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.

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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.