Shoppers warm up to winter farmers market
Natick opens off-season trial run of popular summer event
NATICK - Last Saturday morning, more than 250 people bundled up and braved the cold to obtain what most New Englanders assume cannot be acquired around here until springtime - locally grown produce and Massachusetts-caught seafood.
They made it to the region’s first winter farmers market, a local experiment to see whether Natick’s popular summertime and fall produce marketplace, which attracts farmers, crafters, and food vendors from across Greater Boston, could survive year-round.
It is an extension of the eat-local phenomenon that has transformed and revitalized local farming, said market coordinator Debra Sayre.
“People want it, and they are willing to support it,’’ she said.
Shoppers found the same sorts of seasonal produce that would have been available to their great-grandparents in the era before food was regularly flown around the world regardless of season; root vegetables like turnips, butternut squash, Brussels spouts, carrots, beets, and onions that were harvested in late fall, and stored in root cellars before coming to market.
Along with produce from Tangerini’s Spring Street Farm in Millis and the Natick Community Organic Farm, the market in the Johnson Elementary School gymnasium along Route 27 offered bounty produced by the region’s fishermen, lobstermen, bakers, candy and jam makers, and artisans. There also was locally produced meat from grass-fed and free-range animals.
Several area suburbs were interested in bringing their municipal summer markets inside this winter, but only Natick has managed to line up the vendors and indoor space to do it, according to the state Department of Agricultural Re sources, though a privately sponsored market is also debuting this season at Russell’s Garden Center in Wayland.
For Natick resident Jeanne Williamson, being able to buy local food - even a limited amount - made it well worth the trip, she said.
True, it was some 40 degrees warmer the last time she walked to Natick Center in October for the final farmers market of the season, but she came out last weekend to support the effort, and bought a bag full of tubers, scallops, local maple syrup, and sweets from a Natick-based candymaker, Cocoapelli Chocolates.
“I think it’s great, and I hope it grows even larger,’’ she said of the market, scheduled to run Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through March.
Some vendors - the vegetable farmers, Cocoapelli, the Chestnut Farms meat share program from Central Massachusetts, Jordan Brothers Seafood in Brockton, and Fior D’Italia Pasta & Cheese in Vermont - were veterans of the summer market.
Several others were relative newcomers, including Fisher Brook Farm in Dover, which sells homemade jellies and marmalades, Golden Girl Granola in Carlisle, and Pam’s Black Bean Salsa in Marblehead.
The salsa-operation’s owner, Pam Granese, said she is already committed to Saturday morning markets on the North Shore during the summer, but she jumped at the chance to take advantage of the wintertime venue in Natick.
Four years after founding her business, which supplies salsa to
A winter market “is fantastic,’’ said Granese. “It’s so timely because things have really changed. The consumer wants local things and people are really serious about supporting local businesses, it is not just lip service.’’
Emilio Tangerini, 21, a member of the Millis farming family, was working in its booth last weekend.
He said his parents had harvested most of the vegetables in the early fall, although the robust, tree-like Brussels sprout plants, which sweeten best after the first frost, had come out more recently.
They are using a cold basement for storage this year, Tangerini said, but are making plans to expand the farm’s root-cellar accommodations.
Other farmers have expressed interest in trying greenhouse or hydroponic gardening, and may have tomatoes, basil, lettuce, and kitchen herbs to sell at the market next month or in March, said Sayre.
Cocoapelli’s owner, Jonathan Spillane, said he was delighted to have a sales outlet where his chocolate wares were not in imminent danger of melting.
“Summertime is a little problematic for my product, as you can imagine,’’ the Natick resident said, explaining he makes do at all but the most sweltering summer markets with a shady spot, coolers, and sturdy plastic covers.
Spillane said he too has noticed a sustained commitment by the public to locally produced food. Even in a recession, sales of his company’s gourmet chocolates - including gift boxes that sell for $20 - were up 40 percent over the holidays, he said.
Jordan Brothers co-owner Bobby Jordan and his daughter, Taylor, the company’s buyer, were selling their inventory of haddock, scallops, and salmon as well as a new favorite for the holidays and football’s postseason - cooked shrimp, for $8 per half-pound.
Most of the prices were on par with summertime rates, but could rise slightly if bad winter weather keeps fishing boats in harbor for extended periods, they said.
Although the farmers market is primarily about bringing fresh local food to customers, several craftspeople also secured spots in the Johnson School’s gym, including Helene Matteson of Allston, who quit a full-time job in financial services two months ago to devote herself to her burgeoning homemade and decorative soap company, Urban Kitchen.
“This is a great idea,’’ she said. “I had no idea so many people would show up.’’
In Wayland, Russell’s Garden Center had about two dozen farmers and fresh-food makers signed up to participate at its indoor winter market, with its first installment slated for yesterday and continuing Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Feb 27.
Coordinator Peg Mallett said Russell’s vendors include several Western Massachusetts farms with greenhouse- or cold-frame-grown produce.
Several farmers told her they were not prepared for winter marketing this year, but intend to gear up to take part next winter.
“It’s a trend that just seems to keep on going,’’ said Mallett. “After a few months of snow and cold, people love to get into our greenhouse and smell the plants and be near something green.’’
Erica Noonan can be reached at email@example.com.