Certain parts of the country are turning into winter wonderlands, at least as far as locavores are concerned. According to new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, listings for 2012 winter farmer's markets jumped 52 percent compared to 2011, highlighting a continuing trend in the sustainable food movement and satisfying consumers' growing preference to buy local.
Today, more than 1,800 winter farmer's markets appear in the USDA national farmer's market directory. That's good news for holiday cooks who prescribe to the buy-local movement, and also for local economies. "Each winter farmer's market offers additional opportunities for farmers to generate income year-round," says USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "These investments are a win-win. Farmers have more stability, and consumers have a reliable supply of local food, regardless of the season."
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Winter farm food often includes root vegetables like parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots, which are perfect for warm and nourishing winter stews. Other favorites include preserved fruit, cold-weather greens like kale, pumpkins, winter squash, herbs, meat, eggs, honey, baked goods, and handmade soaps. "Winter markets are a great way to support local farms and businesses year-round," Merrigan added. "As you celebrate the holiday season and bring in the new year, more farmers markets are there to provide fresh ingredients for your favorite holiday dishes, and offer unique gift options for family and friends."
States with the Most Winter Farmer's Markets:
1. California (284)
2. New York (196)
3. Florida (105)
4. Maryland (70)
5. Texas (63)
6. North Carolina (62)
7. Massachusetts (59)
8. Pennsylvania (58)
9. Georgia (55)
10. Virginia (53)
The explosion in opportunities to buy local during the "off-season" include simple innovations like hoophouses, unheated greenhouses that allow farmers to extend the growing season without spending a lot of money.
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Don't have a winter farmer's market nearby? That doesn't mean local food isn't around. Here's how to connect:
• Go virtual. Farmigo just received $8 million in financing and is rolling out regional virtual farmer's markets, which connect a band of local farmers to communities in cities like New York and San Francisco; others are planned in the near future. The idea is you can view updated offerings of a wide variety of farm products produced near you simply by visiting a single website and ordering; then just waiting for delivery! To locate a real-life winter farmer's market in your area, check out the USDA Farmer's Market Directory.
• Seek out eggs from the Web. If you're having trouble finding local eggs, visit Eggzy to see if anyone in your area has eggs to spare from their backyard flock.
• Unearth new buy-local opportunities. Search Local Harvest to find individual farms, co-ops, or even grocery stores that carry local food in your area.