Winter Realities for Market Vendors

Frozen Garden Hose and water pipe connection

At market last week several customers remarked on my absence (and that of other farmers) from the previous week when temperatures dipped into single digits the night prior and barely hit the twenties the following day during market.

“Too cold for you? We were here.”

“I bet you were home with your feet up by the fire.”

It took every ounce of restraint to respond without the use of four-letter words. Instead, I chose to make my reply a teaching opportunity.

“No, I was making sure your Passover/Easter dinners lived. The goats and sheep are having babies in this weather,” I replied, explaining that if they want their milk-fed lambs and kids come the spring holiday season, something was going to have to give.

Farmers live in a distinctly different world where severe weather has a direct impact on our agricultural endeavors. When we were told that a customer complained about the absence of vendors at the market on social media, one farmer commented it felt as if they had been kicked in the teeth after attending to their farm round the clock in sub-zero weather to ensure there would be products for customers come spring.

In severe weather, we need to make a choice. Sometimes that choice means staying at the farm to ensure the health of our livestock; to keep a close watch on watering and heating systems that if for any reason should falter or fail an entire crop could be lost; or worse yet, critical infrastructure, such as irrigation pipes, could be damaged requiring costly repairs ten times more than the income that may be lost by attending market. Sometimes the pipes have already froze and broke, leaving no choice other than to stay home and attend to the emergency.

I asked some of the Central Farm Markets vendors what challenges they face during winter, so our customers get an idea of the issues that factor our decisions.

“At Twin Springs Fruit Farm the extreme cold has made it difficult to get any pruning, and other outside winter work done. We are working on an irrigation project also and it makes it difficult to get any real work done. There is, however, a fair amount of greenhouse work to do. Also, the cold has, of course, hurt market attendance, and we have greenhouse crops which need to move to make way for the next plantings, which can’t be slowed down. We don’t like to get too backed up with fresh, but mature, crops of lettuce, arugula, watercress, cucumbers, basil and such, so it is a challenge.”

Shane at Liberty Delight Farm said, “For us, it’s keeping the bedding clean and shelter available for all the animals. Obviously, we try not to have winter calving, but it happens!”

Rob at Young Harvests lamented losing a significant amount of his amazing greens to the bitter cold despite round-the-clock efforts.

Similarly, questions arise about the change in hours with winter markets starting at 10am. This additional hour is much appreciated by vendors, such as Bending Bridge Farm, who must load their truck on the morning of market in extremely low temperatures. “To us, it’s about the quality of our produce. We want our customers to get quality products from us. Some items, such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash are sensitive to freezing temperatures, so they may not last as long or appear as fresh after only a few days.”

In addition to weather related issues, keep in mind this is also flu season – even farmers are not immune. According to Dr. Brown at Doctors To You, “We’re in the midst of an epidemic. We need to reduce the spread and the easiest way we can do this is to get people to stay home.”

There are a few things customers can do to mitigate the challenges winter market vendors face:

  1. Stay in touch. In a previous blog, I wrote about all the ways you can stay informed as to who is going to market and what they will have available. By subscribing to individual vendors’ social media feeds, you can stay on top of last-minute cancellations.
  2. Stock up. Eggs have a shelf-life of six months. Frozen meat can last even longer. Winter veggies can handle weeks in the vegetable crisper drawer and those baby greens (when they haven’t frozen to death) will make it two weeks. When inclement weather is in the forecast, consider purchasing extra. Your farmer will love you for it.
  3. Remember winter markets start at 10am. 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 make us feel bad. Seriously, we don’t want to miss a market. This is our livelihood. Not going to market means no income and the decision is not made lightly. We’ll be back…promise.

Eat Your Winter Vegetables

Photo by Bending Bridge Farm

With a week of weather dipping into sub-zero temperatures, it’s hard to think of fresh vegetables that aren’t rock solid. But thanks to Mother Nature, innovation, modern technology and lots of hard work, farmers can provide customers with fresh seasonal vegetables year-round – the key word here being seasonal.

Let’s look at some of the fresh vegetables you’ll be encountering in the coming weeks and explore easy and delicious ways to prepare them.

Winter Squash

Just as their name implies, these thick-skinned, hard fleshed cucurbits come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and colors. Varieties of butternut and acorn squash are the most common, and are small enough to carry. Some, such as Hubbard, can grow to be as much as fifty pounds!

These long keeping vegetables are high in vitamins A and C. They can be prepared as both savory and sweet – think pie (yes, pumpkins are winter squash), cubed and roasted, pureed for a hearty soup, mashed and buttered, and my favorite, simply cut in half, stuffed with sausage and baked.


Roots are the underground rock stars of winter. Carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and celeriac will all be staples at winter markets. Farmers can keep them safe from the elements as they remain in the ground waiting to be picked for optimum freshness by cultivating plants in high tunnels with lots of mulch for insulation, and floating row covers for added warmth on the coldest nights.

Root vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked. They are also excellent for fermenting. A bonus – the ones that sell with their tops offer additional greens that can be cooked and eaten.

Winter Greens

Chard, collard and kale abound this time of year. Leafy cousins in the cabbage family, some varieties can withstand freezing temperature, even becoming sweeter in taste after exposure to frost. Winter greens are the super food of the season. High in vitamin K which is necessary for proper blood coagulation and binding calcium into bones, nutritionists recommend eating one cup a day for health benefits.

Winter greens can be steamed, sautéed, used in soups, baked and my favorite, braised in cider.

This list goes on…cabbages, radishes, kohlrabi, spinach, mustard greens, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks. There’s no excuse for not eating fresh and local during the winter months.

Try out this simple recipe with ingredients from the market.

Portuguese Sausage Kale Soup


  • 1 pound sausage (preferably spicy)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 quarts stock
  • 1 bunch fresh kale, chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups red or pink beans (soak first)

Brown sausage, onions and garlic in olive oil. Add stock and bring to a simmer. Add vinegar, potatoes, kale and beans. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes.






Baby its cold outside

Image from Capital Weather Gang

Welcome to January in the Mid-Atlantic, where temperatures drop along with occasional precipitation in the forms of snow, sleet and ice. From January 7 – March 25, Bethesda and Mosaic Central Farm Markets will be open during their Winter hours: Bethesda is open from 10am-1:30pm, and Mosaic is open from 10am-2pm.

Due to the unpredictability of inclement weather, please sign up for the market eblast or follow Central Farm Markets on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to learn of market closures. The Bethesda market location is governed by Montgomery County which means that in the event of public school delays or closures, the market will not be allowed to open. Public announcements are made on WTOP.

Keep in mind that vendors must prepare, pack and travel during the previous day and in the early morning hours which means not everyone may make it to market on days of extreme cold, ice or snow in the hours leading up to market even though the weather may be clear and less severe on Sunday morning. Read about our Inclement Weather policy online here.

Similarly, some vendors have chosen to attend winter markets every other week. Central Farm Markets will post online and in the weekly eblast what vendors will be attending that week’s market – another great reason to stay in touch!

Here are several tips for being a savvy winter market shopper:

  1. Dress warmly. Cover as much exposed skin as possible with breathable layers including hats, scarves, gloves/mittens, boots and coats designed to keep you warm. Hint: put a disposable hand-warmer in each pocket to keep fingers toasty.
  2. Limit your exposure. This is one of the reasons winter markets have reduced hours. Make a list. Order ahead from vendors who take pre-orders.
  3. Stay hydrated. There are plenty of opportunities to warm up with coffee, hot chocolate and tea. Plus, a steaming cup helps revive chilly fingers.
  4. Use an insulated bag. While this may make sense in the warmer months to keep your perishable items cool, in frigid temperatures that same bag can keep your tender greens from cold damage.
  5. Don’t expect pretty. Farmers need to protect their products from the winter elements. This may mean goods are kept in heavy, waxed packing boxes, sold from van interiors and covered with blankets. If you do not see what you are looking for, ask the vendor before assuming it is not available.
  6. Bring cash. The batteries of smart phone and portable credit card processing machines don’t last as long in colder weather. Touch screens require bare fingers and sometimes take more time to operate as frozen fingers don’t trigger the display. Hint: ones and fives make for the quickest transaction and are always appreciated.