By Donata Defilippi
Yes, it’s winter and there are farmers markets selling fresh organic produce. Unfortunately, not as many customers are buying.
In recent years, farmers have converted winter to the 4th growing season with hoop houses. Consumers have been slower to extend their summer market habits into chilly, rainy winter days.
“If they’re growing,” says Freedom Farmers Market manager, Holly Hollingsworth, “ We need customers to buy.”
Customers are learning to buy ‘seasonal’ products. In our area, farmers have winter greens like collards, and plenty of root vegetables. Some have spring salad greens grown in protected space like hoop houses. No tomatoes – that’s a hot weather item! Markets also have meats, eggs, and other food-related products.
Some farmers offer a winter CSA (customer supported agriculture). “It’s a membership plan for usually 10 weeks where we bag what’s in season. It can be weekly or bi-weekly.” explains Joe Reynolds, the managing farmer at Gaia Gardens, a 5-acre plot next to East Lake Commons in east DeKalb.
The Atlanta area is part of the cultural trend of ‘growing’ new farmers. They’re on small urban plots, in the suburbs, in the exurbs and in rural areas in between. As the industry has grown, so have hoop houses and winter season production. Consumers, however, are slower to adapt their summer routine to finding markets on cold winter days.
For these small business owners, the work is hard and profits can vanish with one bad weather event. Consumers have a stake in the farmers markets: it’s up to us to help them stay in business.