Local Food in Winter Months: Farmers’ Markets, CSA Shares & Cooperatives

Winter Brings Abundance of Local Foods and Farmers’ Markets

Despite the winter landscape, local foods are in abundance here in western Massachusetts! By visiting local farmers’ markets, taking part in special community events, and learning more about ways to access local foods during what is most growers’ off-season, families can learn about the roots of their meals and gain insight into local food systems – not to mention the delicious foods that will fill hungry bellies, too!

It’s hard to believe that local foods are still in abundance given the state of the landscape outside our windows, but despite the crust of snow and ice that blankets leaf-less trees and bushes, local foods of all shapes, sizes, and flavors are still available. During the post-holiday months of winter, families can take advantage of farmers’ markets, community-based educational opportunities, and local businesses in order to learn all about and enjoy all of winter’s local food offerings.

While outdoor farmers’ markets can’t take place during the wintertime, many local markets have moved indoors for the season – continuing to provide a consistent, simple way for local farmers and food producers to connect with the community. Of course, certain local delicacies are only available seasonally, many foods can be offered and/or produced year round. Families can find potatoes, apples, squash, onions, and many other similarly hardy foods from storage at farmers’ market booths during the winter. Additionally, some farms continue to produce salad greens, sprouts, hardy greens, and other greenhouse-grown crops throughout the winter thanks to modern agricultural technology. Other farmers and producers easily offer meats, cheeses, honey, breads, and a host of other products available year-round due to their non-seasonal nature or long shelf life. Despite the fact that winter isn’t a true growing season in New England, winter markets offer a surprising amount of variety!

Families can use winter markets as not only a source of food, but as an educational buffet by exploring the many different offerings available – find out from each vendor how their food came to be at the market! Has it been stored since the end of the growing season, or was it grown indoors? What local ingredients were used to produce baked, canned, or preserved items? These and other questions can lead to some excellent learning about local food systems!

This winter, celebrate the many local food offerings found at winter markets with CISA by attending an upcoming winter fare celebration. Held at four different bustling winter markets during the next two months, each Winter Fare event will showcase the regularly available offerings of local growers and producers alongside special workshops, food swaps, live music, and of course, tons of delicious fun! Families can take advantage of CISA’s Winter Fare events in order to gather locally sourced groceries, as well as to learn more about how local food systems work during the off season, share their own homemade and home-preserved foods, and to learn more about ways to make the most of local resources for growing, producing, and enjoying healthy foods.

CISA’s Winter Fare events are as follows:

Saturday, January 16th from 9am-2pm, the Northampton Winter Fare will take place at the Northampton Winter Market at Smith Vocational High School.

Saturday, January 23rd brings the Forest Park Winter Fare to the Farmers’ Market at Forest Park from 10am-2pm in the Springfield park’s old monkey house.

Saturday, January 30th from 10am-2pm, Amherst Winter Fare brightens the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market, held at Amherst Regional Middle School.

Saturday, February 6th brings Greenfield Winter Fare to the Greenfield Winter Farmers’ Market at Greenfield High School from 10am-1pm.

These four local markets hosting Winter Fare celebrations exist as a resource not only on these special dates, but weekly, bi-weekly, or bi-monthly throughout the winter. In addition to markets in Northampton, Amherst, Springfield, and Greenfield, families in the Berkshires can access local food via farmers’ markets at the Downtown Pittsfield Winter Farmers’ Market. Held on the second Saturday of each month from November through April and held at the city’s Boys and Girls Club, the Downtown Pittsfield Winter Farmers’ Market brings some of the Berkshires’ best growers and producers together all in one place!

In addition to sourcing food from local markets, families can take advantage of local CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares in order to easily access healthy, local food and to learn about the ways in which such foods are produced. Offering everything from bacon to beets, CSA shares from local farms not only help farms succeed and fill plates with healthy foods, they provide subscribers with lots more food than they could buy with the price of a share at a grocery store! While the time to sign up for winter shares has passed, it’s never to early to consider purchasing a share from a local farm during the next growing season.

In the meantime, explore the offerings of Valley Green Feast, a local cooperative offering a grocery delivery service that directly connects local families to farmers and growers from all over western Massachusetts. Offering a wide array of delivery options (including weekly or bi-weekly boxes of produce in varying sizes as well as add-ins including local meat, cheese, and other items), Valley Green Feast serves as a strong link between local growers and producers and families who may not be able to easily work farmers’ market visits into busy schedules.

Families can further explore local foods at a special workshop held at Longmeadow’s Lubavitch Yeshiva Academy (LYA). Cooking with Parents and Grandparents is a workshop centered around cooking winter foods – many of which can be recreated at home using locally sourced ingredients. Participants will get to make stuffed potatoes, warm pretzels, hot cocoa, oatmeal, and even edible snowmen! This special free program will take place from 3:30-5pm on Tuesday, January 11th, 2016. Registration is requested but not required. Call 413-567-8665 or e-mail info@lya.org for more information or to RSVP.

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