The First Taste of Winter

Okay, I’ll admit it: I played on Sunday when there was no market. After all the animals were fed and watered and the new baby lambs counted and snuggled, I fueled up on a couple of roasted marrow bones, broke out the cross-country skis and took off across the fields. For a few hours I practiced my rhythm, got in the groove and pushed past my previous limits of the farm lane out into the big expanse of the neighboring dairy farm. Making it to the next tree row was my goal, and once I reached it, I stood there admiring the view and my accomplishment until my phone chirped the familiar sound from my weather app: snow starting in fifteen minutes.

Skiing home in the squall I recognized the dilemma of doing something fun in the harshness of inclement weather, kind of like farming and going to market. While I may be uncomfortable standing out in subfreezing conditions, I am content because of the customers who continue to support the weekly Central Farm Markets’ winter sessions. Now that winter hours have kicked in with markets starting at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m., harsh conditions are more tolerable.

But sometimes those conditions are too harsh, meaning the management of the markets uses common sense to ensure the safety of both vendors and customers by cancelling the markets. (Note: at Bethesda, when Montgomery County cancels school activities due to weather, the market must also close.)

I know there was disappointment last week, but when that second band of snow hit during my ski trek, had I gone to market I would have been cresting the mountain between Maryland and Pennsylvania along with my fellow farmers who travel that route.

We live in the mid-Atlantic, the Northeast, whatever you want to call it, but the reality is winter happens this time of year. Some years are mild and others, like this year according to the Capital Weather Gang, are going to twist us into a tangled mess of hats, scarves, gloves and insulated garments with polar vortices and nor’easters.

Since none of us have any control over the weather the best we can do is deal with it. Here are some tips about how you can make the most out of shopping at Central Farm Markets in the coming winter months.

  1. Stock up. Winter vegetables, such as squash, root vegetables and winter greens are built to last in cooler temperatures. When extended forecasts call for snow over the weekend, buy extra for the following week in case of a market closure.
  2. Stay in touch. Between the eBlast, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website, TV and radio, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to show up to an empty parking lot and complain, “I didn’t know market was cancelled!”
  3. Remember winter markets start at 10 am. Please let us get set up before helping you. And if you absolutely must have what you need, offer the exact amount in cash as the credit card machines are often the last item to be set up as their batteries wear down faster in cold weather.
  4. Don’t be mad at us. Seriously, we don’t want to miss a market, however, we also don’t want to slide down the mountain or into a ditch on the icy, snowy secondary rural roads that are not as well maintained as city streets and highways.
  5. Dress for the Weather. When markets are open in frigid temperatures, put on those extra layers, hats and gloves and ASK your farmer if you don’t see something. They may have it covered or boxed to protect from cold damage.

Soup(er) Weather

We’ve been spoiled by the temperate weather these last few weeks, but winter will be making its way back to freezing temperatures by the end of this week. Frigid weather calls for a batch of soup. Even a culinary luddite can manage a meal made from scratch instead of a can when it comes to soup.

As eaters strive for more control over the ingredients of their meals—less salt, more flavor, spicier, no additives, no BPH—the simplicity of soup can provide several meals worth of food with minimal effort and ingredients. With a little extra effort, soups can go from fantastic to phenomenal. This week’s Dishing the Dirt is dedicated to upping your soup game.

Cooking soup is something that can be done in a single pot. Soup has been made for thousands of years in everything from tightly woven baskets into which hot stones are dropped into the liquid to state-of-the-art, water-jacketed steam kettles gently simmering ingredients to perfection.

Soups are indicative of specific geographies and cultures. From the Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, Chicken Corn Soup, to Vietnamese pho, the mere mention of a steaming bowl of goodness can be a dead giveaway of one’s heritage.

The base of soup is some type of liquid, most often stock or broth. People often ask me what the difference is between the two even though the terms are interchangeable in most recipes. Broth is made of a simple ingredient (meat/bones/vegetables) simmered and reduced to unlock flavors, fats and proteins, while stock includes additional ingredients such as herbs, spices and aromatics.

In bisques and chowders, dairy is added to create a creamy consistency and flavor. Vegetarian or vegan versions use puréed potato, cauliflower and other light-colored starchy vegetables to achieve a similar consistency and color without dairy.

Other liquids used in soup include vegetable juice, coconut milk, beer, wine, whey, cider and plain ol’ water.

To get a better idea of how to make amazing soup, I went to the expert at Central Farm Markets, Christine Ilich, owner of Heirloom Kitchen, who cooks up seasonal vegetarian soups using ingredients from other producers at market. Christine listed several tips for making great soups:

  • Fresh seasonal ingredients provide the best flavors.
  • Use fresh herbs whenever possible and add at the very end of cooking for the strongest flavor and best color. Herbs and spices can help you use less salt and still get good flavor. If you must use dried herbs, add during cooking to bring out the flavor.
  • Use good olive oil, single-source is best.
  • Good soups come from building flavors. Start with carrots, celery, onion (and garlic, if you like). Sauté in good olive oil (with a bit of water to help soften-the water will evaporate out), then add in other veggies, stock, seasonings.
  • Season soups with salt and pepper after the mixture comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and always taste (!). Add salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, and spices as needed.
  • With vegetable soups, make sure your veggies are tender but don’t overcook. You don’t want to make mush of beautiful, seasonal produce.
  • Beans and natural starches in the vegetables themselves thicken up soups. Even a few tablespoons of lentils or beans will thicken up a vegetable or meat soup nicely.
  • When prepping for soup, have all the veggies and herbs chopped and ready to go before you begin.
  • For vegetarian soups, puréed tomatoes add flavor and color, and mushrooms add a good ‘meaty’ flavor without meat.

And if you aren’t up for the challenge of making your own soup, each week Heirloom Kitchen offers a variety of freshly made, seasonal soups with ingredients sourced from Central Farm Markets growers.


Lists & Resolutions

The new year is upon us which means the R-word will make its annual appearance begging us to promise everything from the simplest of changes to the insurmountable. Humans have been making personal resolutions at the new year for over 4000 years. Records from ancient Babylon chronicled promises to the gods to be better in the following year. Now we pen them to paper and tack them to the refrigerator to get buried under take-out menus, recipes torn from magazines, and postcards from those who stuck to their goals of traveling more often.

Each year I make a list of ten things I hope to accomplish in the coming year—one for my business and the other more personal. I’ll be honest, there are items on my annual list that have been languishing away on paper for several years, yet I carry them over on January first as a reminder that I have not given up entirely.

Given that one of the top ten resolutions continues to be “eat healthier and lose weight,” inevitably some of those folks end up at the market announcing their intentions and asking if I, too, am making any. The public pronouncements of annual intentions were originally meant to encourage personal accountability, but I doubt there would be much appreciation if I were to point out the errs of another’s ways when I catch them eating ice cream for breakfast on a sweltering Sunday morning halfway into 2019.

While I may not go that far, one of my resolutions this year is to help you keep yours. In addition to showing up to market every week, I resolve to continue weekly with Dishing the Dirt to help customers make the most out of their market experience by drawing from the vast knowledge base of the Central Farm Markets family.

To help you get started on your list for the coming year, I’ve started one for everyone:

  1. Remember that Winter Market hours are 10 am to 1:30 pm for Bethesda Central and 10 am to 2 pm for Mosaic Central.
  2. Bring a reusable bag.
  3. Have lots of $1 and $5 bills instead of $20 and $50 bills when using cash.
  4. Sign up for the weekly market email and follow us on social media so in inclement weather you will be notified if the market is closed.
  5. Support the farmers who work hard to produce food and show up during winter markets.

And to sweeten the pot, don’t forget to pick up your Central Farm Markets Winter Loyalty Card at the market info tent, which rewards you for shopping during the winter months at our markets.

Happy New Year!

The Twelve Stands at Market

At the first stand at market my true love gave to me…an insulated bag.

At the second stand at market my true love gave to me…two loaves of bread that went into the insulated bag.

At the third stand at market my true love gave to me…three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the fourth stand of market my true love gave to me…four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the fifth stand at market my true love gave to me…five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the sixth stand at market my true love gave to me…six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the seventh stand at market my true love gave to me…seven hand-made pastries, six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the eighth stand at market my true love gave to me…eight links of sausage, seven hand-made pastries, six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the ninth stand at market my true love gave to me…nine colorful carrots, eight links of sausage, seven hand-made pastries, six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the tenth stand at market my true love gave to me…ten Honey Crisp apples, nine colorful carrots, eight links of sausage, seven hand-made pastries, six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

On the eleventh stand at market my true love gave to me…eleven heirloom tomatoes, that were grown in a greenhouse, ten Honey Crisp apples, nine colorful carrots, eight links of sausage, seven hand-made pastries, six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

At the twelfth stand at market my true love gave to me…twelve artisan cheeses, eleven heirloom tomatoes, that were grown in a greenhouse, ten Honey Crisp apples, nine colorful carrots, eight links of sausage, seven hand-made pastries, six kinds of mushrooms, five sa-la-mis! Four tubs of yogurt, three bags of salad, two loaves of bread that went into my insulated bag.

Ok, so you may need two insulated bags. According to Forbes, this year’s original twelve gifts has an estimated price tag of $34,558.65, but if you shop at Central Farm Markets, our twelve gifts will cost you a fraction of that and will easily fit in your car or even your bike!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Artificial Availability

Responding to an invitation for a holiday party that would require an overnight stay in Bethesda, I warned my hosts that it may not be possible given that lambing and kidding season has started. “What? I thought they had their babies in the spring,” they replied and once again I had to remind them that if they wanted a plump leg-of-lamb worthy of their spring holiday celebration be it Passover or Easter that I needed to be having babies now.

Dishing the Dirt had this conversation last year when we talked about tomatoes in December. Thanks to modern greenhouse technologies, we can have quite a bit of locally grown produce year-round at Central Farm Markets. However, few understand that the same dynamics of artificial seasonality are also at work with livestock production.

Livestock can be consumed at just about every point in their lives. Size and age are often dependent upon cultural geography more than any other factor. Having a diverse customer base, I’ve had to learn to adjust breeding schedules to have the right size at the right time. This is easier said than done.

Certain breeds (especially heritage breeds) within species can be seasonal breeders, meaning they are only sexually active at certain times of the year. Farmers have selectively bred animals for generations to alleviate seasonal breeding so that no matter what time of the year females are exposed to males, they will ovulate and conceive.

Farmers and food purveyors often advertise no added hormones in their marketing in regards to synthetic implants to increase weight gain and milk production. However, hormones are also routinely used in artificial insemination and estrus synchronization so all the animals can be bred and birth within a similar window of time and to assist in birthing. This allows for year-round breeding on the farmers’ and customers’ schedules – not Mother Nature’s .

While lambing and kidding in late fall/early winter can muck up my end-of-the-year party plans, it does have multiple advantages. First, there are no flies, less pressure from parasites and (hopefully) less mud due to freezing temperatures. This results in healthier young that grow well. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but young lambs will mimic their mothers’ feeding habits. With access to tender green grass which is high in natural sugars and water content, lambs will fill up with forage as opposed to milk. Hay is not as palatable, so lambs to prefer their mother’s milk for sustenance.

But it’s not only beef, sheep, goats and pigs who are subject artificial seasonality. Poultry – both meat birds and egg layers – must be coaxed into year-round production.

Everyone loves a tender, plump bird, but there’s a reason you won’t find fresh pastured poultry at markets this time of the year – it’s freezing cold outside. Commercial poultry production has resorted to raising birds indoors in a climate-controlled environment. Pasture-raised poultry can either eat to grow or eat to stay warm, but they can’t do both. In the late spring, through summer and early fall, meat birds will grow to market weight in six to eight weeks when housed outdoors with access to bugs, grubs, worms, beetles and an occasional snake or mouse (yes, chickens are ruthless hunters with excellent eyesight and a lightning-fast beak) along with a well-balanced feed. But those birds in early spring or late fall may require an extra week or two to put on enough weight to make a decent meal. In cold, wet weather, the birds won’t grow at all no matter how much you feed them – a losing proposition for everyone.

Then there are eggs, everyone’s favorite. Winter egg production starts dropping off in fall as daylight and temperatures decrease. For optimal laying, chickens need at least 14 hours of daylight. Commercial egg houses (both caged and cage-free) can artificially eliminate seasonality with heat and light. They also use breeds that have been specifically bred for production. We’re coming up on the shortest days of the year combined with bitter cold and I can guarantee that the ladies will choose expending their energy on staying warm instead of laying eggs.

As a farmer, I strive to provide my livestock with as natural a life as possible, but at the same time must balance consumer demand and a need to make a living. And my social life? The animals always come first.

Gentle Reminders

Humans are creatures of habit – park in the same spot, hit the same vendors, buy the usual goods, linger for a visit with your favorite farmers. The holidays have begun. Shoppers are picking up a little extra for company, and gifts – that amazing wedge of aged farmstead cheese from Virginia, a bottle of crafted vinegar, a kitchen towel, some yarn.

Regulars. You know who you are. The ones who show up in the foulest of weather year-round, greeting the vendors by name. This is a friendly reminder that it is time to consider not only the end of Central Farm Markets’ Saturday markets for the season, but also that of other seasonal markets in the region. There are over fifty seasonal markets that dwindle to a handful operating during the winter.

Combined with the end of market season for several major fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, it’s time for the annual shock of just-where-did-all-of-these-people-come-from for the year-round markets at Bethesda and Mosaic.

The bottom line: get to the markets early, even when the weather is miserable.

Mother Nature isn’t exactly in tune with the cycles of consumers, dialing back on the bounty as shoppers’ demands become concentrated.

As one of the original winter market vendors, I’ve witnessed the ebb and flow of annual traffic over the years. Last week I saw faces at market I hadn’t seen since Pike and Westfield opened in the spring. Market vendors will be scrambling to estimate the new weekly demands of new shoppers on top of the additional uptick from holiday shopping.

Trust me, it’s just as uncomfortable for producers to say, “sorry, I’m already out,” as your disappointment in missing out on your favorite yogurt or salad.

If you absolutely can not get to market until later in morning, ask your favorite vendors about pre-ordering. This is a win-win deal all around. Producers are confident they have enough product to meet their most ardent customers’ needs and have X-amount already sold, no matter the meteorological conditions. That said, please don’t pre-order and then not show up.

Similarly, with the impending holidays it is prudent to talk to your favorite vendors ahead of time about large or special orders. By ahead of time, I mean one or two weeks…not an email at 8 PM on Saturday night.

Congestion at times is inevitable, but just remember that your fellow shoppers are also supporting regional farms and producers. Both Bethesda and Mosaic have ample free parking. If you are unable to carry all your purchases back to your vehicle, Central Farm Markets provides concierge services at the Information tent.

There is a lot of patience and sharing out there as many times I’ve witnessed two complete strangers cutting in half the last loaf of bread. But whatever you do, don’t show up five minutes before the market closes and get angry because there isn’t a single egg left for sale.

Welcome to market in the winter.

First Freeze

Farmers mark their trips around the sun not by the Gregorian calendar or even the astrological designations of the season. We adjust our endeavors according to the weather. Thanksgiving this year is a prime example – it was the first extended period of sub-freezing temperatures designated as the first hard freeze.

Mother Nature usually gives a warning, reminding us it’s time to take care of the infrastructure, especially anything having to do with water. We’ve dipped into the twenties briefly overnight, but the days warm to as much as the high 50’s. I‘ve seen as low as 22 degrees when leaving for market on a Sunday morning, but by the time I arrived home I’d shed four layers.

There are light frosts signaling the picking of tender greens and fruit as early as October, followed by a killing frost which is when all bets are off for most outside row crops. Some farmers ward off the worst of winter weather using insulating mulch, floating row covers, greenhouses or a combination of the three providing nearly year-round production.

“Arugula and spinach are tough!” said Audrey Fisher Pedersen, co-owner and farmer of Bending Bridge Farm whose greens survived a two-week stretch of below zero temperatures.

As a livestock producer, sometimes I feel as if I have my own crystal ball to what winter will bring. When the animals start growing their winter coats in early September it’s a signal to start projects that need to be done prior to the onset of colder weather. The years that the critters don’t fuzz up until December; an ominous warning there will be little skiing.

All farmers rely on water. To grow crops, water livestock and process products, access to affordable, clean water is the backbone of our industry. But water also requires additional equipment to facilitate its use. There are hydrants, hoses, pumps, wells, tanks and valves. Being unprepared for the hard freeze can cause significant damages if the expanding water splits man-made materials. Not only can these repairs be expensive, they also require an all-stop in order to be fixed.

Stock tank heater

With the advent of the hard freeze comes the deployment of my favorite critical little device that prevents stock tanks from freezing. Last year when the barn was rewired, I was adamant about an all-weather electrical outlet installed on the exterior closest to the large, communal galvanized stock tank. How I do love thee!

Over the years I’ve fought with contractors about dropping electrical lines in the same trench as a water pipe being run out to an area for watering livestock. This is also the most proffered advice to new farmers building out their operation. This is the voice of experience.

Too many times I’ve watched as nearly solid hundred-gallon tanks have had holes beaten through the top with a sledge-hammer only to discover when the weather warms that the ice has spit the tank rendering it useless. They are not cheap to replace.

There are hacks for insulating water tanks, but this works better for larger animals such as cattle and horses. For small ruminants, like sheep and goats, and poultry a large tub inside a tractor tire filled with concrete and foam does not bode well. And pigs! Watering pigs when temperatures don’t rise above freezing for several days in a row can severely try a farmer’s patience.

But with an outdoor power outlet, a thirty dollar gadget from Tractor Supply and a short length of hose that can easily be removed and drained once the tank is full, frigid weather becomes a little less miserable. If all else fails, it’s a bucket brigade in lieu of the gym.

Frozen mud

For a few days I was able to enjoy walking on solid, albeit frozen ground. Then temperatures went back into the 40’s and the mud returned, but HARD FREEZE was written on the 2018 calendar as a record to compare to years past in years to come.

If you want to learn more about farming cold weather, chat up your vendors at Central Farm Markets in Bethesda and Mosaic during the Winter Market months from January through March. We’ll always have a story to tell.

Happy Thanksgiving: Honest Mistakes

Thanksgiving: bound by tradition or a time to get creative. No matter which way you carve up the turkey (or ham), some of the most memorable holidays over the years have been defined by culinary faux pas. Growing up, each year at least one item would be left off my grandparents’ overflowing table – the can-shaped cranberry sauce being the most common offender. But when I became responsible for the preparations and cooking, I took Thanksgiving mistakes to new heights.

“Sandy, you’re supposed to take the giblets out of the turkey before you cook it,” my dad said as he resumed carving the bird for my first (and last) hosting of Thanksgiving dinner at my farm. It was the first year, so I hadn’t yet raised my own turkeys. What I didn’t want to tell him was the year previously when I had raised my own birds while living out west, I had also forgotten to remove the bird’s crop that was tucked into the chest in the narrow of the wishbone. Wait, I didn’t use corn in my stuffing….

In addition to growing my own turkeys, I’ve also prided myself on other holiday accompaniments that have resulted in good laughs.

During the years in which I kept a family milk cow, making butter was one of my favorites. In preparation for the holidays, I had purchased a set of wooden butter molds in which softened butter was stuffed and then plunged out producing a perfectly round pat with a holly leaf. I thought it was cute. My guests thought it was white chocolate. Or worse, when my cat slyly licked the fresh stick of butter set out on a plate to soften and my aunt commented on the “pretty little curls.”

A few years later the pendulum swung in the other direction…when I was in a rush to bake my from-scratch & home-grown pumpkin pies, I left out the sugar, which created an unwelcome savory dessert.

But in truth, my Thanksgiving screw ups had been going on for years. While working at a hot springs resort restaurant that featured regional foods, I learned the hard way that vegans don’t eat butter or cream (hey, it was the 80’s) and not to use the same tongs for the Caesar salad and the house salad which contained walnut oil (sorry about that anaphylactic reaction).

I should blame my cringe-worth holiday meals on my Grandma Miller, though. She forged my path with blunders such as pre-heating the oven but forgetting to take out a Tupperware container of pretzels stored in the oven resulting in her house filling with black smoke and a visit from the fire company.

Always one to look on the bright side, I’ve never burned a bird, had it swiped off the counter by a large dog, given everyone at the table intestinal distress with a bad batch of oysters or served bourbon-laced whipped cream to someone fresh out of Betty Ford. (Yes, I was at all those tables.)

This year I’m playing it safe and letting someone else do all the cooking.

Best wishes for a delicious and heart-filled holiday to all my customers and fellow vendors of the Central Farm Markets family. See you back at the markets on December 2nd.

Filling or Stuffing?

Let the official countdown to turkey day commence. Thanksgiving, an American holiday where we gather around the table with family and friends, filling our collective faces with more calories in a single meal that is more in line with a week’s allotment, before beaching in front of the TV to watch parades and football. Although contentions may arise over politics and sports teams, food is what really presses people’s buttons.

Is it filling, stuffing or dressing?

Traditions run deep when it comes to the accompanying side dishes to the centerpiece. Territorialism and cultural geography go together like mashed potatoes and gravy when it comes to filling/stuffing/dressing. Does it get cooked inside the bird, soaking up all the meaty juices into a moist amalgamation of stale bread, onions and celery or bake independent of the bird in a casserole for a crunchy crust? That would be dressing, especially if you hail from the south.

One of the earliest known cookbooks written over four thousand years ago by a Roman gourmand was filled with recipes for stuffing assorted animals with herbs, vegetables, nuts, grains and offal. Today, recipes are a result of regional influences. Oysters are a staple ingredient in the Northeast. Near the Great Lakes rice replaces bread cubes. In the southwest the bird serves as a giant tamale wrapper for a spicy masa filling. The south dishes up cornbread dressing laced with peppers to sop up the gravy which also has a kick of heat.

There are two camps when it comes to side dishes and condiments. First, there are those who will launch a full-scale family meltdown if anyone dare stray from grandma’s recipe for gravy no matter how vile the ingredients. And then there are the adventuresome souls who conjure innovative flavor combinations as if from an Ottolenghi cookbook.

Any way you bake it, there will be some combination of starch, vegetable, fruit, nut and seasoning which will be identified as filling, stuffing or dressing.

What color is your potato?

This dilemma can easily be solved by providing both white and sweet potatoes at your table. There are a zillion ways to cook potatoes, but at Thanksgiving potatoes must be made just so. The checklists come out – smooth or lumpy, done by hand or with a mixer, how much butter, how much seasoning, to add cream or not?

Sweet potatoes are another minefield – canned or fresh, sweetened with brown sugar and toasted marshmallows or savory. No where does sweet potato snobbery become apparent than with vegetable growers. I’ve met many fresh produce vendors over the years who grow one or two kind (there are over 6,500 varieties worldwide) specifically for their family and take any excess to their weekly markets only the week prior to Thanksgiving.

Sweet potato arguments also bubble over into dessert where they fill flaky crusts instead of pureed pumpkin. Pecan or apple is also a valid argument, but please, let’s dispense with the Watergate salad. The 70’s are long over.

Made from scratch

If you’re shopping at the farmers market, chances are good you’re not going to gum up your green beans with sludge out of a can or gravy from a jar. Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday where people show their appreciation for one another through sharing a meal that represents an abundant harvest. Depending at whose table I am eating, I’ve had everything from pho (they gave the bird to their Vietnamese mother and that’s how she cooked it) to Hawaiian surfers’ turkey (slathered in mayonnaise before popping in the oven and hitting the waves for several hours).

Thanksgiving offers everyone the opportunity to pay homage to their family traditions or experiment with the vast assortment of bounty the mid-Atlantic region offers at Central Farm Markets.

Please note that not all vendors will be attending the Special Thanksgiving Market on Tuesday, November 20th at Pike Central Farm Market from 10 – 2.

Where is my favorite vendor?

It’s market day. You get out of bed and get to market early to be guaranteed first pick of everything only to arrive and find your favorite vendor MIA.

Annoyed? Yes, but it happens.

Debbie Moser, co-founder of Central Farm Markets explained that this year has been an especially difficult year for vendors due to the weather. “When it rains all the markets have less foot traffic, meaning lower sales. Some vendors choose not to come when the weather is too wet due to decreased sales or possible damage to their products.” From a management standpoint, this is frustrating because the same amount of time and resources is needed to put on the markets.

From a vendor perspective, a market absence often boils down to a financial decision.

Last January when customers complained about vendors not showing up on one of the coldest weeks of the year, this blog voiced the hurt many farmers felt over making the choice to protect their crops, infrastructure, products and themselves from single-digit temperatures. But it’s not winter…

There are many other reasons your favorite vendor might not be at market for a week or be gone for good.

Most vendors who have planned absences will alert their customers the previous week as well as through their social media. Prepared food vendors, especially ones with catering services, will sometimes trade out a market for a private event.

“I love all the market vendors and customers, but occasionally a special event wins out especially if it is more profitable and less stressful. It just makes good economic sense for me,” explained Josh Anson, owner of Cipolla Rossa Pizzeria.

Similarly, Janet Cherchuck, owner of Floradise Orchids has lamented being unable to attend market regularly as the temperatures drop. “We can’t have the orchids exposed to temperatures less than fifty degrees for any length of time or it will kill the buds,” she explained, “We don’t want to disappoint our customers with damaged orchids.” Floradise has experimented with ways to take orchids to market during colder weather but found that the fumes from propane heater (which many vendors use) kill the orchid flowers. “We’re taking it on a week-by-week basis, but the weather hasn’t been too cooperative.”

Inevitably, there are also unannounced absences. Vendors have unexpectedly skipped markets due to automotive troubles and illness. No one wants to break down or get sick, but it happens.

Sometimes vendors disappear for good. The two most common reasons are the business outgrows the weekly market model for a brick-and-mortar location and due to lack of help.

Farmers markets serve as incubators allowing businesses to cultivate a following in specific geographic locations before taking a permanent plunge. Products can be tested, tweaked and perfected prior to going into a larger commercial production without a big overhead and less risk.

Many of the vendors participate in multiple markets on the same day. Having reliable help is critical. When a vendor struggles to maintain employees they usually disappear from the market.

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally vendors get tossed from a market for failing to follow the rules or unacceptable behavior.

Even beloved successful vendors hang up market life. To this day customers still ask about Culinary Nomad. We all miss Valerie’s Hot Mess, but she put it best. “I am a wife, a mother and a food truck owner. I wanted to have another child and knew I couldn’t do all three at once to the best of my ability. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my family.”

As the regular season wanes along with decreasing temperatures, customers will begin to encounter fewer vendors at the markets. Farms that grow field crops will be gone by the end of the regular season in December. The Saturday (Pike and Westfield) markets close on November 17th until next spring.

The winter season is not far off now, beginning on January 6. The best way find out if your favorite vendors will be attending market on any particular week is to subscribe to the Central Farm Markets’ weekly eBlast newsletter which lists what vendors have committed that week to attending.