Winter farmers market opens in Nevada City
January 31, 2017
With rain again in the forecast, a hardcore group of farmers and ranchers are preparing for the third winter farmers market in Nevada City.
It's the pilot year for the winter local food market, held rain or shine from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in the downtown Robinson Plaza at the bottom of Union Street. Already the market has attracted a loyal following despite a very stormy January.
"We've been impressed with the community's willingness to come out even in the rain and freezing cold. People are very supportive and I think there is a real desire in Nevada County for access to local food year round," said Kristen Draz of FogDog Farm who will be at the market this weekend with salad mix, arugula, braising mix, kale, mustard, carrots, beets and herbs.
She and her partner Wil Holland, now in their second year farming on the San Juan Ridge, are growing in a greenhouse and using row cover in the fields. Winter farming requires extra effort to protect plants from the elements while maintaining the high-quality that markets demand. But farmers say it's worth it.
"This trial run has encouraged us that it will be worthwhile to invest in expanding our winter production in the future," Draz said.
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"I think the winter markets are great because it allows us farmers to interact with our customers all year and keep that interaction alive and healthy. The same way we nurture our crops and animals, it is just as important to nurture those relationships," said Rob Thompson of Elster Ranch. The Ranch will be at market on Saturday with a full selection of beef and lamb. Thompson is also taking pre-orders on pork and pre-arranged bulk orders for delivery or pickup.
At First Rain Farm, Farmer Tim Van Wagner invested in a large high tunnel to provide for the winter market. He says other area farmers are investing in this kind of "protected culture" infrastructure to extend their season into the cooler months.
"Planning is a big part of having food through the winter. A lot of produce was planted in August and July, which matured in the fields by October or November and can either stay in the field, or store in a cooler," said Van Wagner, who says a year round local food market in Nevada County is definitely viable.
Farmer Jeremy Mineau of Super Tuber Farm will be at the market with carrots, cabbage, kale, spinach and winter salad mix. Despite the challenges — like enduring cold hands while washing dirty carrots in the snow — the crew at Super Tuber have dedicated several years to growing vegetables in winter. Mineau is encouraged by the support so far, and sees the success of the market dependent on growing a strong customer base.
"This is not the easiest climate to grow in the winter. We will need to educate consumers that local food is still available in the colder months," he said.
"We put our faith in the community when we decided to go forward with the winter market, and they haven't let us down. The market has a solid following of die-hard shoppers; they're ready with their shopping bags as soon as the bell rings," said Market Manager Stephanie Stevens.
SELLING ALL YEAR
The market provides an opportunity for farmers to sell during the shoulder seasons.
"It creates a place for people to gather and socialize during an otherwise isolating stretch of the year, and it has, to a degree, reinvigorated the local food scene in Nevada City," said Stevens.
This time of year, look for potatoes, carrots, beets, rutabaga, radishes, sweet potatoes, arugula, turnips, spinach, lettuce, salad mixes, radicchio, fennel, cauliflower, kale, chard, collards, leeks. Besides Elster Ranch, AM Ranch will provide fresh meat and Grant Marie Winery will offer tastings from a selection of their wines. Other farms include: Sunrock Farm, Flying Cloud Farms, Pearson Orchard, Fresh Starts Farm and Starbright Acres Family Farm.
Newspaper coupons, social media and marketing materials like magnets and bookmarks help spread the word and attract new customers. Calfresh dollars and EBT tokens can be redeemed, making the market affordable for all. Nevada City Farmers Market Association is already looking ahead at 2018, researching the possibility of increasing the frequency of winter markets, finding an affordable indoor space to increase customer turnout, and ways to retain paid employees year round.
"If we, as a community, want to live in a vibrant food culture, we must innovate, we must change, we must push boundaries, and we must constantly seek new ways to make food accessible," Stevens said.
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