People seem to be feasting on what they can find at winter farmers markets, both locally and across the nation.
The Capital Region has three big, indoor, weekly, winter markets — in Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and Troy — and organizers say they’re becoming ever more popular. Several smaller winter markets around the region convene only once a month or so, keeping a taste of their summer counterparts alive through the cold months.
Offshoots of the warm-weather outdoor markets that have blossomed across the region, the big indoor markets in particular keep growing, reflecting a national trend cited last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA reported the number of winter markets is up 52 percent nationwide from just a year ago. New York has 196 winter markets where the public can buy directly from local farmers, according to the federal database — making the state second only to California.
The USDA national database includes 1,864 winter markets this year, up from 1,225 a year ago; whether they are actually new this year or simply weren’t counted by the feds last year is not clear. But overall, it seems more people want to buy fresh products and support local agriculture throughout the year, and producer-growers have responded by using greenhouses and other technology so they can provide harvest-fresh vegetables well into the winter and then early in the spring.
“This year, we’ve increased our space and have more vendors. I think we’re getting more people,” said Betsy Henry of Schenectady, chairwoman of the board of the Schenectady Greenmarket, now entering its fifth winter at Proctors in downtown Schenectady.
The Schenectady market operates from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday through the winter in open areas inside the historic theater.
“It’s becoming more common knowledge,” Henry said. “We find every Sunday that there are some people who have never been there before.”
The Saratoga Farmers Winter Market, which started in 2004, is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at Division Street Elementary School in Saratoga Springs. Like the other big markets, it features dozens of vendors selling farm-produced products and attracts hundreds of people each week.
“Typically, year in and year out, we’re seeing more people at all the markets,” said Rick Green, who produces honey at a farm in Ballston Lake and is the Saratoga winter market’s manager. “Word gets out. It’s a destination where there’s people and music and food. Vendors are keeping up with more produce grown in high tunnels and greenhouses.”
The other big indoor market in the winter is the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market, open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays at the Uncle Sam Atrium in downtown Troy.
The region also has several small winter markets with 10 or 15 local vendors. Among them is a winter market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Alpin Haus RV Center on Route 5S in the town of Glen, opposite the Target Distribution Center.
The winter market has been held monthly in recent years, but interest seems to be declining, said Missy Potter, Montgomery County’s agricultural economic development specialist.
“I’m not quite sure why,” she said. “We’ve done more advertising, so I couldn’t tell you, to be honest.”
Saturday’s market will feature meats, cheeses, baked goods, maple products, soaps, vegetables, alpaca products and other items, according to organizers. But the next market isn’t planned until March.
Ballston Spa also has a small indoor market, sponsored by the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association. It is held one Saturday morning monthly in the Cornell Cooperative Extension building and is an extension of the twice-a-week farmers markets hold outdoors during the summer.
Market manager Cyndi Pastore said the Ballston Spa market’s business is steady, but not large.
“It lets our vendors maintain a relationship with their customers through the winter,” she said.
The federal Department of Agriculture report indicates the most growth in indoor markets has been in the South, with Texas and Georgia for the first time joining the top 10 states with the most winter markets.
“Winter markets are a great way to support local farms and businesses year-round,” Kathleen Merrigan, deputy U.S. agriculture secretary, said in a statement.