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Is A Winter Market For You? - Paul Betz, High Mowing Seeds' Sales Associate


Farmer Paul Betz
Winter markets are flourishing, and the offerings are a lot more diverse than just root crops. Fermented vegetables, farm processed frozen and prepared foods, and winter greens from a greenhouse are all common. Itís a testament to the ingenuity of growers to have the variety that people are looking for in the off season. The chance to spread the income gained from growing vegetables across the year has a definite appeal, and the potential for strong earnings are high as well. Thereís a reduced amount of producers, and customers are excited about and embracing the winter markets. The market that I attend in the summer, Montpelier Farmer's Market, meets twice monthly from December to April. The customers are there, as are high quality vendors with an impressive palette of offerings.  In our area, lots of growers have increased their plantings of storage crops and have made cooler and cellar space improvements as a way of meeting this demand. For many growers, the opportunity to command a higher price during the winter has allowed them to cut back during the summer and spend more time with family or on other projects. There are also a few growers who primarily market only in the winter, avoiding the summer crush of weekly harvest schedules and market pressure. For them, a winter market fits with their goals and needs, and allows them to farm the way they want to farm.

When we started farming, we knew that if we were to be financially successful, we would have to retail most of what we grew. During the summer, that was easy. We have a great market that we go to where we can sell most of what we bring. But as soon as the season was over, our access to retail markets was over as well. There were some good outlets for wholesale in the area, but they were taken by some of the more senior growers, and not really available to us. We decided our business plan needed to fully depend on summer sales, and over the years we refined our planting schedule to have enough to last through the season and then be sold out. It works for us, and I have always liked the idea of a rest during the winter. We work hard all summer, and really enjoy the time off from going to market every week. Now our market happens twice a month all winter. Whatís a farmer to do?

Paul's Van in the WinterWe have chosen, at least for now, to not attend the winter market. I have to admit, adding a few earning days would help take some of the pressure off the summer season, and some extra folding money is a hard thing to resist. All of our CSA money goes towards operating costs on the farm. We have 27 sale days at market to make our ďnutĒ for the winter, and it gets pretty lean for us in the late winter. But for us, there would be lots of costs to adding on to our retail season.
Getting off our hill in the van would be a challenge; there would be some serious white knuckles getting to a hard road. We also have a three season barn, and the packing and washing would be difficult in our current situation. Even if we could get everything washed in the fall, itís still cold in the barn for the repacking and inspecting that would have to be done. Add in the fact that Kate and I have jobs in the winter, and suddenly our lives are busy again, even without the farm. I have always valued the time off from the farm as way to clear my head and do some recovering from the previous season. There are greenhouses to clean, tools to repair, and excitement to build for the upcoming march, which gets closer every day. I could get better tires for the van and close in and heat the barn, but I think I really need the break.

I do think that the prospect of local food being available year round is a good thing. It speaks to our concerns about what we are eating and the importance of supporting the businesses that produce that food. I plan on going to some markets this winter, but for now I will be on the other side of the table.

All my best
Paul


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76 Quarry Road :: Wolcott, VT 05680 :: phone: 802-472-6174 :: fax: 802-472-3201
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