Cars parked up and down the winding road, crowds of smiling people walking through bustling aisles and live acoustic music pulsing from nearby speakers: that was the scene at the most recent winter farmers market at Wentworth Greenhouses in Rollinsford.
A couple times a month at the large greenhouse complex, upward of 50 local vendors supplying everything from CBD honey sticks to dried heirloom beans set up shop.
Jillian Eldredge, the director of programs for the nonprofit organization based in Dover that organizes the winter markets, Seacoast Eat Local, said the farmers markets they run from November through April (alternating between Wentworth Greenhouses and Exeter High School) provide a sense of community and a great way for families to stock the fridge.
“It’s good for local businesses and economy,” Eldredge said. “In addition to the vendors that are at the market, there are a number of small businesses in our community that benefit from the markets being here that creates an economic advantage for the region.”
The winter farmers markets also offer something that’s hard to find in the coldest season of the year: fresh foods.
Eldredge almost got short of breath as she listed off some of the available goods: “bread, baked goods, prepared foods, meats, cheeses, yogurts, other kinds of dairy products, root vegetables, salad greens … all kinds of anything you might find at the grocery store to feed your family in a typical week, you can also find right here at the market.”
Eldredge said that at the start of the winter farmers market circuit, many of the vendors have a variety of storage crops that typically don’t last the entire winter, such as spaghetti squash or delicata squash. But almost all of their produce vendors grow their greens and various other crops in greenhouses, creating a local output of fresh vegetables year-round.
“Even in the dead of winter, many farmers are growing in heated greenhouses,” Eldredge said. “[We offer] all kinds and varieties of lettuces, Asian greens, micro greens, cut greens; so even in the very coldest months of winter, there’s lots of green and fresh produce to be found in market.”
Despite the advent of greenhouses in the area, growing fresh produce still depends on the outside temperature and the always-oscillating weather. For farms without heated greenhouses, such as Two Farmers Farm from Scarborough, Maine, growing greens can be a challenge, but one that they readily accept and take in stride while still offering a good diversity of vegetables at each market.
“We have a pretty good supply of most things, our storage crops, like the carrots and sweet potatoes and onions,” said Kelsey Harrington, one of the owners and farmers at Two Farmers Farm. “The greens supply tends to fluctuate; it’s really weather-dependent. We don’t have any heat or lights in our high tunnels where we’re growing the greens, so when we have the cold weather we have fewer greens and when it’s warm we have more. This time of the year green production actually picks up.”
For Harrington and many of the other vendors at the winter market, the worst of winter is behind them, as is the struggle to grow certain produce. For Seacoast locals, this translates into even more delicious foodstuff each week at their local market. And according to Sean Ford, employee at Valicenti Pasta Farm in Hollis, Seacoast residents have been eating up all the local goods that they can get their hands on.
Ford, who’s been with Valicenti Pasta Farm for two years, described how a line of around 50 people formed before the 10 a.m. market start time.
“I’m sold out of tons of stuff,” he said. “I got an hour in and I was already out of half my flavors. It’s been really steady.”
While the market provides so much great food, Ford, along with many of the other vendors at the market, described the one thing that makes the winter markets such a fun time: the friendliness of those in attendance.
“This farmers market is great. It attracts a good crowd; everybody seems to be in a good mood when they come to the farmers market. It’s a great place to hang out,” Brooke Finn, co-owner of the Herb Farmacy in Salisbury, said.
The Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers Market has three more dates for the remainder of the season: March 9 at Exeter High School, March 23 at Wentworth Greenhouses and April 6 at Exeter High School. The markets are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
More information can be found at seacoasteatlocal.org
— Caleb Jagoda
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