March 12, 2010

a growing trend


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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Shoppers crowd the aisles at the Winter Farmers Market, in Fort Andross, Brunswick Saturday, January 10, 2009.

Jack Milton

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Staff Writer

People have to eat year-round, don't they?

That's one of the simple ideas behind Maine's growing farmers market scene. Most people think of them as a summer-only affair, when you can get tomatoes, corn, cukes and other produce fresh out of the ground.

But in the past few years, winter farmers markets have sprung up in towns around the state, including in Bath, Brunswick, Gardiner, Orono, Belfast and Portland. Local farmers are offering greenhouse produce and preserved or stored produce as well breads, meats and cheeses.

And people who love fresh, local foods are eating up the chance to buy from the farm all winter long.

''We are longtime supporters of the summer farmers markets, and it's just wonderful that now we're able to get winter and late-winter vegetables,'' said Bill Shea of Portland, a customer of the Portland Winter Farmers Market in Monument Square.


For farmers, winter markets are a new income stream they didn't have before. And maybe more importantly, it's a way to keep the idea of Maine farm-produced foods in people's minds all year long.

''It's hard trying to sell everything in the summer, when all the other farmers are trying to sell too,'' said Simon Frost of Thirty Acre Farm in Whitefield, who helped start the Portland Winter Farmers Market last winter. Frost says he and his three partner farms have anywhere from 50 to 70 customers a week during the winter. ''When we had done the summer market, we had a lot of people request this, and it's really working out.''

Shea says buying from a winter market makes him feel good because he's helping support local agriculture. In turn, he says, the winter markets help him and others feel like part of a community.

''It was absolutely wonderful to stand in Monument Square on Dec. 24 with maybe 30 other people waiting patiently to pick up vegetables or rabbit or chicken,'' said Shea, who works as a psychotherapist. ''It's really a spirit of community.''

Karen Sparrow, a farmer who helped organize the Winter Farmers Market in Bath last year, thinks winter markets are taking off because people continue to be more and more concerned about where their food comes from.

''This really helps keep Maine farms in people's minds all year long,'' said Sparrow, of Sparrow Farm in Pittston. ''And farmers are coming up with more and more things to offer.''


So what exactly is sold at a winter farmers market?

Well, Sparrow sells cranberries and eggs. Other farmers at the Bath market grow lettuces, greens, tomatoes and scallions in greenhouses during winter. Some farms offer cheese, pork, beef and baked goods.

Frost, of Thirty Acre Farm, offers his Portland winter market customers an array of lacto-fermented produce (food that is naturally preserved without cooking), such as sauerkraut, gingered carrots and sour dill pickles. He also sells parsnips, potatoes, organic pork and poultry from other farms.

Freedom Farm in Freedom, another farm participating in the Portland market, sells beets, carrots, rutabaga, purple cabbage, red onions, golden shallots, radishes, winter squash and lamb.

The Portland market is unique among winter markets in that it is based on ordering ahead of time. Farmers show up in Monument Square every other Wednesday (including this coming Wednesday) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with products ordered by customers. At that time, people can sign up to get an e-mail price list of products that will be available at the next market in two weeks.

At other markets there's a more conventional setup, with farmers hanging out for a few hours to sell their wares and let people browse. Many of the winter markets are indoors. The ones in Bath and Gardiner are in churches. The one in Bangor is in a greenhouse, and a new one in Brunswick is in an old mill.

The Brunswick Winter Farmers Market began this month at Fort Andross, a giant mill complex at the end of Maine Street near the bridge to Topsham. Earlier in the winter, a farmers market had begun at Granite Farm in Brunswick. But after several weeks, the groups split, with some of the farmers going to Fort Andross and some staying at the barn at Granite Farm.

After two weeks, the market at Fort Andross had 17 vendors, said Dean Zoulamis of Mother Oven Bakery and Sweet Fern Farm in Bowdoinham, who was one of the organizers.

Farmers at the Fort Andross market offer onions, winter squash, cabbage, garlic, apples, breads, cheese and beef, Zoulamis said.

Zoulamis sees winter markets as a boon for farmers, because it's a way to form a personal, year-round-connection with customers. Customers, in turn, are making the same connection and know exactly where their food is coming from.

''Instead of just for a few months, people can feel like they have a connection to us, to Maine farms, all year long,'' Zoulamis said. ''That's really a great thing for us, and for customers.''

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Melissa Brown, of Dallas, Pennsylvania, and her Aunt, Virginai Brown, Harpswell, by vegetables from Ben Dearnley, of Life Force Farm, Bowdoinham, at the Winter Farmers Market, in Fort Andross, Brunswick Saturday, January 10, 2009.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Bob Perol, from Diversity Farm, Troy, cuts samples of aged cheddar cheese at the Winter Farmers Market, in Fort Andross, Brunswick Saturday, January 10, 2009.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: John Zimmerman, of Brunswick, buys a piece of quiche from Lauren Pignatello, from Swallowtail Farm, North Whitefield, at the Winter Farmers Market, in Fort Andross, Brunswick Saturday, January 10, 2009.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Vegetables for sale at the Winter Farmers Market, in Fort Andross, Brunswick Saturday, January 10, 2009.

Jack Milton


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