Getting to the root of the Winter Farmers Market

by Mara Eyllon on December 17, 2010

(L to R) Shape Up Somerville Director Jaime Corliss with Winter Market Manager Adrianne Schaefer

This winter, Somerville residents won’t have to kick the local habit.

Instead of going into hibernation from the Union Square Farmers Market, Market Manager Adrianne Schaefer and Shape Up Somerville Director Jaime Corliss are inaugurating Somerville’s Winter Farmers Market, which will take place on Saturdays from Jan. 8 through March 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Center for the Arts at the Armory.

We recently caught up with Corliss and Schaefer, who  filled us in on the market they’ve worked with stakeholders to develop since March.

This winter customers can expect to find the usual suspects in the form of root vegetables, apples and fresh greens, as well as regionally sourced produce such as  oranges and grapefruit. In addition to meat and fish, the market will feature an expansive array of locally produced foods such as bread, chocolate, cheese and for the first time in the Commonwealth, wine.

“As far as I know, we are the first market to have farm wineries participate,” Corliss said. “Some other communities are looking at it, but we are the first to approve it—we’re at the cutting edge here.” 

A winter farmers market in the Northeast poses many challenges, and requires rethinking how the vendors and products are selected, as well as a certain degree of compromise on the concept of what it means to be local.

“During the summer, it’s very clear that the produce needs to come from Massachusetts or contiguous states,” Corliss noted. “When our [winter] committee met, we looked at what was being grown in Massachusetts during the winter months and decided that there are customers who would want a little more diversity…We made a policy decision to open up the winter market only for this sort of regional approach.”

The market is just one of the many undertakings of Corliss and Shape Up Somerville, a citywide health initiative that was founded in 2002 in conjunction with Tufts University, and has received widespread support. The organization  worked with Groundwork Somerville, Union Square Main Streets and the Federation of MA Farmers Markets and received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Part of the overall goal of Shape Up Somerville, Corliss said, is to break through the socioeconomic barriers to healthy, local foods and ensure that they are enjoyed throughout the Somerville community. Shape Up worked with the Davis Square and Union Square farmers markets this year to promote EBT and SNAP use, and those programs will also be accepted at the Winter Farmers Market. Corliss said Shape Up is also looking into setting up a mobile food truck that would serve the Mystic River Housing Development.

For now, Corliss is hoping Somerville residents will check out the market for themselves, “give everyone a shot, and then spread the word.” 

An Interview with Jaime Corliss and Adrianne Schaefer

Defining market principles

PS: What are your goals for the Winter Farmers Market?

Corliss: Community stakeholders identified the need for greater access to local foods during the winter. We put together a list of market principles which include: Increasing access to healthy foods; increasing access to local foods; increasing opportunities for farmers to interact directly with customers, and; increasing opportunities for local food production. Those were our guiding principles—we also  hope to make local and healthy food more affordable.

PS: What was your inspiration for the winter farmers market?

Corliss: We had conversations with some of the other winter markets, we spoke with Natick and Wayland, who are very successful. In the end we took what we could, lessons learned and the tips they gave us to create our own model.

Hothouses and regional sourcing

PS: What variety of produce can market-goers expect to find this winter?

Schaefer: Root vegetables: Parsnips, potatoes, carrots, celery root, beets and Brussels sprouts. Greens are possible to do in this area and we’ll have a couple vendors that have greens.

PS: Are all of the greens grown in a greenhouse?

Adrianne: Some, and we are working with Enterprise Farm who is expected to source things that are grown in this region. They’re planning to source them from farms that are a bit South of here. We also have a farm that has greenhouses and grows lettuce, Swiss chard and kale.

PS: Will there be any fruit available?

Corliss: Apples. They are kept in cold storage and coming from Apex Orchards in Belchertown. Grapefruit and orange, this is where, as Adrianne mentioned, regional sourcing comes in, essentially from small farms up and down the east coast, and there may be strawberries.

PS: Are the prices going to be comparable to those in spring, fall and summer?

Corliss: Because we haven’t started yet, we don’t know the prices. The vendors set their own prices. When our committee met to select vendors, we selected vendors from different price points so that there would be options for people of different income levels.

‘A Very Different Market’

PS: Can you talk a bit more about how you approached the Winter Farmers Market concept?

Schaefer: We are going to have a whole bunch of different vendors that aren’t produce. We’re going to have meat vendors, bakeries. This is a very different market than my experience working with a summer one. We’re expecting a lot of people in the winter and I think that the ratio of demand and supply will be a great thing for our farmers—we have all these people in the winter who still want the produce, but we don’t have as much so it’s going to sell out.

Corliss: I think Adrienne hit it on the head there. Two points on winter versus summer: the first point is that during the summer it’s very clear that the produce needs to come from Massachusetts or contiguous states. When our committee met, we looked at what was being grown in Massachusetts during the winter months and decided that there are customers who would want a little more diversity than what is grown in Massachusetts. So we made a policy decision to open up the winter market only for this sort of regional approach.

Part of our goal was to create an opportunity for winter food production, and just having a market creates that opportunity. Even since we started planning in March, we are hearing from more and more farmers who are thinking about planting and then selling in the wintertime because these opportunities are opening up. There are more winter markets and there’s more demand. We are part of a movement toward more winter food production.

Schaefer: It’s an extension really, having a four season harvest is becoming increasingly popular.

PS: How far south are the farms located?

Corliss: Florida, citrus.

PS: Is this all organic produce?

Schaefer: That’s a good question for Enterprise [among the participating vendors, see list below]. I know they produce organic only, but I don’t know the answer to whether or not they source organic.

But will it be fun?

PS: Can people expect the live entertainment and social atmosphere of the Union Square Farmers Market?

Schaefer: Yes. It’s still in the works as to exactly what’s expected, but we’re going to have music and hopefully some skill-shares, workshops and a guest vendor spot which is open to people to come and apply, as well as a community table. So if there’s a non-profit that wants to come in and have a table, they can do that.

PS: How do you suggest Somerville residents take the most value from the winter market?

Corliss: I would say just come and visit all the vendors. Talk to them about what makes their product different from other products. Come, give everyone a shot, and then spread the word.

‘The intent is to make it affordable for folks who are lower income’

PS: What are you doing to market Shape Up initiatives to a broader range of communities, including those that may not have access to computers or Facebook?

Corliss: We are just wrapping up a collaborative mission with Davis Square Market and Union Square Market promoting EBT and providing SNAP incentives. So, at both markets, folks could go pay with their EBT card and then for every dollar they spend they would get matching funds—if they spent ten dollars, they would also get ten dollars of free food as part of this matching program.

The intent is to make it affordable for folks who are lower income. This is a major initiative that we have going on now.

We’re looking at options to bring a mobile produce truck to the Mystic Housing Development and one of the things that we want to do is, in increasing access to healthy foods, we want to bring food to the people and remove any barriers of getting to a market or a grocery store. So we’re looking to ways that we can bring that initiative to life.

We focus mostly on outreach through some of the organizations that would interface with SNAP recipients. We had fliers in four languages that went out through organizations that serve seniors, through [the Community Action Agency of Somerville], WIC and some of our other community based organizations such as LIFT, the family center. That’s one way that we spread the word — having materials that are available in multiple languages, working with the community based organizations.

We also worked with 311 on a flier, so folks would get the highlights of the program and they could call 311 … and speak to someone in their own language to get more information.

We also had banners — one that got particularly good visibility was at the East Somerville Library. We had to make sure that we had materials in languages that people understand and to make sure that those materials were being distributed in the places where our audience was most likely to be.

Schaefer: As the person who was handling the transactions in Union Square, I did some informal polling and asked customers how they heard about the market and the answers were across the board, so it looks like all those things worked. We try to do a good job of hitting all the major avenues.

Pioneering wine sales for Mass farmers markets

PS: Tell us more about the addition of wineries to the vendor list.

[Massachusetts] just passed the legislation this summer, so the winter market is really the first shot that the farmers markets have to bring some of these small wineries on board. And, as far as I know, we are the first market to have farm wineries participate.  Some other communities are looking at it, but we are the first to approve it—we’re at the cutting edge here.

This was just a way, from our point of view, to support some additional local producers and offer enhanced value as a market for our customers. Customers can come and essentially purchase a full meal at the market.

Winter Farmers Market Vendor List:

Enterprise Farm, South Deerfield, MA

Winter Moon Farm, Hadley, MA

Stillman’s Farm, Hardwick, MA

Apex Orchards, Shelburne, MA

Cook’s Farm, Brimfield, MA

Austin Brothers Valley Farm, Belchertown, MA

Globe Fish Co, Boston, MA

Hi-Rise Bread Co., Cambridge, MA

Great Cape Baking Company, Marstons Mills, MA

3 Little Figs, Boston, MA

Seta’s Mediterranean Foods, West Newton, MA

Q’s Nuts, Georgetown, MA

Reseska Apiaries, Holliston, MA

Elaine Hsieh, Chocolatier, Somerville, MA

Taza Chocolate, Somerville, MA

Coastal Vineyards, South Dartmouth, MA

Turtle Creek Winery, Lincoln, MA

Zoll Cellars Winery, Shrewsbury, MA

Market Manager Adrianne Schaefer can be reached at A soon-t0-be-launched  Winter Farmers Market Facebook page will provide updates on vendors and their products.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney O'Keefe December 17, 2010 at 3:26 PM

I am so excited for the Winter Market and thank both of these women for their effort and hard work! See you in January!

Gary Corliss December 17, 2010 at 11:19 PM

The Winter Market sounds fantastic. What a novel and forward thinking approach. Business and Government working together for the betterment of all. We need more of this. Somerville is Successville!!!

Cindy Godwin December 18, 2010 at 11:13 AM

This is excellent. It is difficult to find a diverse range of locally sourced fruits and vegetables in northern climes during the winter months. And wine too; what a bonus. Good job on finding a way to bring it all into one place through this Winter Market in Somerville. Looking forward to checking it out!

Whitesnakes December 19, 2010 at 6:55 PM

This is amazing. You are one kickass foodie, Mara.

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