December 20, 2006 | By: Terri McLean
VERSAILLES, Ky.

While many farmers’ markets have closed for the season, a handful of markets across the state have set up shop indoors this winter. It’s not exactly business as usual, however.

Gone is the fresh seasonal produce that is typical farmers’ market fare. In its place are items such as baked goods, jams, jellies, sauces, eggs, dried herbs, freezer beef, dried flowers and handmade crafts. 

“Shoppers to winter markets won’t find the wide selection of fresh produce they expect, but oftentimes they will find products made from those vegetables they love,” said Patti Meads, horticulture agent for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office in Woodford County, where one of those markets has made the move indoors this winter. 

“Tomatoes and peppers make excellent pepper jelly, shell beans make great soup blends, for example. Dried fruits and vegetables make great holiday breads,” she said. “Winter markets give growers an opportunity to add value to their crops.”

Growers such as Marti and Curtis Congleton of Deuce Springs Farm in Versailles were all for extending the Woodford County market’s season into the winter months. The Congletons’ freezer beef and sorghum are in demand long after the traditional farmers’ market season ends around Halloween. Marti Congleton helped secure a location inside the bustling Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center in Versailles.

“That way we have continuity throughout the year,” said Congleton, as she watched a stream of parents, grandparents and others enter Falling Springs to watch youth basketball games and, hopefully, make a stop at her booth. “Continuity is really important because if you like my sorghum you want to have it. If you like my beef … now you can come here to buy it.”

Growers such as the McMaine family of Riverhaven Farm in Mercer County, likewise, were thrilled to make the move indoors this year so they could sell their value-added products, including dried peppers, zucchini bread, pumpkin cookies and bean soup mix.

“We grow everything that we sell,” said Linda McMaine, who belongs to the Woodford County Farmer’s Market. 

Congleton and McMaine are among a growing number of market vendors in Kentucky who are trying to sell their home-grown, home-processed products beyond the usual summer market schedule. Janet Eaton, of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said several of the state’s farmers’ market organizations are seeking indoor venues to accommodate them during the winter months.

“The markets are going indoors because they (farmers’ markets) are not just for fruits and vegetables any more,” Eaton said. “Many value-added products make up a lot of the customers’ purchases at the market and they want that product year-round.”

Along with the markets that have moved indoors, some are opening their outdoor markets earlier and closing them later, also in response to the need for extended seasons. The Boone County Farmers’ Market, for instance, opened outdoors this December to sell locally grown Christmas trees and custom wreaths.

“The benefit is what the intent and purpose of the farmers’ market is to begin with – to provide an outlet for the farmers to be able to sell their products to consumers as opposed to going the wholesale route or any other way. It does just that, extends the season,” said Coy Wilson, Extension assistant for agriculture and natural resources in Boone County and manager the Boone County Farmers Market in Burlington.

A winter market, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, also provides benefits to the people who frequent farmers’ markets – a loyal group who regularly “seek out farmers’ markets” wherever they are, Meads said. 

“They want to know where their food’s coming from. They want to be able to talk to the people that are raising it. They want to make that connection between the farm and their table. Farmers’ markets allow them to do that,” said Meads, who sits on Woodford County’s farmers’ market board and provides guidance and support to its members. 

The Woodford market opened for a “limited” time in a downtown shop last winter, Meads said, and response was positive enough to convince them to try again this year. But the organizers sought a different location, one that would gain notice and draw customers.

“They picked Falling Springs (Arts and Recreation Center) because there’s so much traffic there,” Meads said. “They get something like 25,000 people a month in there.”

Diane Caudell, a.k.a. Granyum of Granyum’s Baked Goods of Versailles, said it was a no-brainer to locate inside Falling Springs.

“I think this is going to be a success,” said Caudell, who makes her fresh-baked items with locally grown products purchased from her farmers’ market partners. “It’s such a community-minded building, and we’re part of the community.”

Woodford’s winter market was open three Saturdays in December and will close until Jan. 6, when vendors will once again bring out their farm-raised, home-processed, handcrafted goods. 

“Whether they’re going to buy stuff, I don’t know,” said Deuce Springs Farm’s Marti Congleton. “But we’ve got to try.”

Contact: 

Patti Meads, 859-873-4601, Janet Eaton, 502-564-4983