Produce produced in the winter
Cold weather won’t deter these local market providers
It’s time to stock up on lush greens, juicy tomatoes, crisp apples and farm fresh eggs.
Is it springtime already?
But winter should not mean that those delicious homegrown foods have to go into hibernation.
Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery opened their greenhouse doors to produce lovers in Cortez on Saturday, Nov. 10. Some grocery stores got a break from shoppers while they scoured the booths at the winter farmers market.
Customers and vendors were happy to see someone step up and take on the seasonal challenge.
Vic and Gail Vanik are the owners of Four Seasons and they have been planting the idea of a winter produce wonderland since late summer, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get the seed growing. A few visits to the Cortez Farmers Market, some meetings with vendors and a couple of helpful and not-so helpful attitudes sent the Vanik’s into overdrive.
“I had a few people tell me it won’t work,” Vic said. “It just made me want to say, watch this.”
But Vic isn’t in it to prove people wrong. He only wants to keep people buying local, supporting local and eating local. He figures it’s their way of getting back to the community and helping local growers during hard economic times. And the reception has been very positive.
The community got behind the Vanik’s idea, even before the vendors, Vic said. They saw lots of excitement surrounding their greenhouse when they started to pass the word around. “They (customers) even offered to talk to people they knew who would be interested in participating,” Vic said.
Most of the vendors on Saturday were among the usual flock seen throughout the spring and summer at the Cortez Farmers Market, on the corner of Main and Elm.
Marybeth Gentry, owner and cultivator of the Eagle Tree and Flippin’ Egg Farms, was one of those regulars, bringing dozens of eggs, greens and root vegetables were her booth’s décor.
“I usually have around nine dozen eggs each week for the Cortez Farmers Market, but when that ended they have been piling up,” Gentry said with a laugh. “So I’m glad this came along.” Gentry’s farm is certified naturally grown. Her process is meticulous and everything is done by hand.
Her philosophy: people pay good money for locally grown food sources, so they need to know it has been handled properly.
All of her eggs are washed in hot water, rewashed and then washed again. She handles every one of the eggs herself and is very adamant about proper post-handling procedures. Any that are cracked or picked on by the chickens are removed. They must be stored at the right temperature and packed correctly. Every step is important, down to what she feeds her chickens.
“I let my chickens out every morning and they free range all day. My chicks eat feed that I mix myself,” Gentry said. “Sometimes, baby chicks are fed feed that are full of antibiotics. My feed has zero antibiotics in it.”
Gentry currently has 47 chickens on her farm. She will brood her own chicks and said that younger hens will lay every day. The older they get, the laying slows down to every other day or every two days. Once the chickens hit a six month mark of absolutely no egg-laying, she will butcher them, another meticulous process she also does herself.
Gentry was also selling potatoes, onions, turnips, arrugula, spinach and more. Her produce is thoroughly washed and cleaned several times. She does her harvesting the day before a market event to maintain optimum freshness.
Winter cultivation is tough because you never know what may happen. Outside elements such as wind, snow and ornery critters are always daunting factors. Gentry feels it’s worth the effort.
“I’m really excited for this winter market,” Gentry said. “I met so many awesome people over the summer. It’s great to see people educating themselves and taking responsibility about obtaining their food and knowing where it comes from.”
Localized growing and community effort was the goal for this market. Vanik is hopeful the season will do well, regardless of winter weather.
“When the Cortez market was closing it was starting to get pretty cold in the morning and people were beginning to complain,” Vic said. “We made our market hours later in the morning so it’s not so cold, it’s also indoors, because people don’t want to be up early fighting snow and we want them to have a pleasant shopping experience.”
Since there isn’t much to do socially in the winter months, Vic says this is nice way for people to get out, have a cup of coffee with neighbors and shop. There are several different sitting areas throughout the greenhouse for people chatting with friends or for those who’d like to stay for lunch.
Booths for November and December were sold out well before Saturday and they have a waiting list for next year.
“We sold the last booths we had the last week of October,” he said. “We charged $50 per booth for the entire five months we will be open. We aren’t out to make money from this.”
In fact, the money made from the vendors’ booths was used to create produce bags for shoppers with Four Seasons Farmers Market labeled on the side. Vic says five to 10 bags went to each vendor so they may pass them out to their best customers. The bags are made of propylene and they will also have canvas bags in the near future.
“This is a good, community, locally-based thing to do,” Vic said. “We hope it will help bring in new people so they can shop the market or our Christmas items and our poinsettias, or to visit with friends.”
The market will open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will continue through March of next year.
The Vaniks want customers to come, relax and enjoy a local shopping experience. Even in winter weather, people should be allowed that.