Open the doors to the Agricultural Hall on a Winter Farmers’ Market Saturday and the warm atmosphere immediately embraces you. A few steps in, familiar faces gather fireside on benches sharing stories and hearty food, while Kevin Keady and Don Groover provide the background music in the great room filled with local goods.
Gone are the fresh flowers, the live lobsters and the summer crowds. In their place are vibrant root vegetables, freshly baked bread, colorful dried flowers, homemade soaps and plenty of dairy, meat, and local eggs — unless you miss them. “The eggs go so fast,” said market comanager Linda Alley last Saturday. “One vendor said she could sell 40 dozen if she had them.”
Now in its third year, the winter farmers’ market has become an institution in its own right. This year Island farmers say warm temperatures have extended their vegetable season. And Julie Olson of the Farm Institute said the timing of the winter market is perfect for selling local meat. “Everything that is born in the spring that’s ready to go off in the winter you can sell now instead of having to hold off until the summer,” she said. “A winter market is when your lamb is ready, when your pork is ready, when you send out your cows . . . it’s a smart time to have a market.”
The market is truly one-stop shopping with an off-season twist.
Side by side, the Good, Cleveland and Blackwater farms along with the Farm Institute offer local turkey, beef, lamb and pork. Orchids of every size and color from Frosty Hollow Farm brighten the far corner of the hall, beneath a warm sun streaming in through the window. Across the way, Orange Peel Bakery’s table overflows with fresh bread, scones, cookies and muffins. Down the aisle Whippoorwill’s antique scale is used to weigh broccoli, cabbage, beets and onions. A mermaid sculpture sits beside a basket of onions at Mermaid Farm’s table. In addition to its popular dairy products, such as feta cheese and yogurt, the farm’s chalkboard advertises meat and vegetables. Briar Rose Farm offers dried flower bouquets, and next door there are teas and salves made by Vineyard Herbs. Nicky’s Italian Cafe closed recently, but their table offers a variety of flavored dipping oils for sale. And the jam and relish samples at Linda Alley’s New Lane Sundries see plenty of traffic.
“You really don’t need to go to a store,” said market veteran Andrea Rogers. “You can buy everything right here.”
During a season that encourages hunkering down and staying in, the market is also something of a social scene. Children wander freely, and friends who have not seen each other all summer stop to catch up on news. “It’s very family oriented here,” said Mrs. Rogers. “We’ve all known each other for many, many years and it’s that camaraderie that makes it so special — besides the wonderful food that we grow and provide.”
Mrs. Alley said that while market patrons are mostly Islanders, she still sees unfamiliar faces, some that belong to weekend visitors. And there is plenty of repeat business. “I’ve seen some people come back two or three times a day!” she exclaimed.
“There’s a specialness of this market,” said Ms. Olson. “You can sit around the fire, you can hang out with your friends, you can meet up with people here — it’s a good thing to do. I wish that we had it a little longer.”
The Winter Farmers’ Market will be held Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.