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Winter Farmers Markets

11/30/07 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) The practice of farmers bringing their produce to town is almost as ancient as agriculture itself, and it's been enjoying a popular revival - one that commentator Ron Krupp says is beginning to extend into the winter months.

(KRUPP) Although farmers markets are a new phenomenon in the U.S., they represent an ancient form of commerce and social interaction between farmers and the people of the villages, towns and cities. For thousands of years, growers have been hauling their goods to town squares, where news and gossip are exchanged along with beans and turnips, potatoes and other vegetables, apples and fruits, baked bread and livestock.

The growing popularity of farmers markets in the U.S. is attributed to a number of factors: more demand for freshness and higher nutritional value of locally grown food, less tolerance for factory-raised meat, increased awareness about supporting local economies, and environmental concerns about the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics. Sociologists estimate that people have 10 times as many conversations at farmers markets than supermarkets.

The number of farmers' markets in the U.S. has doubled nationally in the past decade, to more than 3,700. They are the largest growing sector of the food industry. Vermont has 62 farmers markets, including the newest initiative - full-season markets that open their doors during the winter months. Brattleboro, Chelsea, Dorset, Montpelier, Norwich and Rutland now have winter markets. Other towns, including Bennington, Bellows Falls, and Waitsfield, will hold special holiday markets.

Saturday is still the most common day for farmers markets. And, as you might expect, finding indoor space has been a crucial factor in developing winter markets. Greg Cox, a market organizer, told me that the winter farmers market in Rutland found space in the old Strand Theater. In order to enter the market, consumers must walk through the Rutland Area Natural Food Co-op. The market plans to offer greens, frozen rabbit, chicken, pork and lamb, along with root vegetables, squash, homemade cheese, maple syrup, apples, cider and baked goods. 70 percent of the vendors are farmers.

The Montpelier winter farmer's market will be doing business at Vermont College on the first Saturday of each month, starting in early December and running until April. Jessie Schmidt, the market manager, said the concept of a winter market was spurred on because of the recent demand for local food. The Norwich Winter Market, which began in the fall of 2006, will start off at the local grange before moving to the Norwich town hall.

I started one of the first farmers markets in Vermont in the town of Brattleboro in the early 70s - and I can tell you: I think we've come a long way since then. The option to buy local foods all year round is growing with each passing season. Perhaps it won't be long before winter markets will be commonplace throughout the Green Mountains.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.

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