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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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

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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Directions:
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.

It’s Pie Season

It’s almost the New Year, and nothing tops off a celebratory meal like a piece of pie. Need a hostess gift? How about a lovely dish filled with a home-made treat. An office get-together? Try a pie. Make-ahead meals for when the kids are all at home? Savory pies popped in the oven leave plenty of family time.

There’s no reason to be intimidated by making crust from scratch. Central Farm Markets customer Cathy Barrow, author of upcoming cookbook Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet and Savory Slab Pies, shares her fool-proof recipe for:

Perfect Pie Dough

Makes a top and bottom crust for a 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and frozen for 20 minutes
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • ½ cup ice water

Directions:

In the food processor, pulse flour, butter, and salt until the butter is in small pieces coated with flour, about 15 times. Add water all at once and turn the processor on until the mixture almost forms a ball. Form the dough into two six-inch disks using plastic wrap and a scraper to firmly press the dough into a cohesive form. Wrap tightly and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours. (May be frozen for one month. Defrost overnight in refrigerator). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm slightly. Roll out each piece to an 11-inch disk, draping one of the pie pan and placing the other on a piece of parchment. Refrigerate while making the filling.

Speaking of filling…here’s where you can bake with confidence with Central Farm Markets fruit vendors offering jarred fruits and even pre-made pie fillings. There are also plenty of fresh ingredients for pie – apples, pears, pumpkin, sweet potato, ricotta…and ingredients for savory dishes, such as Shepherd’s Pie abounds!

Speaking of…here’s my basic recipe for Farmer’s Pie. Flavors and ingredients are of your choosing of whatever is available at the markets. The combinations are endless. They are easy to make ahead and freeze well.

Farmer’s Savory Pie

Ingredients:

  • 2 9-inch pie crusts
  • 1 pound ground meat or loose sausage
  • 4 cups diced assorted winter vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, kale, fennel bulb, mushrooms)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium potato (white or sweet), cubed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated/crumbled cheese
  • 1 teaspoon fresh herbs
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Brown meat with onion and garlic in skillet. Add butter, vegetables and herbs, sauté until tender and most of liquid has cooked off.

Place one crust in pie dish.

Pour meat mixture in pie crust, add cheese and top with second crust and pinch closed.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

If all this seems like too much for you and you’re still craving pie, there are plenty of bakers at the markets offering several different varieties of pies that can meet your holiday needs.

The Season for Giving

In addition to feasting, the year-end holiday season is traditionally the time for gifts. Family get-togethers, office parties, neighborly gatherings, whatever the occasion, Central Farm Markets has you covered. Check out the online Holiday Brochure, with over twenty pages of great ideas including detailed information about where and when vendors will be at the markets throughout the end of the year.

But there is far more at the markets than the ideas that make it into our Holiday Brochure. Consider putting together a basket (or reusable market bag) full of goodies such as sauces, salsas, and condiments made from fruits and vegetables from the vendors’ farms and orchards. Or how about a hand-crafted plate or cutting board from a market artisan to be filled with farmstead cheeses and hand-crafted cured meats? My favorite go-to gifts from the markets include knitting kits from Kiparoo Farm Studio, hand-made soaps and unique teas. For festive libations, consider regionally produced wine, cider, beer and distilled spirits. If you are unsure of what to get, market gift certificates that can be used at any of the Central Farm Markets locations and never expire cover your bases, or tuck one into the basket along with the goodies.

Shopping at the markets also comes in handy when having to cook larger amounts of food. Meat purveyors offer custom orders, larger cuts, and items such as fresh turkey not commonly found throughout the year. Seasonal desserts, pies and cakes abound with our bakers.

Cooking for a crowd doesn’t have to be a cause for panic. Here’s a simple, yet delicious idea for a seafood stew that can be made with all ingredients purchased at the markets and cooked within minutes, leaving you plenty of time to spend with family and friends instead of in the kitchen.

Market Cioppino

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds of assorted seafood (clams, shrimp, mussels, fish, lobster, scallops)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (a box of cherry tomatoes will also do)
  • 1 bottle Bloody Mary mix (I use Toigo Orchards’ Birth of Pain)
  • 2 cups white wine (a craft IPA also works well)
  • 2 cups broth
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Baguette or crusty bread

Directions:

  1. Clean and prepare all seafood items—scrubbing, de-veining, and cutting fish into 1” squares.
  2. In a stock pot, sauté olive oil, onion, fennel and tomato until onion becomes translucent.
  3. Add seafood and liquids. Bring to a simmer until clams and mussels open, fish, shrimp and scallops turn opaque. Serve with crusty bread.

Tomatoes in December?

Photo by Chef José Andrés

As the traditional market season begins to wind down along with the year, customers may be perplexed at the availability of fresh tomatoes.

Are they local?

Absolutely!

Given the demand for locally produced organic foods, long-time market producers are implementing a variety of year-round and season extending practices to offer their customers fruits and vegetables outside the confines of the traditional growing season. Hydroponics, high-tunnels, double floating row covers and greenhouse technologies imported from the Netherlands are some of the ways Central Farm Markets’ vendors are able to bring colorful tomatoes, fresh herbs, salad greens and tender cucumbers year round.

In addition to these extended season treats, there are plenty of vegetables that are readily available due to their ability to withstand frigid temperatures in the field and excellent storage capabilities. These include winter squash varieties and root vegetables like beets, turnips, parsnips, carrots, fennel, and celeriac. And then there are the cold weather loving veggies that actually improve in flavor after being exposed to frost such as kale, collards, Brussels sprouts and my personal favorite, kalettes—which are like tiny bunches of purple kale that grow on stalks like Brussels sprouts and can withstand freezing temperatures.

Other cool-season vegetables making a comeback after the summer and fall heat are cauliflower, broccoli and cabbages.

Recognizing that people shop for fresh food year-round, market growers have made significant investments to bring fresh produce to market throughout the winter months.

Speaking of winter months, remember that the market’s Winter hours will begin January 7. Bethesda Central will be open from 10m-1:30pm and Mosaic Central will be open from 10am-2pm on Sundays through March 25.

Staying in Touch

We live in a digitally connected world, there’s no doubt about it. Between computers, smartphones and tablets, instant access to information and communication is never far away. Did you know this can work to your advantage when it comes to shopping at Central Farm Markets? In addition to Dishing the Dirt, there is a weekly e-blast alerting shoppers to special happenings, current vendors, what’s in season, chef’s demonstrations, music and children’s events. Sign up for it here or at the main website, www.centralfarmmarkets.com.

Speaking of the main website, that’s the perfect place to go for a variety of services and information, including:

  • Quick links to Central Farm Markets’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
  • Information about becoming a vendor.
  • Upcoming events
  • Quick links to all three markets
  • A full list of market vendors and sponsors
  • Contact information for the market staff
  • Information regarding market closures during inclement weather

That last bullet point is especially important during the winter months when snow, ice and bitter cold temperatures make conditions dangerous for both customers and vendors.

In addition to staying connected via Central Farm Markets’ digital properties, many of the vendors themselves have websites, email newsletters and social media accounts that will keep customers up-to-date on what’s available, educate people about production practices and offer ideas and offer recipes for their products along with special events announcements.

But information doesn’t only flow one way. Both Central Farm Markets and vendors love to see what our customers are doing with what they purchase at the market so don’t be afraid to use those hashtags.

Keep in touch!

Holiday Shopping

The countdown has begun for the 2017 holiday season. Depending on your culture, faith or nationality, there are a dozen observed holidays between now and the end of 2017. And we all know what most holidays include…FOOD! What better place to prepare than at the market where not only is there a variety of fresh, local meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, pastries, dairy products, flowers, libations and artisan products for celebratory feasts, but locally made fine crafts perfect for presents.

Here are a few tips that will help you make the most of your holidays when shopping at one of the Central Farm Markets:

  1. Know the market schedule: Central Farm Markets has a Special Thanksgiving Market on Tuesday, November 21 at the Pike location in Rockville (10am – 2pm) where you can pick up your fresh turkey and any other foods on your menu. Be aware though that not all the vendors participate in this special market. For more information about the 2017 Special Thanksgiving Market items available for pre-orders, check out this online brochure. Double-check to make certain what you need will be available, otherwise, plan to shop on the weekend prior’s regular markets.As with the special holiday market brochure for Thanksgiving, Central Farm Markets will be putting together another online brochure for markets in December so stay tuned. And yes, the Sunday markets are open on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve this year with our regular season hours.
  2. Place special orders in advance: if you need a specific size, cut, amount, etc. please let your vendors know ahead of time. Many vendors have special items, such as larger cuts and holiday desserts that they do not normally bring to market.
  3. Shop early for the staples: these are the items that are at market every week, but tend to go fast during the holiday season. Think eggs, breads, milk, cider, salad greens, etc.
  4. Great gift ideas abound: in addition to lots of delicious food and drinks (always welcomed gifts), artisan vendors offering pottery, woodworking, handcrafted soaps and lotions, and knitting are also found at all three Central Farm Markets locations making one-stop local shopping easier this holiday season. And if you can’t decide, stop by the markets’ information tents for gift certificates in the amount of your choosing.
  5. REMEMBER all markets are CLOSED the weekend following Thanksgiving: seriously, eat your leftovers. Plus, the vendors enjoy spending time with families and friends just like you do. We’ll be back the following week…promise.

Getting Around

By Sandra Kay Miller, Painted Hand Farm

As the holiday season approaches and shoppers turn to Central Farm Markets to stock up on ingredients as well as gifts, the question becomes “how do I carry it all?”

Turkeys, roasts, winter squash, bags of fruit, pounds of vegetables, jugs of cider, bottles of wine and bouquets of flowers can’t all fit into a couple of market bags and if you manage to do so, it makes for a difficult trek back to the car.

Here are a few practical ideas for loading up at market:

  1. Bring a cart: many shoppers have already returned to the days when two-wheeled market carts were as common as re-usable cloth bags when heading out to the market. If you happen to be the parent (or grandparent) of a toddler, strollers and wagons double nicely to carry all your market purchases.
  2. Use the market’s Concierge Service: simply leave your bags at the Central Farm Markets Information Tent and when you are ready to leave, let the market workers know. Drive your car to the designated curbside pick-up spot and your bag will be brought to your car.
  3. Ask for help: vendors know that sometimes their products can be heavy. After all, they are the one who have loaded their vehicles! If they are unable to carry your purchases to your vehicle, they will always locate a member of the market staff who can help you.
  4. Make more than one trip to your vehicle: Central Farm Markets takes pride in being located within easy walking distance of public parking at all of our markets so that our customers have better access.
  5. Bring a friend: Central Farm Markets provides a community atmosphere perfect for outings, including tables and chairs, prepared foods, and delicious drinks and music.

These ideas aren’t only for the holidays, but for weekly shopping. We hope you will make our markets central to your weekly shopping.

Fall Spaghetti Squash Casserole

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Spaghetti squash! The versatile, previously under-utilized squash that makes a huge difference in my meals as soon as it becomes seasonal. It is a great way to add content and nutrition to a dish without overpowering it. The spaghetti squash has very little flavor on it’s own, so it will work with almost any flavor profile. Earlier this year, I shared my recipe for a spaghetti squash marinara dish that was extremely popular, and very easy to make. You can also learn more about spaghetti squash in general by checking out that post.

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Two aspects of this dish are important – one is the kale. Tuscan kale, also referred to as “Dinosaur kale,” has an extremely different flavor profile and texture than the wider-known, more typical curly kale. It is darker, the leaves are straighter, and it has a more delicate, sweet taste than typical kale, making it more usable in everyday dishes, and preferable to those who claim they don’t like kale. Tuscan kale is common in Italian cuisine, most popularly used in soups and pastas. Cooking the kale before adding it to a casserole allows the tough stems to break down a bit, making it easier to eat and more flavorful.

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The other important aspect of this dish are the leeks. I LOVE LEEKS. When leek season begins, I usually buy a whole bunch of them, cut them into medallions, and stash them in the freezer. The flavor is so unique among the other common onion varietals- its like a mixture between an onion and some kind of green (spinach, kale, etc.) They are easy to throw into any dish and they always add so much depth of flavor. The important thing to remember is that they typically grow deep in the ground, and the white parts (the more commonly used parts of the leek) need to be properly washed before use. There is generally a lot of sand and dirt particles hidden in the layers. Once you’ve washed your leeks, go for it!

I don’t generally share recipes containing any ingredients that one cannot find at the market. I made an exception this time because I really wanted to show the versatility of the spaghetti squash. In order to do that, I had to add some flavors that aren’t found at any market vendor’s booths. I decided to go in a semi-Mexican direction, so I added salsa verde and black beans. This creates a great Mexican flavor profile without being overwhelming. The eggs in the dish hold the casserole together. I actually enjoyed this dish as a breakfast item – I even put a fried egg on top!

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The one thing that I really want to stress in this post is that spaghetti squash is very versatile. I encourage you to grab one or two at the market, try this recipe (or one of your choosing), and open up to the thought that this is a great veggie-based substitute for so many dishes. It really does astound me what creative recipes some chefs have been able to create with such a simple vegetable!

Fall Spaghetti Squash Casserole

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INGREDIENTS

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the spaghetti squash in half length-wise and remove the seeds. Rub olive oil, salt, and pepper over the exposed sides of the squash. Place on a baking sheet, exposed-side down, and cook in the oven for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the leek into ¼-inch sized medallions, using only the white and light green parts. Wash the kale and cut it into ½-inch sized ribbons. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to a large pan. When the oil is hot, add the leeks. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the leeks start to become translucent. Add the kale to the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and add to a large bowl. Keep the oven on.

As soon as the squash is cool enough to touch, remove the spaghetti “strands” using a fork. Place the strands into a colander and push down, removing as much moisture as possible. You may need to do this several times to get all of the liquid out.

In the large bowl with the leeks and kale, add the spaghetti squash strands, the black beans (drained), and the salsa verde. Beat the eggs and add to the bowl. Pour the ingredients into an oven safe 9×13 dish.

Cut the mozzarella into discs thin enough to cover the entire top layer of the casserole.

Place the casserole in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until nothing moves when you wiggle the dish. Let sit at least 20 minutes before serving.