We may be going through a mild patch now, but Michigan winters can be pretty fierce. Sometimes it’s a little challenging picking up your favorite locally grown food.
But our ag industry doesn’t just stop cold when the snow flies. Winter farmers’ markets are on the rise.
Don’t be fooled. In Michigan, the January thaw seldom lasts long. There’s still plenty of winter left to go around.
While visions of summer cherries and asparagus may be dancing in your head, you don’t have to wait to enjoy some of your favorite local vegetables. Some Michigan farmers are still growing hardy crops in the cold, and helping to build a growing winter farmers’ market phenomenon.
The crisp white snow Rebecca Titus is used to working in this time of year is today a slushy brown mud. Here on her farm in southern Ingham County, Titus grows vegetables year round. This unseasonable winter sprinkle is just cold enough to get into her bones. But she doesn’t let it slow her down.
“I choose to live here so I know that’s this is just part of the game,” Titus says.
Opening the door of her hoop house, Titus points out its construction. It's a series of overarching metal pipes covered in thick plastic sheeting. It's an example of passive solar energy capture.
“Here’s a secondary cover you can see here that’s inside the hoop house,” she says. “There’s actually two layers, so that you get a little more heating in the secondary layer. But you also have to grow crops that survive colder weather.”
Crops like spinach and baby lettuce. Titus is growing kale one hoop house over. It’s simple solutions like this that are enabling farmers from Michigan and other cold weather states to grow more local produce in what would otherwise be off-season.
When Titus first took over her family farm, there weren’t many outlets in which she could sell their winter wares. Now, she says, hoop houses have helped spur a winter farmers’ market trend.
The Meridian Farmers’ Market is one local example. Two Saturdays a month from December through April, about 20 vendors set up shop inside the Meridian Mall in Okemos.
Manager Christine Miller says its a good place for new growers to take root.
“They’re just beginning their businesses, and it allows them to see how their business plans will work out and how they can make adjustments before the summer season comes around,” Miller notes. “Then, they can look at venturing out to potentially more markets.”
Many vendors and customers take part in a CSA program. That stands for community supported agriculture. The consumer pays the grower up front for a subscription of vegetables produced over a period of time.
Miller says the market continues to grow each winter, both in the number of vendors and the selection of produce.
And the trend shows no sign of slowing.
In 2015, a program administered by the Michigan Farmers Market Association helped more than 40 farmers build their own hoop houses. Working with a voucher program, those growers sold produce to qualifying families, who in turn redeemed their vouchers to the tune of $54,000.