By Kathleen Bauer
Most of the time, looking out my frosty bedroom window on a cold winter morning makes me want to snuggle deeper under the covers. But dreaming of steaming hot bowls of soup chock-full of winter greens or imagining the rich aroma of roasted chicken cooking on a bed of winter vegetables can get me out of bed and headed to one of the many winter farmers’ markets in the Willamette Valley.
In spring and summer most folks don’t blink an eye at the thought of eating seasonally, with the profusion of berries and greens, vegetables and fish, meat and poultry flooding farmers’ markets. But talking about doing the same thing in winter might conjure visions of sad, soupy bowls of boiled root vegetables.
Fortunately for us, though, the relatively mild maritime climate of the Willamette Valley is perfect for growing crops that do well in our winters. Some vegetables, like kale and most root vegetables, taste even better when temperatures take a dive.
Give Tom DeNoble of DeNoble’s Farm Fresh Produce in Tillamook a choice between a height-of-summer carrot and one pulled out of the ground in January, and it’s no contest. He’ll choose the winter carrot every time. According to him, the quality of winter vegetables is just as good as or even better than in the summer, though they may not be quite as pretty. That’s because cold temperatures cause the plants to produce sugars that act as antifreeze, making them taste sweeter. Plus they’re also growing more slowly, which causes them to develop more intense flavors.
Farmers up and down the valley have been getting smarter about using season-extending methods like hoop houses, cold frames and row covers, plus selectively breeding vegetables for characteristics like cold tolerance while maintaining or even improving flavor. For shoppers that means that in addition to year round regulars like fresh salad and braising greens, carrots, apples, cauliflower and broccoli, there are the winter stars like the fractalized chartreuse cones of romanesco, and my choice for the ugliest, most delicious vegetable ever, celery root (aka celeriac). Then there are root vegetables like kohlrabi, beets in all colors of the rainbow, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and rutabagas. For omnivores of all stripes there is sweet, start-of-the-season Dungeness crab, and lots of lamb, pork and beef.
“The game has changed with winter markets,” said John Eveland of Gathering Together Farm in Philomath. In addition to being able to keep plants in the ground through the winter, what really pushed his farm into its current year-round status was that his crew needed full-time employment to stay in the area. Winter markets mean he can now keep them working year-round rather than laying them off each fall, hoping they’d come back the next year. This means the farm, like any business, also benefits from retaining their institutional knowledge, spending less time on training and more time improving systems.
Some farmers are specializing in winter crops like braising greens, dried beans and ground grains like polenta and flour. At Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Carol Boutard and her husband Anthony grow a mix of field greens they sell as “misticanza,” a mix of radish greens, borage shoots, arugula and buck’s-horn plantain. To that they add smaller amounts of aromatic, bitter and pungent greens, including sow’s and blessed thistles, dandelion, fenugreek, parsley, chervil, cresses, rapes and mustards. These can be blanched and left whole or chopped for soup or as a vegetable side dish.
As for the produce found in mainstream stores this time of year, Carol said only half-jokingly, «(People) go to the supermarket and the prices are phenomenal because they’ve been dragged up from those fetid sands in the Central Valley of California.» In contrast, at the farmers’ market, she said, “You’ve got meat, you’ve got so much organic produce. There’s honey and cheese. This is so wonderful because it’s so seasonal.”
The economic impact of markets on their local communities is nothing to sneeze at, either. In 2012, the Oregonian reported that gross sales at Oregon farmers’ markets topped $50 million, and quoted agricultural economist Larry Lev of Oregon State University as saying that “the professionalism of farmers who sell at farmers markets has gone up tremendously, and the attitude and expectation of the consumer has changed tremendously.”
In the same article, per person sales of farm-direct products was $15, far exceeding the national figure of $4 per consumer, placing Oregon second only to Vermont. Extending market seasons into the winter months can only mean that those figures will increase, benefiting not only small family farmers, but also the communities where the markets are located. Community health can also be improved by providing residents with access to fresh, nutritious and affordable food, particularly when markets accept SNAP, or food stamp, cards. Many markets in the Willamette Valley have initiated matching programs that award dollar-for-dollar matches up to a specified limit to their customers on food assistance.
Eamon Molloy, market manager at the Hillsdale Farmers Market in Portland, which has had a winter market season since 2003, said he’s seen a marked change in his customers’ expectations of what they’ll find at the market in the winter.
“I know, regardless of the weather, I can count on 1,000 people coming to Hillsdale on a winter market Sunday,” he said. “I don’t get questions like ‘Will you be open?’ when the weather is bad. The questions are more like, ‘Is it going to snow in the Coast Range, and will Meadow Harvest and DeNoble Farm be able to get to the market?’ or ‘It was really cold this week, are the farmers going to be able to harvest enough produce this week?’
“To steal a quote from (businessman and philanthropist) Sy Syms, ‘The educated consumer is our best customer.’”
Where to find ‘em:
Beaverton Farmers Market
12375 SW 5th St., Beaverton, OR
Forest Grove Farmers Market
(Winter Stock-Up Markets)
Nov. 2, Nov. 23, Dec. 21; Sun ., 12-4pm
TimesLitho Warehouse, Pacific & A Street
Happy Valley’s Sunnyside Winter Market
January-March; Sat., 10am-2pm
14100 SE Sunnyside Rd., Clackamas, OR
Hillsdale Farmers’ Market
December-April; 1st and 3rd Sun., 10am-2pm
1405 SW Vermont St., Portland, OR
Hollywood Farmers Market
December-April; 1st and 3rd Sat., 9am-1pm
NE Hancock between 44th & 45th Ave., Portland, OR
Independence Riverview Winter/Holiday Market
November-December; Sat., 9am-2pm
Riverview Park, Independence, OR
Lane County Winter Farmers Market
February-March; Sat., 10am – 2pm
8th & Oak St., Downtown Eugene, OR
Lloyd Farmers Market
Year-round; Tues., 10am-2pm
Oregon Square Courtyard, NE Holladay Street
between NE 7th Ave and NE 9th Ave.
Lookingglass Grange Farm Market
Year-round; Fri., 3-6pm
7426 Lookingglass Rd., Roseburg, OR
Marketplace at Sprout
Year-round; Fri., 3-7pm
418 A St., Springfield, OR
Montavilla Farmers Market
(Winter Stock-Up Markets)
Dec. 21, 2014 and Jan. 11,
Feb. 8, 2015; Sun., 11am-1pm
7600 Block of SE Stark St., Portland, OR
Oregon City Winter Farmers Market
November-April; Bi-weekly, Sat., 10am-2pm
8th St. at Main, Oregon City, OR
People’s Co-op Farmers’ Market
Year-round; Wed., 2-7pm
3029 SE 21st Ave., Portland, OR
Salem Public Market
Year-round; Sat., 8am-2pm
1240 Rural Ave. SE, Salem OR
Salem Saturday Market (Holiday Market)
Americraft Building, Oregon State Fairgrounds, 2330 17th St. NE, Salem, OR
Dec. 13 & 14; Sat & Sun
St. Johns Winter Market
Dec. 7th, Sat., 9am – 2pm
St. Johns Plaza, N. Lombard St. & N. Philadelphia Ave., Portland, OR
Sunnyside Grange #842 Farmers’ & Artists’ Market
Year-round; Sun., 11am-3pm
13100 SE Sunnyside Rd., Clackamas, OR
Troutdale Farmers’ & Artists’ Market
Year-round; Sat., 10am-2pm
473 E. Historic Columbia River Hwy., Troutdale, OR
Umpqua Valley Winter Market
November-April; Sat., 10am-2pm
First United Methodist Church, 1771 Harvard Ave., Roseburg, OR
About Kathleen Bauer:
In Kathleen’s family the story goes that her first sentence was “Grandpa milked the cow.” Perhaps spending countless summers going on cattle drives through the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon accounts for her interest in stories of the people who make a living off the land and put food on our tables. That fascination with the lives of Northwesterners drives her writing and her blog, GoodStuffNW. Asked to describe herself in one word, she said, “Curious.”