Betty Says: Look Beyond the Produce at the Farmer’s Market

Dear Betty,

You talk about farmer’s markets, but they seem so lame in the winter. Why would I bother going?

– Winter Blahs in Washington

Even in California, a place where we can get market-fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, the winter months at the market can get pretty dismal. Sure, you can still get leafy greens, root veggies and citrus, but it’s absolutely not the same as the summer bounty.

That’s what makes this the perfect time of year to try the wide variety of cool products from vendors who can’t get booth space in the summer.

Last weekend at the market, we spotted:

  • Italian foods. This vendor sells the best ravioli, sauces and to-die-for olives that you will ever taste. Fig and balsamic-marinated olives! You can’t beat that. And because the market was quiet, the guy fed us an entire meal’s worth of olives in samples, from jalapeƱo to blue cheese stuffed varieties.
  • Nuts. One stand had every kind of tree nut that you can imagine, including flavored varieties. Toffee almonds, anyone?
  • Honey. Organic and locally harvested.
  • Kettle corn. There’s really nothing better than a fresh, warm batch of kettle corn, sweet and salty.
  • Soaps and lotions. Handmade with natural ingredients.
  • Coffee. No, we don’t have a coffee vendor at our market, but I know that Muddy Dog Coffee is a regular fixture at the local market in North Carolina.
  • Olive oil. Dozens of varieties to choose from. The Tiny Kitchen Assistant prefers lemon flavored oil as a bread dip.

So if you’ve been avoiding your market because you think there’s nothing to offer, think again. You never know what gems you’ll find when the market is quiet!

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2 Responses

  1. Jim P says:

    So you say you like summer farmers’ markets? You want them there so you can go get your tomatoes, cukes, eggplant, peppers and other glorious hot-weather bounty?

    Well, there’s your reason to patronize a winter market.

    Because, quite shockingly to some, I realize, your summer sellers need to survive the winter to be there for you in May. They all have fixed costs – mortgages, equipment depreciation, maintenance, utilities and more – that have to be covered 12 months per year. No producer I know can make a business on 5 or 6 months of sales.

    I’m not suggesting you view this as some form of charity. In the “me-centric” world we live in, what I’m suggesting is that you do something for you in the winter (winter foods are every bit as glorious as summer foods) in order to create the opportunity for you to do something for you in the summer.

    So next gloomy winter day you’re tempted to shop the splendiferous Safeway, or Vans, or God forbid, Trader Joe’s (where even the produce is wrapped in plastic), ask yourself if this is the way you want to eat year-round. If the answer is yes, scan your discount card, load up on the Two-Buck-Chuck, grab some frozen edamame and spanakopita, and warm up the microwave. But if you prefer to have summers filled with real food, having known pedigree, produced by people who also eat their own work, then turn your car around and go ask a farmer how to develop a winter food repertoire that will interest you and your family, and bring them back for the summer.

  2. Alisa says:

    Perfectly reasonable, and something I’d never thought of in those terms. Of course, most of our summer vendors are long gone and won’t reappear until closer to Memorial Day, which is why there are spots for the vendors who sell the items listed above; there’s no room for them during the height of the summer selling season. I’m pretty sure that our only year-round vendors are my favorite miscellaneous stand (everything from spring garlic to figs, depending on the season), and corn man who sells apples in the winter.

    Another reason to attend the winter market — particularly in our town — is that it’s quiet. Our market is a mob scene in the summer. Once the crowds thin out from late fall to early spring, your vendors actually have the time to talk with you. You can learn something about your olive oil, any why different varieties have different flavors. You can learn about the specific patch of orange blossom flowers that contributed to your honey. It makes for an interesting morning.

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