By MICHAEL T.S. FARRELL
Special to the Somersworth Free Press
Monday, December 28, 2009
This year there are 11 Seacoast Eat Local winter markets, consolidating the resources of over 40 seacoast farmers, and attracting over a thousand people to each market.
Since that first market at McIntosh, new winter markets, independent of Seacoast Eat Local, have been popping up across New Hampshire in towns like Cornish, Lebanon, Danbury and Rye. And it’s changing the way farmers do business.
“It’s no longer a fad,” said Josh Jennings, 33, owner of Meadows Mirth Farm in Stratham. “This is part of our business plan. We depend on it now.”
Jennings, who witnessed the birth of the Seacoast Eat Local winter markets when Patterson suggested the idea to him, has been with the market from the beginning. Today the winter market accounts for a quarter of his income. “[It does] if everything goes well,” he adds, “and things have been going great actually.” For example, at the first SEL winter market on Nov 21 at the Wentworth Greenhouse in Rollinsford, he was able to sell the better part of 2,500 pounds of produce.
“The bills don’t stop in the winter,” says Jennings. Because of this, farmers like him have been expanding their operations in order to take full advantage of the new markets.
After the success of the first three winter markets at McIntosh, Jennings explained, which drew up to 1,200 people at the first market, he invested in a root cellar so he could grow more crops to sell over the winter. Today with storage space for 4,000 pounds to potatoes and 3,000 pounds each of carrots, turnips, and onions he not only sells at the winter market but year round to restaurants such as the Portsmouth Brewery and Portsmouth’s The Black Trumpet Bistro.
While Jennings expanded his root production, other farms diversified into new products to take advantage of the winter markets. Jeff Cantara, 35, of New Roots Farm in Newmarket, adopted pork farming. Cantara started out as a vegetable farmer, and while he always had a pig on hand to dispose of waste, he didn’t start raising pigs for meat until last year when he raised six of them.
When he heard the rumor last spring that Seacoast Eat Local was planning an even larger winter market than they had the previous year he went ahead and raised 30 pigs. “That’s the impact of the market right there, like a five fold increase,” said Cantara. “The winter markets and selling the pork is going to give us an extra 10 percent. We’re thrilled about that.”