Area vegetables, oven-roasted, are 'localicious'
WATKINS GLEN--The skies are gray enough that the lights in St. James Episcopal Church Parish Hall (Sixth Street, Watkins Glen) glow warmly through the windows. Inside, there's a compact winter farmer's market, where tables of scrubbed bright vegetables invite thoughts of soup, winter salads and things you may want to grow in next year's garden but can meanwhile enjoy right away.
"This is our fourth winter Watkins Glen Farmer's Market," says Liz Martin, who with husband Matthew Glenn owns Muddy Fingers Farm. Martin and Glenn are managers for the winter farmer's market. "We tend to bring root vegetables--turnips, different kinds of storage radishes, potatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, salad greens that are hardy for the winter, spicy greens, squash, celeriac..."
The vegetables glow like jewels. One customer is thinking of roasted winter vegetables, an idea Martin seconds encouragingly. "This time of year, it's so nice to warm the whole house with the oven on," she agrees. "And it makes the house smell good. It's such a win-win to make something roasted for dinner." She says she often finds herself suggesting how various vegetables might be used in soups and stews. "Storage vegetables are delicious and abundant and diverse."
Jylle Benson-Gauss, co-originator of the farmer's market, explains she's getting kale to make kale chips. "Cut the leaves into silver dollar-sized pieces - don't wash the kale, just brush it off--and toss it in a bowl with sesame or olive oil, a little sea salt and nutritional yeast, then bake at 180 until they're crisp. They're so good, I eat half a cookie sheet of them as soon as they're out of the oven!"
As more winter markets have sprung up across the country, "Farmers have gotten better at planning for winter, storing for winter, using more outdoor technologies to grow a lot more things like greens for the winter," Martin says. "Fresh greens don't grow much in the winter, so it's more like live refrigeration." The greens she brings to market now were full grown in October, remaining alive in a hoop house or protected field setting for later harvest. Martin and Glenn watch the weather, bringing in the more tender greens when the sun shines and the thermometer rises.
Noelia Springston, who owns Oxbow Farm in Erin, New York with her husband Tim, sits behind mounds of vegetables including plump winter squash and Jerusalem artichokes. "I feel like I've been introducing Jerusalem artichokes to people forever," she says, explaining they're neither from Jerusalem nor part of the artichoke family. Rather, they're related to sunflowers. The high-fiber, low-glycemic index tuber's versatility lends it the possibility of being mixed with pasta or potatoes.
It's one of the many extras they planted to bring variety to winter markets, a more challenging time of year for farmers. "We love to be here so people can have local food all winter," she says.
One Plow Farm in Mecklenburg, owned by Eric and Marie Benner, is a new enterprise for the couple, who are building a hoop house and already have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) following. "We're just starting out," Eric Benner says. "This is our big year. We've had about two acres in vegetables and we have some in storage. We're talking about having a distribution area in Schuyler County. We enjoy the market and we'd like to see more people come out. Farmers are trying to support the community and we need the broader support of the community."
Customers are increasingly finding their way to the winter farmer's market, but because it's no longer gardening season, a farmer's market might not be what many associate with cooler weather, Martin notes.
A large basket of colorful stuffed animals adorns the table for Shannon Brook Farm, with not a vegetable in sight. Shannon and Walter Ratcliff of Reading raise certified organic, pasture-raised chickens, lamb and pork and also sell organically-raised eggs. USDA regulations require him to sell his meat frozen, so the coolers behind him hold main-dish bounty for his customers.
"It's great to see people line up for our eggs, pork and bacon," Walter says. "It's stunning how good the food tastes. It's localicious. I don't know whether that's a word yet. I lived in Manhattan for 30 years and I don't think I'd ever eaten anything organic until I moved up here. We get a lot of questions, which gives an opportunity to explain to people the beauty of farming. It's very hard work--my only regret is that I didn't start doing it 10 years sooner." The hard work has paid off--"We feel we've turned a corner and we're going to make it as a farm."
Like the other farmers selling in Watkins Glen, Ratcliff also sells farm products in other markets. This one is closest to his farm, and it's the quietest, but he says it's well worth being here, because, "The people of Schuyler County deserve good food."
The Watkins Glen Winter Farmer's market is held alternate Fridays. The rest of the season's dates are Dec. 19, 2014; Jan. 2, 16 and 30, Feb. 13 and 27, 2015 from 3 to 6 pm at the St. James Episcopal Church Parish Hall, 112 Sixth St., Watkins Glen. For more information, check the Watkins Glen Farmers Market page on Facebook.