Cold comfort farmers’ markets
Is farm fresh produce locally available during fall and winter?
Despite the icy mornings, biting winds and shorter days, fall is a season best spent outdoors. There’s plenty of activities to satiate those already missing the heat of summer—pumpkin patches, hay rides and corn mazes abound in Northern Nevada. It’s not called the harvest season for nothing, giving a community the chance to reap the benefits of a spring and summer spent cultivating the land.
But the climate of the Great Basin means that the dynamic of growing and accessing local food has to change for the latter half of the year. Farmers’ markets, a popular spring and summer tradition, mostly wrap up in late August.
According to Garden Shop Nursery manager Josh Jimenez, there’s been a community demand for fall and winter markets. So the Garden Shop Nursery started a winter market three years ago.
“The farmers market here started small, but we had a good relationship with all of our vendors,” says Jimenez. “The markets are their main source of income, and they don’t have an outlet once the weather gets bad. They relish the opportunity to sell their products year round. They want to keep going even when summer is over, and they like having an opportunity to set up shop when the weather turns poor.”
There are unique challenges for the winter’s market, Jimenez says, such as space and noise. The unpredictable weather means that most winter markets have to be held indoors. The market is held in the Garden Shop, and an increase in vendors and attendees means the space is a tight fit. But this hasn’t deterred anyone yet.
“We have a real devoted following,” he says. “We have some people who come every weekend to do all of their shopping.”
Most of the vendors are from Reno and Northern Nevada, and occasionally a vendor comes from California. While the focus is still on food—including eggs, grass-fed beef, root vegetables and stone fruits—non-food items are also on display, such as homemade soaps, clothing, jewelry and decorative art.
“It’s always such a bummer when summer ends and there aren’t many options for markets,” said Corinne McAvoy, a Reno resident and self-proclaimed “apartment farmer”—she has planter boxes full of vegetables and herbs lining her apartment balcony. During the spring and summer, McAvoy attends the farmers’ markets in Minden, Carson City and Reno on a weekly basis.
“I get nearly all of my groceries at the summer markets,” she says. “My family eats pretty simple, and I like knowing that I’m supporting farmers and business owners. Going shopping week to week also helps me plan ahead, and since I never know what I’m going to get, my menu is always interesting.”
McAvoy says she buys food locally as much as possible, including at the Great Basin Community Food Co-op, which publishes guidelines on its website ensuring that nearly all products sold are sustainably and locally produced. She’s also signed up for community-supported agriculture (CSA) projects at farms in the area, but enjoys the experience of selecting produce by hand.
Farmers’ markets are also a learning experience for her 3-year-old son, Jacob.
“It’s an opportunity for him to ask questions about the foods he likes, and I let him pick out fruit and vegetables,” she says. “Farmers’ markets are very colorful, tactile places. They also give people a chance to talk about food face-to-face with growers. I think it’s important that we have this resource year-round, in some capacity.”
But according to Linda Marrone, president of the Nevada Certified Farmers Market Association, fall and winters farmers’ markets can be a hard sell even with the popularity of summer markets. The Nevada Certified Farmers Association is a nonprofit organization that helps “promote farmers’ markets and local agriculture” in Nevada.
“The weather is tough, and attendance drops,” she says. Marrone also runs the Carson City farmers’ market. “We didn’t have a flower vendor at last week’s market because the flowers froze. Tomatoes froze. There’s no apples this year because the apple trees froze too early.”
Some farmers have found an outlet by using hoop houses or geodesic domes to maintain the humidity and heat some vegetables and fruits need. This produce then becomes available at farmers’ markets.
“For anyone who has a hoop house, their season is extended,” says Marrone. “Hoop houses are changing farming in Nevada.”
But the time of year also affects attendance rates for farmers markets. Setting up shop every week can be a costly venture for farmers when the produce isn’t bought right away. And with school starting in September, families “just have different priorities.” Families are among the most frequent attendees of farmers markets, according to the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit that helps develop farmers market organizations.
Marrone suggests CSAs as an alternative to farmers’ markets during the colder months.
“CSAs are a great way to get good local produce during the fall and winter,” she says.
CSAs are often weekly, and, depending on the farm, are delivered or available for pickup at a farm. Most farms offer a variety of meat or vegetables, and all produce is in season. A weekly CSA is usually enough food to use for a family of three or four to eat each week, and some farms offer add-ons like honey, salsas or other goods.
Marrone agrees that farmers’ markets fill a niche in the community, adding a very “hands-on” element to participating in the foodshed. But she also wants people to eat smarter, familiarizing themselves with what’s available at certain times of the year.
“We’re in Nevada—we’re not in California,” she says. “People need to learn to eat in season. I won’t eat a tomato for a while. What’s the point?”
Unless you know how to can preserves, that is. “I’m making plum jam right now,” she says, laughing.Meet the markets
There are still several farmers markets open throughout the fall and winter seasons. Rather than succulent tomatoes or leafy greens, these markets showcase squash, root vegetables and holiday comfort foods. For a frequently updated list of all Nevada markets, go to www.NevadaGrown.com.
• The Reno Garden Shop Nursery Farmers Market continues until Nov. 20. This is the tail end of the summer market, and is held on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. But the nursery’s winter market also starts on Nov. 1 and will last until late May. Winter market is on Sundays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and offers fall produce from vendors in Nevada and California. Both markets are held at 3636 Mayberry Drive. For more information, visit www.gardenshopnursery.com or call Teri Bath at 813-6505.
• Make the drive up to Lake Tahoe before the first snow of the season to visit the last few Lake Tahoe Friday Evening Farmers Markets. They’ll run until Oct. 26, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Kahle Community Center.
• The Fallon Tuesday night farmers market’s last market of the year is on Oct. 17, 5-8 p.m., at 310 Taylor Street. For more information, contact Salisha Odum at 427-0832.
• Shirley’s Farmers’ Markets will hold several farmers markets within the next few months—including a market at the El Dorado Italian Festival on Oct. 12 and 13, and the Summit Holiday Farmers Market on Dec. 7 and 8. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.shirleysfarmersmarkets.com.
• If you really can’t wait until next summer, the Roseville Farmers Market in Roseville, Calif., is open year-round. It’s part of the Foothill Farmers Market group, which also includes Truckee and Tahoe-based markets. Visit www.foothillfarmersmarket.com.Harvest festivals
Farmers markets aren’t the only place to find local produce. Harvest festivals offer squash, pumpkins, zucchini and other edibles, as well as family-friendly events.
• Lattin Farms holds a fall festival every Saturday in Oct. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A farm stand is also open Mondays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., until the end of October.
• Pumpkin Palooza embraces all things pumpkin, and also offers music and non-pumpkin flavored edibles. Oct. 19-20, Victorian Square, Sparks.