As folk music filled the cavernous room in the former textile mill on Saturday, a steady stream of shoppers stocked up on everything from parsnips and beets to mussels and goat cheese. Now entering its third season, the Brunswick Winter Market held in Fort Andross has proven that demand for local food doesn’t abate in the colder months.
Tina Phillips of Brunswick is a regular shopper at the town’s two summer farmers markets, and has been coming to this weekly winter market since it opened.
“These are our farmers,” Phillips said. “We follow them. We want to support the farmers so they can survive.”
Her friend Lorraine Berte, also of Brunswick, agreed. “It’s got a festive feel,” she said. “It’s not just like going grocery shopping.”
Even Amy Doughty and her daughter, Kaitlyn, who were enjoying their first visit to the market on Saturday, had nothing but praise for the experience.
“We can’t stop buying stuff,” Kaitlyn confided and pointed to their shopping bag, which bulged with fresh basil, eggs, scratch-made pretzels and spices.
“It’s a great atmosphere and everyone’s so friendly,” Amy said. “We’ll definitely be back.”
Karen Marston of Bowdoin Baking Co., a vendor at the Brunswick Winter Market and one of its coordinators, said the success of this market and the others like it cropping up across the state speak to the strong consumer desire to buy directly from farmers and other local food producers year round.
And at a time of year when people are looking for entertaining excuses to get out of the house, the market offers more than a way to stock the pantry.
“We have people come and stay for two hours because they can meet their friends and have coffee,” Marston said.
With a waiting list of vendors who would like to join, the market is a pioneer of Maine’s growing indoor winter market movement, which this year includes 22 markets in communities across Maine. Open each Saturday from November through April, the Brunswick Winter Market boasts 45 vendors and an average of 1,000 shoppers each week.
By design, it is not exclusively a farmers market, which means vendors sell wooden bowls, aprons, forged metal hooks and prepared foods alongside the traditional farm-fresh offerings.
“It keeps the money in the neighborhood,” Marston said. “We all come together on Saturday morning and we’re the face of who’s producing their food.”
In Portland, where the farmers market has been in continuous operation since 1768, the winter market has struggled to conform with the city’s ordinances and regulations, which are much more strict than the state law governing farmers markets.
Last year, a group of farmers not affiliated with the Portland Farmers Market organized an indoor winter market in a privately-owned building on Free Street following the Brunswick model. However, the market experienced delays as the vendors scrambled to comply with the city’s inspections and fees.
This year, the market hopes to move to the Irish Heritage Center, which offers 45 off-street parking spaces. The market would be open every Saturday beginning in January, offering only products produced by farmers. For the farmers to make this move, the city must approve a zoning change for the building that would allow retail operations at the site.
Last week, the city’s Planning Board approved the zoning change, which will go to the City Council for final approval on Monday.
“As long as the (Monday) meeting goes well, we’ll be in the Irish Heritage Center starting Jan. 8,” said Lauren Pignatello of Swallowtail Farm, who is one of the coordinators of the Portland Winter Market and a vendor at the Brunswick Winter Market. “We’ll have lots of winter greens, root vegetables, cheese, yogurt, kefir, hard salami, pork, beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, tempeh, bread, eggs, apples and flower bulbs.”
The market won’t include artisans and crafters, but it will feature a different musical act each week.
In the meantime, a handful of market vendors intend to show up on Saturdays at Deering Oaks through the end of the year. Since this is an unofficial extension of the market, it’s unknown how many farmers will set up shop each Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, and it’s likely that bad weather would mean few if any farmers would show up.
Daniel Price of Freedom Farms, who intends to sell storage vegetables at Deering Oaks in December, advised shoppers to “check the Facebook page. It will have updates.”
Further to the south in York, the town’s first-ever winter market opened two weekends ago.
“We’ve had a very successful summer market for the last eight years,” said Cathy Goodwin, president of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the town’s farmers market. “And our vendors have been asking us about a winter market.”
The market takes place twice a month on Saturdays at Fosters Downeast Clambake, which is normally closed during the winter.
“We were very busy (on opening weekend),” Goodwin said. “I was very surprised. We had people coming in until 2 p.m.”
More than 24 vendors offer root vegetables, canned vegetables, meats, seafood, baked goods, handmade chocolates and artisan crafts.
Like all the winter markets operating across the state, Goodwin said the York Winter Gateway Farmers Market is responding to growing demand from shoppers who want to buy local food.
“People want to know the source of their food,” Goodwin said. “They’re anti-antibiotics, and they prefer the organic, natural products. People are very attuned to supporting local people. There’s been a return to understanding that local farms can’t survive if you don’t support them.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/AveryYaleKamila