By Claire Walla
As summer dies down and the cold air sets in, life here on the East End tends to, well, settle down for a long winter’s nap. Farmers and crops included. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, farm stands and farmers markets typically have closed-up shop for the season.
However, this year beginning Saturday, December 4, the Sag Harbor Farmer’s Market will be back in business for three more weekends, bringing local farmers and vendors in direct contact with the community each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through December 18.
Though during the warm summer months the market is held in the space outside the Sag Harbor Yacht Club on Bay Street, buyers and sellers this month can rest assured their fingertips will not go numb while handling home-grown goods; the winter market will be housed at 34 Bay Street — inside the new retail building directly across the street from its summer locale.
“We had the opportunity, so we did it,” said Ana Nieto, who, along with Ivo Tomasini, began managing the Sag Harbor Farmers Market this past year. “We were both kind of sad that it was going to end.”
So when the opportunity came to rent the space across the street, Nieto and Tomasini jumped at the chance.
So far, about eight of the market’s 17 summer vendors will take part, but Nieto said this is mostly because plans for the winter market got off the ground a bit late in the game.
“We want it to be a continuation of the summer market,” Nieto explained, but added there will be other vendors as well because not all who participate in the summer market were prepared to extend their season. “The farmers just weren’t thinking of winter, they typically plan [their harvests] for April through November.”
She added that Bette Lacina and Dale Haubrich, who run Bette and Dale’s farm stand on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, expressed interest in the winter market, but were unable to participate this year for that very reason.
“The main difference [between this market and the summer market] is that there will be much less fresh veggies,” Nieto said. “But there will be crafts for the holidays.”
Buyers can also expect to see goods from Mecox Bay Dairy, Grapes of Roth and Taste of the North Fork, plus other foods that aren’t necessarily seasonal, like baked goods, fudge, Italian pastries, fish and pickles. Nieto and Tomasini are hoping to get a Christmas tree vendor to the market as well.
Tomasini said that while most vendors and customers welcomed the idea for the winter market, some vendors cautioned him and Nieto about holding a market at this time of year when the population dwindles compared to the summer, and sales are usually down. However, Tomasini maintains that the winter market is merely an experiment this year. “We’re just throwing it out there … I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he said.
Depending on how much interest is generated over the next three weekends, Nieto and Tomasini will decide whether or not to tackle this project again next year. And if they do, their hope is that they will get in touch with farmers soon enough to be able to incorporate more fresh foods into the mix.
Though buyers shouldn’t expect to see everything offered during the summer — delicate crops like lettuce, for example, typically don’t last through winter’s first frost — Tomasini and Nieto hope to incorporate more hearty fresh seasonal foods into the market, like root vegetables, and freshly preserved foods, like sun dried tomatoes and pestos.
According to Ian Calder-Piedmont of Balsam Farms in Amagansett, there are several fruits and vegetables that can also be grown and stored throughout the winter months. He said Balsam Farms, for example, stores potatoes, sweet potatoes and butternut squash all winter long. He added that vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and more sturdy leafy greens like kale and collard greens can also be grown in colder climates.
“They can take the frost and keep on going,” he said.
And while not all foods can be stored for months on end, Calder-Piedmont noted that vegetables like carrots, beets, celery root, apples, onions and cabbage can be stored successfully through the colder seasons.
Balsam Farms typically doesn’t sell its crops via farmers markets, choosing instead to sell wholesale, as well as through its farm stand in East Hampton. Calder-Piedmont noted that the business does typically slow down this time of year. However, like Nieto and Tomasini, he believes people’s attitudes toward food are beginning to change.
“I’m optimistic that there can be winter markets in the future,” he said.
“The whole trend is really kicking into high gear,” said Tomasini of eating locally grown seasonal foods.
“[Supporting this effort] is something that we’ve been wanting for a while. We wish we had started thinking about [the winter market] a bit sooner,” Nieto added. “But again, we had the opportunity to do it, so we did.”