variety of produce, meats, cheese, seafood, eggs, and prepared foods. The variety of produce is more than many might think. Even in some of the worst weather conditions over the past few years, farmers have managed to bring in greens, as well as root crops, wild and cultivated mushrooms, winter squash, apples, pears, and nuts.”
Not surprisingly, attendance at winter farmers’ markets depends on the weather, even though some markets operate indoors. Molloy estimates his market’s attendance in the winter is about 60 to 70 percent of that during the summer.
The McMinnville Public Market touts being Oregon’s first and only year round rural market.
“Winter is actually our busy time,” says market manager Shannon Thorson. “First, there are fewer markets open this time of year and secondly, there is less to do in the winter, so people flock to our place.”
The Salem Public Market — Oregon’s oldest farmers’ market — is another year ‘round, heated indoor venue.
“By keeping our customers coming in all year long, we don’t have to remind them it’s time to start coming to the market again,” says manager Bruce Hunt. “If they like what we are providing, we shouldn’t deprive them for three or four months during the winter.”
Among markets in the suburbs, Beaverton has extended its operations to mid-November while Troutdale and Oregon City go year ‘round.
The Oregon City Farmers’ Market also features an innovative program aimed at kids called the P.O.P. Club — Power of Produce. It rewards youngsters ages 5 through 12 who come with their parents to the market. Kids receive a “passport to health,” which is stamped each time they visit, and tokens that can be used to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, or food plants. After so many stamps, kids receive a “market surprise” (which we don’t want to spoil in this story). Local businesses and the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District have provided funding for the P.O.P. Club this season.
Such programs dovetail nicely with farm to school efforts in Oregon.
“The winter farmers’ market programs are introducing kids programs, especially since many schools are building school gardens and trying to connect kids with where their food comes from as well as getting them to eat healthier,” says ODA’s Barton. “Other attractions to winter farmers’ markets include chef demonstrations using those products you can find over the next few months.”
From Newport to Woodburn, Corvallis to Hines, and many other locations around Oregon, the farmers’ market season will not rest.
For a complete listing of Oregon farmers’ markets, including those with winter operations, go to http://oregonfarmersmarkets.org/directory/directory.html.
For more information, contact Laura Barton at 503-872-6600.