Winter farmers’ markets wouldn’t be possible without the commitment local farmers have made to producing and storing food past the usual growing season. From the UNH Cooperative Extension:
Extension research aims to help local food producers extend the season, expand markets
Driven both by aggressive campaigns to promote New Hampshire’s farm products and by consumer demand for safer, healthier food, New Hampshire’s vibrant eat-local movement has expanded into the winter months.
This year, more than 30 winter farmers’ markets [partial listing] have sprung up throughout the Granite State, offering locally grown winter squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, beets, and salad greens, which join the local apples, eggs, honey, and maple syrup that have always been available year-’round. Some community supported agriculture enterprises (CSAs) offered storage crops and many farm stands have stayed open into the winter months.
Seed companies report that backyard gardeners have expanded production, too, adding winter storage crops to their summer gardens, and installing plastic-covered low or high tunnels that allow them to extend the summer harvest into late fall and begin harvesting spring salad crops a month or two earlier.
Interest strong among both consumers and producers
“We know there’s a strong winter demand for locally produced food, but interest is also strong among the state and region’s producers,” says Becky Sideman, Extension’s sustainable horticulture specialist. “Growers are scrambling to expand the technical knowledge, production systems, and farm infrastructure they need to meet this growing consumer demand.”
“We held three workshops in November for organic greenhouse growers that drew nearly 70 participants.” Sideman says. She adds that an early December farmer-to-farmer gathering attracted 40 experienced Maine and New Hampshire growers to share working knowledge about winter greenhouse production, season-extending devices, and growing storage crops such as potatoes and root vegetables for sale in winter markets.
“Over the years, growers have been really innovative with storage and season-extending strategies, she says. “We have a lot of individual case studies, but there’s been no systematic attempt to compile the knowledge they already have or to assess their needs for research that plugs the gaps in their information base.”
Winter-crops research projects underway
Sideman has partnered with UNH Extension Greenhouse Specialist Brian Krug on a three-year project that will explore the feasibility of using existing greenhouse structures to increase production of winter vegetables and herbs. The project is funded by a $73,000 USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant through the N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Markets, and Food.
“Many operations that produce bedding plants have under-utilized greenhouse space from October through February,” Sideman says. “We’ll be looking to find the best crops and most effective cropping systems for producing winter food crops, along with ways to maximize yields while minimizing energy costs.”
Sideman also is a partner on a $194,00 USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant-funded project, Expanding Winter Harvest and Sales for New England Vegetable Crops. “The central goal of this three-year, multi-state project is to help farmers expand their vegetable harvest and sales from December-April, thereby increasing their winter income. It will build on successful innovations in cold-season growing and will focus on aspects of production, crop storage, and marketing that need further development to strengthen this aspect of the regional food system.
Other partners in the project include UMass Extension, Seacoast Eat Local, and Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).
“The partnership includes people with expertise in post-harvest physiology, growing and production, storage, and marketing.” says Sideman. “The project also has a farmer advisory team and a big hands-on, on-farm component,” she says. “A big part of what we’re planning to do is connect growers to each other so they can exchange information and share expertise.”
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