Farmers need their communities
During the holidays, Americans will consume their body weight in holiday savory snacks, sweet treats and delicious goodies—but we mustn’t forget the farmer. On snow days when the kids are home, bored, eating, we mustn’t forget the farmer. As we indulge in vegetable soup, chicken pot pie and Swedish meatballs, we mustn’t forget the farmer who provided ingredients that warm hearts and souls during those long, cold winter months. A local grower and producer, Monique Millison, recently spilled her heart on social media. Her message, in short, was this: A slow farmers’ market in your hometown feels like a slow death. We need you, friends!
The Cooperage Project wanted to know more about her perspective.
TCP: Monique, we first have to thank you for sharing your honesty. I’m sure your feelings are shared with other farmers and producers. Why do you feel winter market traffic slows down?
MM: Farmers’ market business has slowed down over the last couple years, not just the winter market. I know people are busy and they fit in shopping when they can get there. Heck, I know people who shop online and pick up groceries at Walmart. You have to make it a priority to eat this way and schedule it in. For me, it’s worth it! Once you eat fresh and healthy, you don’t want to go back. You actually feel guilty when you buy eggs or lettuce at the grocery store. I wrote a poem about how it feels to stand around trying to sell something it took months or years to grow, and have so few of the people you know show up to buy it. I’d hate to think “farm to table” was a fad.
TCP: When the Cooperage first opened, I understand your farm was a big proponent of having a Winter Farmers’ Market. What was the thinking behind it?
MM: When the Cooperage first started, they were asking themselves, “What does the community need and want us to be?” We believe that in order to have a sustainable food system, there needs to be a way for people to access locally grown food all year round. It was a missed opportunity for farmers to make money and people who want to keep up with a healthy lifestyle. We used to struggle financially during the winter trying to budget what you earn in six months to last another six months. We added high tunnels to be able to grow a better variety year round and the market made a big difference for bridging the gap between growing seasons.
TCP: What is the biggest challenge to growing in the winter?
MM: For us, it’s regulating the swing of temperatures in our high tunnels. At night, it holds some heat but is only a six-degree difference from outside. We cover our greens with agricultural cloth called ReMay and that gives a little more protection. Kale and spinach plants are actually freezing and thawing daily in mid-winter! It’s amazing. Sunny days are tough because it can get to 80 degrees or more in the high tunnel, and [that] shocks the plants, making them think it’s time to make seeds. This is called bolt. We often have to shovel snow from around the 100-foot high tunnel so we can roll up the plastic sides and ventilate some of the hot air. We have to weed pretty regularly. Believe it or not, weeds grow through the winter, too! No rest for the weary here. Winter growing means we have a full time job, and that’s a good thing.
TCP: You’ve been cooking up seasonal cuisine in the Cooperage’s Market Cafe for several years. When you’re the customer, what do you value most about local products?
MM: I love to cook, and the farmers market is an amazing place to shop. It’s a feast for the eyes, and I find inspiration just looking at the selections. Firstly, I look for high-quality and organically grown or raised products. Our farm is certified organic as of this year. A lot of farms at our markets are not certified but have been growing organically their entire careers. I know the farmer, their practices and trust the food they grow and raise. Secondly, I want to support my friends who farm and other artisans. While some may not have organic practices, I know they have excellent and tasty products which are way more sustainable and ethical than anything I could find at the grocery store. I also want my friends to make some money and survive farming. I hope for them what I hope for my farm: to be economically sustainable and thriving doing what we love doing and do best, tending the earth and growing food for our community.
Find the Main Street Farmers’ Market schedule here and plan on checking out the selection of local produce and products.