If you asked me a year ago to write about getting local food and supporting family farmers during the winter here in Massachusetts, it would have been an awfully short piece. Maybe I’d suggest you join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program for meat and vegetables (if you can find one) and wait it out until spring hits. Thankfully, those of us in my neck of the woods and around the country who value family farmer food are finding it easier and easier to get the food we want year-round thanks to winter farmers markets, CSA programs and some stores stocking food from local and regional farmers.
For the past few years, I’ve gotten my meat delivered from a farm a few hours away in Vermont, which has been a fairly affordable, easy and convenient way to get delicious food for me and my family and support family farmers at the same time. But what to do in those long and cold months after the last farmers markets close up in the fall?
A few recent additions of small stores around town make it possible to get some food from local all year long. For example, I’m thankful to see local milk in several nearby stores, despite the ongoing crisis that has put so many families in the dairy business out of work and off their land.
But the best and most satisfying way for me to get quality food (at better prices) is at farmers markets. This past weekend, I visited the new Somerville Winter Farmers Market just a couple miles from my home, which is open on Saturdays for the next few months. I was determined to see if I could cook a tasty meal using only ingredients from local farmers. Would I succeed?
I got to the market, which on this freezing cold day was thankfully indoors and immediately ran into a friendly face: Farm Aid’s Executive Director Carolyn Mugar! (I’m told our Farmer Advocate Joel Morton was also there at the same time, but I guess I was too busy squeezing carrots and tasting wine, so I didn’t run across him.) The sounds of a woman singing and playing acoustic guitar joined the gentle buzz of customers celebrating their finds and asking farmers about the food they were selling.
Just what’s on sale at a New England farmers market in January? Plenty of meat, wines from local vineyards (thanks to a recently-changed Massachusetts law that allows wine sales at farmers markets), root vegetables like turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, the largest beets I've ever seen, and potatoes, onions, greens, lettuces, spinach, chocolates, homemade sodas, apples, apple cider, seafood caught locally and just off the boat, homemade middle eastern foods, baked goods like pies, breads, and I’m sure a lot more I’m forgetting. One farm even featured some products with a taste of warm weather from Florida like organic oranges, tomatoes and summer squash (the market bent the rules a bit around the definition of “local!”).
I employed my usual farmers market strategy of circling the entire scene and seeing what’s on offer before strategically going back to pick my favorites. My wife and I walked away with a few fold-up reusable bags filled with hot dogs (sadly, my CSA doesn’t offer them), a bottle of red wine, scallops caught the day before, apple cider, a miniature triple berry pie, some small Yukon Gold potatoes, a bag of spinach, carrots and parsnips.
After a bus ride home came the fun part of figuring out what to do with all the goodies we found! I was tempted to forget about dinner and dig into the triple berry pie, but I could picture the disapproving looks on the faces of my nutrition expert colleagues at Farm Aid, so that would have to wait for dessert. I don’t cook a lot of fresh seafood at home (we always have meat from the CSA sitting in the freezer -- it just takes a little more effort to go out and buy seafood), so celebrating our market bounty with seared scallops seemed like a good idea. Some salt, pepper and butter was all the flavoring they needed.
Those delectable little potatoes got unceremoniously peeled, boiled and mashed. I normally like rustic mashed potatoes with the skins on, but lately I’ve craved silky smoothness, so into the potato ricer they went. The plate would be a little colorless if I stopped there (not to mention lacking a little in the vegetable department), so the parsnips and carrots got mixed with a little more butter, a little more salt and a little more pepper, and dried rosemary and then roasted for about 40 minutes. I’m a little notorious in the office for my love of raw carrots (what can I say? Raw carrots are just about the easiest thing to throw in my bag to go with just about any lunch. And thankfully my coworkers usually forgive all the chomping sounds), but it’s safe to say these were some of the sweetest and most delicious carrots I’ve run across. A mini-sized portion of spinach salad on the side brought more color, nutrition and taste. Oh and one more important last touch – that bottle of Seashore Red wine grown here in Massachusetts!
What did this winter market do for me? It gave me one delicious dinner and the promise of many more for me and everyone else all over the Somerville area. Want to convert anyone into a family farm supporter? Serve them fresh, local food and have them compare it to the stuff in the grocery store flown in from halfway around the world that looks so good, but is lacking in flavor.
I know (and work with) people who have winter vegetable CSAs, but if you don’t want to plan that far ahead or don't have access to one, winter farmers markets are a really appealing option. It’s a great way for me to supplement the family farm meat I’m already getting with vegetables, juice and all kinds of other goodies. I'll definitely be back!
I took some photos at the market and put them into a slideshow. Check it out:
And here's a video that the good folks over at BostonZest shot at the market with interviews of farmers and hungry buyers (I feel almost famous to be captured for a split second in here!):
How do you get food from family farmers in the winter? Leave a comment below!
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