During the first several years of the North Union Farmers Market, October marked the end of the season. Farmers would show up on the last Saturday with treats and customers would arrive with thank you notes, little gifts and sometimes Halloween costumes. For a couple of winters, an enterprising customer actually offered her apartment as a drop spot for farmers with potatoes, apples, eggs, carrots, beets and such where customers could make what seemed like a clandestine visit on Saturday mornings to get their local fix.
Finally, North Union opened an indoor winter market at Shaker Square. Having a winter market changed everything. Farmers began investing in hoop houses and better storage methods for apples and root vegetables. Folks discovered raw sunchokes can replace cucumbers in a tossed salad. Fresh lettuces and beautiful spinach became available all winter. Some amazing canned items like tomato juice, sauerkraut and pickles showed up. Beets got sweeter. Parsnips and winter squash did too. And, of course, the friendly jostle of shopping bags and conversation maintained the spirit of the market.
Most importantly, many farmers began to see a way to make farming a living rather than a summer add-on to off-farm income.
If you enjoy the spirit of the weekly market buzz, there’s good reason to rejoice. Many more markets are adding winter indoor options. It’s amazing what you will find among the stands in February. And if you’re too busy to add another errand to your to-do list, don’t despair: Some CSAs are now offering winter memberships, too. Even in the dead of winter we now can enjoy an array of delicious local foods. And best of all, our weekly connection with friends, neighbors and farmers provides a warm spot in the cold, gray winter.
And for those of you who enjoy eating out, don’t forget to look for local flavors on your menu. Restaurants in Cleveland that are committed to relationships with farmers and producers are important contributors to growing a year-round local food economy. When you make your holiday dinner reservations or catering decisions, choose chefs who offer local products and name the farmers on their menus (you can find many of them in the pages of this magazine). You can be guaranteed that a meal where the care has gone into the selection of the ingredients like heritage-breed turkeys and pastured meats will be delicious.
Plus, not only will you experience an extraordinary meal, you’ll help assure your farmers will be back at the markets in the summer with the abundance we’ve grown to love.