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The cold never bothered them anyway: How farmers markets' adapt to the winter


Produce is a plenty at Fanshawe's Farmers' Market. Mavarick Farms stops by every Thursday in F-hallway from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to sell studemts fresh food.

Emily Stewart | Interrobang | Lifestyles | February 8th, 2016

Summer and fall are the seasons we think of when we think about fresh fruits and vegetables. Whether we want a sweet strawberry, juicy tomato or crunchy asparagus, we'll grab it during the time of year we know that produce is in season. However, when winter comes, we may not think as much about how we can scoop up fresh produce made by local and provincial farmers.

Regardless of the season, farmers are busy working all year long, and farmers' markets have learned to adapt to the winter season.

How do you grow your plants?

The Covent Garden Market is running a Winter Indoor Farmers' Market for the first time ever from Jan. 16 to March 19, Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. About 12 of the vendors are participating, with about 30 during the outdoor farmers' market.

“In the past, everybody's ready to take a few months off, but this year, there was real interest in continuing,” said Christine Sheer, the farmers' market manager.

She explained they need more farmers than other vendors, such as chocolate and soap businesses, for the “producer-based market”, so she had to make sure they would have enough farmers on board. Sheer said production is about the same for the farmers participating.

“The meat farmers for instance, at the farmers' market they sell their meat frozen anyway,” she explained.

Sheer said the produce farmer at the Winter Indoor Farmers' Market sells root vegetables that he keeps in storage, and salad greens that he grows in hoop houses.

She explained the ones taking a break from the market make seasonal food.

“My husband is a farmer, and he grows a wide variety of vegetables, but we don't have hoop houses, so we don't have the capacity to do the winter market.”

Sheer said she was nervous about starting the Winter Indoor Farmers' Market, but calls it a “happy little success story” with returning customers, live music and cooking classes.

Other businesses have also been working around the chilly weather.

Craig Turner has operated Turner's Farm Market with his wife and family since 1995, and works at the Western Fair Farmers' Market. He said it's tough to find and grow good quality produce at reasonable prices in the winter. Turner added much of the produce, especially greens, are imported from California and Florida.

“A lot of products cannot be grown in greenhouses simply because they need bees for pollination,” Turner explained, adding that there needs to be wind for pollination to occur.

He said during the winter, you must think about vegetables that can be grown in greenhouses, such as hydroponic lettuce, turnips, beets and light greens. However, he said the production costs of greenhouse grown fruits and vegetables would not make them ready to be sold at the supermarket.

“We've tried to grow strawberries in a greenhouse, and what it would cost us is somewhere around $8 to $10 per quart to produce those,” Turner explained. “To make a reasonable profit on them, you would have to sell them for somewhere between $12 to $15 a quart, and that's just not what the consumer will pay for a product like that.”

However, he said the flower supplier has talked to him about using strawberry plants to sell the berries at $4 to $5 a quart.

On the other hand, George Maravick, a Leamington Farmer, uses a greenhouse to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. His farm brings fresh produce to Fanshawe College students and staff. Walking by the tables, there are still fresh, colourful fruits and vegetables that are ready to eat for sale.

“It's pretty much the same growing procedure, except the product is much healthier from the closed environment,” he explained. “It doesn't get any acid rain or any pollution.”

Maravick added there are few fertilizers and chemicals used on the produce, so “it's almost classified as organic” because they are able to avoid an insect infestation by using sticky 3M tape to catch them. He also said the water they use to feed the plants is the same drinking water from the Leamington water treatment plant.

He said they picked the apples and pears at the end of October and beginning of November and keeps the fruits in storage.

The prices are the same year round as well. Maravick said it's to make sure students are able to afford fresh produce, but he understands that people often raise the prices during the winter to compensate with the higher production prices.

When is the best season to buy fresh produce?

Maravick said most of their produce is good enough to eat all year round, since it's grown in a greenhouse. However, there is an exception with blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

“It's strictly summertime,” he said, adding pears and apples are the safest bet for winter storage.

Turner recommends buying local produce from August to October. “That's when the farms are at their best of producing the product,” he said, adding that Ontario grown fruits and vegetables have their best prices during that time.

“Don't get me wrong, right now a lot of the local product is still on the shelves, like carrots, beets, potatoes, onions and mushrooms. There are a lot of products that are produced or have been produced in Ontario that are still at a very reasonable price,” he said, adding the carrots they are selling now are at the same price and quality they were at that time. He said to buy cauliflower, broccoli, peppers and tomatoes and root vegetables in the fall.

Turner noticed that there are customers expressing their concern over the higher price tags on imported greens, brussel sprouts, beans, cauliflower and broccoli because the value of the U.S. dollar is greater than our weak loonie. He added production shortages in California and Florida, who send the produce to Canada, also contribute to a more expensive grocery bill.

However, he said, “The people that are growing those products here in Ontario are able to store them in a way that their nutrients and their quality is maintained over long periods of time.”

Turner said that while selling produce at their Western Fair Farmers' and Artisans' Market stand, they suggest that their customers buy homegrown produce, and added the business has been successful because of that. They also recommend purchasing produce in August and September, so it can be eaten and enjoyed all year round.

“A lot of people have thanked us for that,” Turner said.

When to shop

Mavarick Farms stops by Fanshawe College on Thursdays in F-hallway from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Covent Garden Market runs their Winter Indoors Farmers' Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Western Fair Farmers' and Artisans' Market runs on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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