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.
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