Carol Peterson (right) picked up some root vegetables from Laurie Timm (left) of Fairview Farms at the winter farmers market in Winona last weekend.
by CHRIS ROGERS
The fountains at Levee Park are shut down and the Saturday-morning crowds streaming across Main Street are gone, but the Winona Farmers Market is still going strong. Every other weekend, local producers offer vegetables, canned goods, honey, fresh bread, meats, and more. Carol Peterson came all the way from Onalaska, Wis., to shop Winona’s winter farmers market last Saturday.
“I come for the sweet potatoes from Altura,” Peterson said. She recently shared some of Whitewater Gardens Farm’s crop with a woman from her church. “She said, ‘I don’t think I can ever buy another sweet potato in the store again. They’re so good,’” Peterson recalled. Holding up a “roasting bag” full of root vegetables from Fairview Farms, including a big, purple-top turnip, she added, “I have never eaten a turnip, and there’s other things that I’m not sure about, but that’s something that can happen at a farmers market — try something new.”
“It’s great to have this because can’t get a lot of this in the store — the different kinds of potatoes they have,” said Winonan Paula Stephens, who had just picked up some colorful, two-tone taters.
Minnesota has seasons, and the winter market does not have the same profusion of produce as summer markets, when everything from hot peppers to melons are on offer. However, numerous local farmers have dialed in methods for storing cabbage, carrots, squash, onions, beets, Brussels sprouts, and more late into winter and early spring.
At Tapestry Gardens’ stand, Maxine and William Mormann were selling the last of this year’s greenhouse tomatoes, and they augmented their vegetables with a collection of potted plants. “We’ve been doing the market for about 20-some years, and we’ve learned that when your produce dwindles, you have to have something else to come up — kind of a continuous flow,” Maxine said. “That’s where it helps to have something a little bit kitschy to draw someone’s attention,” she added, nodding to the collection of creatively situated succulents. “Not everyone wants a houseplant, but it draws people in.”
“It’s the best indoor market that we do,” William stated. “People actually care about buying organic in Winona,” he explained. “Most of the other markets they could give a crap — they just want it cheap.”
Asked why she came from Galesville for the market, Selena Miller explained, “For the organic produce and healthy food and to support the community and sustainable agriculture … I like to know where my food is coming from.”
The winter market is smaller in the number of both vendors and customers, Winona Farmers Market Board President and Whitewater Gardens Farm owner Sandy Dietz said. Some of the vegetable growers that frequent the market in the summer don’t have storage facilities to sell through the winter, and some just need a break, she explained. With one market or another every weekend, it can be a long year. “You can pretty much go all year long without taking any Saturdays off,” Dietz said. As for the shoppers, she stated, “Even though we’ve got super loyal customers that come all summer long, there’s a good percentage that just don’t come out for the winter market, and sometimes I don’t blame them because sometimes it’s pretty nasty on a winter morning.”
“I’m actually liking the winter farmers market because we’re able to actually talk to people. In the summer, it gets crazy busy,” Savitha Iyengar said. Savitha and Bhaskar Iyengar were selling hot Indian food — including dosas, a sort of Indian crepe, filled with paneer cheese in pineapple simmering sauce. The Iyengars live in Winona, but this fall was the first time they came to the Winona market since they and their business partners opened Infuzn Foods with a commercial kitchen in Pine Island, Minn. “It’s just good to be surrounded by people we know,” Savitha said of coming to the Winona market.
The winter market allows vendors to sell gift items and artisan crafts — things the summer market generally doesn’t include — and value-added products like jams and fruit leather are big, Dietz said.
Dietz uses a greenhouse to grow a small amount of greens through the winter. One of her customers was overjoyed to find something green, fresh, and not from California or Mexico in the winter. “She was so excited to see some greens at market because they’re hungry for greens, but they definitely want to support the local farms,” Dietz stated. She added, “I see an opening for anyone who would want to do micro-greens in the Winona area.”
Like Minnesota seasons, selling at markets has ups and downs, Maxine said. “You learn that you get highs and lows and you just roll with it,” she stated.
Winter farmers markets are held every other Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon at the East Recreation Center in Winona. The next markets are on December 21 and January 4.