In the past decade, a proliferation of winter farmers markets across the state has created a growing year-round demand for the goods produced by Maine’s small farmers.
The first winter markets were established in the mid-2000s. Now, the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets lists 30 winter markets across the state, in every county except Aroostook. In Cumberland and York counties, winter markets – whether indoor or outdoor – can be found in Lewiston, Brunswick, Falmouth, Portland, South Portland, Yarmouth, Berwick, Kittery, Saco and York.
The growth of winter markets has been facilitated by one of the biggest trends in Maine farming – the extension of the growing season. Aided by an array of federal Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation grants, small farmers have increasingly made use of high tunnels, or unheated greenhouses, that facilitate the winter production of leafy green vegetables that are typically grown in cool weather during the fall or early spring. Increasingly, small farmers are growing spinach, arugula, kale and chard during the winter. They are also making use of root cellars to store root crops such as carrots, parsnips and turnips, during cold weather.
Along with the year-round growing season has emerged a year-round market. Lauren Pignatello, the manager of the Portland Winter Farmers’ Market, which opened in 2009, saw customer counts at the market increase by more than a third in the year after it moved into the Urban Farm Fermentory in the East Bayside section of Portland. The burgeoning demand is boosting business for her Whitefield farm, Swallowtail, which she operates with her husband, Sean.
Pignatello, who has helped to establish the Portland and Brunswick winter markets, believes that the growth in winter markets and the extension of the Maine growing season have happened “simultaneously.” Since the farm is Pignatello’s sole source of income to provide for her seven children, she is grateful for the new wintertime demand.
“We’re busier now on our farm than we’ve ever been producing enough yogurt and cheese to supply through our farmers markets and wholesale accounts,” Pignatello said. “The vegetable growers are doing the same. They’re putting up more and more greenhouses to extend the season through winter.”
The winter boom has benefitted growers who are using heated greenhouses, as well. Scott Howard of Pownal has owned Olivia’s Garden, an 18,000-square-foot, heated greenhouse in New Gloucester, since 1997. Howard, who is a vendor at the Portland winter market, said the year-round market has been a boon for his business.
“Over the years, the four-season farming has definitely become popular,” Howard said. “It’s allowed us to sell direct to the public on a year-round basis.”
Barak Olins, a Portland resident who owns ZU Bakery in South Freeport, helped establish the Portland and Brunswick winter markets with Pignatello. Olins has managed the Brunswick market, which is located at Fort Andross, for most of its existence.
“We’ve really plateaued in terms of the numbers of vendors that we can accommodate because we filled up the space we’ve had,” Olins said. “When we started the market we had 13 vendors. Now we have 45. There’s always a waiting list. Now our biggest problem is actually parking.”
According to Olins, customers can buy almost everything except for toilet paper at the Brunswick winter market.
“You can buy soap there, all kinds of dairy, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, bread, and vegetables, and some fruits, some preserves, pickles, fermented vegetables,” he said.
With live music and a social atmosphere, the Brunswick market provides a totally different experience from visiting the supermarket, Olins said.
“It’s a really lively atmosphere – people waiting in line, they’re talking to each other,” Olins said. “It’s just a different experience than waiting in line and looking at the tabloids while you’re waiting to buy your food.”
At the Portland market this month, Pignatello’s daughter, Isabella, and her five-piece band, Ethos, will play traditional bluegrass “with a modern soulful twist.”
“A lot of old timey bluegrass music seems to be what’s happening,” Pignatello said.
When asked to describe the clientele at the Portland market, Pignatello said, “I would say pretty much all walks of life.”
For Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, the growing demand for winter markets makes sense.
“As more people make shopping at farmers markets part of their routine, it’s natural to want to continue that through the year,” Hallett said. “Shopping at a farmers market is a social and community event – perhaps more so than going to a big box store. There’s that social component to it that is very rewarding.”
Southern Maine Winter Markets
Courtesy of Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets
Brunswick Winter Market, every Saturday, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., November through April, Fort Andross, 14 Maine St. (the giant mill building at the end of Maine Street). www.brunswickwintermarket.weebly.com/.
Falmouth Winter Farmers’ Market, Wednesdays 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at Allen Sterling and Lothrop 191 U.S. Route 1 Falmouth. November to late February. Run by the Cumberland Farmers’ Market Association. See http://www.cumberlandfarmersmarket.org/.
Portland Winter Farmers’ Market, every Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. from December-late April. 200 Anderson St. in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood. SNAP/EBT accepted. Some vendors continue to set up on Wednesday mornings at Monument Square throughout the winter. See http://www.portlandmainefarmersmarket.org/.
South Portland Farmers’ Market, Sunday 10 a.m.-2p.m., November through April, 496 Ocean St. (the old Hamlin School on the corner of Sawyer and Ocean). See http://www.mainefarmersmarkets.org/market/south-portland-farmers-market/
Yarmouth Farmers’ Market, every Wednesday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. through December at the Log Cabin, Main Street, Yarmouth. See http://www.mainefarmersmarkets.org/market/yarmouth-farmers-market/.
The Berwick Winter Farmers’ Market, at Berwick Town Hall (11 Sullivan St., Berwick) from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on Dec. 14; Jan. 18; Feb. 8; March 8; and April 26. See https://www.berwickfarmersmarket.wordpress.com/
Kittery Community Market, from noon-3p.m. every other Sunday Dec. 1-March 23. 120 Rogers Road. See http://www.kitterycommunitymarket.com/.
Saco River Winter Market, Mid-November through Mid-April; Saturdays 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., 110 Main St, Suite 1107. See http://www.sacoriverwintermarket.wordpress.com/
York Gateway Winter Farmers’ Market, every other Saturday from Nov. 23 to March 29, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Located at American Legion, 9 Hannaford Drive (next to Hannaford). See http://www.gatewaytomaine.org/farmersmarket/.
Ezra Silk is a staff writer at Current Publishing.