White tents peak up in rows at the Tacoma Farmers Market. Vendors, mostly farmers looking to connect with locals looking for fresh, close-to-home produce and products, move throughout their spaces to chat with buyers. The buyers hustle from booth to booth, surveying the community grown and made goods. Many Pierce County residents associate farmers markets with summertime. Fair enough – most are open from early spring to mid-fall, but close down as soon as the frost sets in.
Where might you access your locally grown goods then, when the farmers market season is over?
One market continues into the cold snap: The Proctor Farmers’ Market hosts local vendors in Tacoma’s historic Proctor District every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. until December 14. Alongside this, farmers maintain activity throughout Pierce County’s acres of farm land, and yet many shoppers don’t know that they can continue to buy fresh, local produce in the colder months.
As you prepare and execute your holiday dinner menus this year, consider buying in-season produce and locally raised meats and seafood from local community farmers. It will be just that much easier with this year’s first Tacoma Farmers Market Winter Markets.
Stacy Carkonen, executive director of the Tacoma Farmers Market, has been aiming for an off-season farmers markets for years. This makes it easier to connect local consumers with local farmers in a time when many forget to consider farm-fresh product.
The Broadway Winter Market will take place on November 21and December 19 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the Point Ruston Winter Market will take place on December 14 and 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
This year’s first Winter Markets were made possible because of great staff and vendors. Carkonen said they’ve targeted markets the week before Thanksgiving and Christmas hoping that buyers shopping for their holiday meals will take advantage of the fresh local produce made available from community farms. But the cold-snap means just a little more effort on behalf of both parties: farmers and buyers.
“If you just put some intention behind it…it might be a little harder to find, but I think that hunt to find local is really worth it,” Carkonen said. “If people thought about developing their menu as a challenge, like ‘Let’s buy local this season…’ I think they’d be surprised what we do grow here and how much is still available even in November.”
She said if the regular farmers markets don’t work for some people, they can look for other places to get locally grown produce. Local food co-ops, standalone produce markets and pop-up stands at community farms are available year-round. Alongside these options, most farms offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions. In exchange for prepaid subscriptions, CSA members pick up regular shares of the farm’s seasonal harvest.
Wild Hare Organic Farm maintains a regular harvest for CSA members year-round. Wild Hare owner Katie Green coaches people along the way to make the most of things while they are in season.
“It does take a little bit of investment on the part of the eater as well as the farmer,” Green said. “If you’re looking for the variety that we have in the summertime, it’s not there.” However, Green adds, “When you work with me, I’m going to send you home with lots of ideas of what to do with things.”
Wild Hare has been harvesting a variety of hearty vegetables lately (to distribute now or store for later winter months): cabbage, broccoli, mustards, spinach, arugula, lettuces, chicories, rutabaga, turnip, carrots, parsnips and squash.
Squash specifically steal the show during the winter harvest. Green said such vegetables are incredibly nutritious and versatile. When people are forced out of their comfort zone to cook local and in-season, it’s a fun and rewarding challenge.
This challenge pays off for the farmer with persistence throughout harsher, freezing conditions.
“When people buy local, they are preserving our farms and helping [them] stay in business,” Carkonen said.