WILLIAMSTOWN -- Most people think of farmers markets as something that happens in the summer, but Berkshire Grown is once again getting together to extend the farmers market season.
With holiday farmers markets already held the weekend before Thanksgiving, and now another holiday market planned for Sunday, Dec. 16, the season for farm goods in the Berkshires now extends right up to year's end.
"Berkshire Grown's aim is to keep our farmers farming," said Barbara Zheutlin, executive director of Berkshire Grown. "We want this to extend the season for our farmers so they don't stop connecting and selling. I call this the most delicious way to strengthen our local economy."
The first set of winter markets took place on Nov. 17 in Williams College's Towne Field House and in Great Barrington on Nov. 18. Nearly 69 vendors offered a wide variety of foods that included locally grown eggs, meat, poultry, produce and microgreens, as well as prepared goods such as handcrafted cheese, wine, pickles, kim-chee, sauerkraut, tempeh, marinara sauce, condiments, preserves, bread, pies, cookies, honey and maple syrup.
These November markets were attended by more than 2,800 people and generated over $62,000 of income for regional farmers and food produces, a significant increase from the previous year. The markets have been running for four years, originally the idea of Berkshire Grown board member Nancy Thomas, who also runs Mezze and Alium restaurants.
"When she joined, she told us about her experience of going to a market on the weekend before Thanksgiving, and how fabulous it was," said Zheutlin. "That was the inspiration for this idea. The first year we experimented, did one in Great Barrington and one in Williamstown, scheduled for the Saturday right before Thanksgiving. Both were so successful, we extended in our second year to do a market in each location on the weekend before Christmas as well."
In addition to the vast quantities of locally grown food, the holiday market will offer locally made gift items, as well as free music.
"We've even got face painting for the children this year, which isn't farmers per se, but enables parents to do more shopping, which is good for farmers," said Zheutlin. "It's a festive event; people love these markets. We hope people will tell their friends how much fun they had. It's a big celebration, the mood is as if you were at a party. And there's food and snacks for lunch, people are grilling local sausages and offering locally produced soups, cakes, and cookies."
And while a party atmosphere might prevail, Zheutlin's primary purpose at Berkshire Grown is to support the local farmers.
"Most of the members of Berkshire Grown are, like myself, someone who eats," she said. "The reason why someone who eats might want to join is to support the local farmer who is feeding me by growing these local fruits and vegetables. So eaters and community members, by buying directly from a farmer, directly put money into the farmer's pocket so their business can be strengthened, and we get to eat locally grown food. By having these markets, they're planning to grow for the market; farmers can plant thinking about this market as part of their season. We need people to go buy the produce, so they stay in the healthy sustainable business."
One of the things some people forget about healthy, freshly grown food, according to Zheutlin, is that much of it is seasonally determined. She sees part of her goal at Berkshire Grown as not only to support local farmers, but to make the community aware of when food grows.
"We help remind people because we grew up in the age of supermarkets, but certain foods don't grow all year round," said Zheutlin. "Part of what we do is extend the season for our farmers. What's growing now in our community is a wonderful variety of winter squashes, greens, kales, kohlrabi, mustard greens, really beautiful varieties of potatoes, apples, beautiful stalks of Brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas ... it's just exciting to see all this fresh locally grown food."
Sponsors of the holiday farmers markets include the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the Williams College Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program and Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, and Williamstown Chamber of Commerce, along with a number of Berkshire businesses, restaurants and farms.
"We do this with the support of the community," Zheutlin said. "It's the people who come shop that makes it a success and make it fun."
What: Berkshire Grown Holiday Farmers Market
When & where:
Dec. 15: Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School, Great Barrington
Dec. 16: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Williams College's Towne Field house, 82 Latham St., Williamstown
More information: www.BerkshireGrown.org