Three years ago, Andrew Huckins took on the task of managing a winter farmer’s market in Northampton, Massachusetts. “We needed a winter market. It wasn’t much work because everybody was ready for it,” said Huckins. Housed every Saturday in the basement of Thorne’s Marketplace, a three-story collection of shops, the space is filled with a wide mix of shoppers and wares. There are colorful arrays of greens, root vegetables, yarns, cheeses, breads, mead and more.
“The winter farmers market has created an ongoing connection with our customers, and it’s nice to maintain that all year long,” said Whitney Shepperd, of Chicoine Farm in Easthampton, MA.
The connection between the farmers and their customers has created a community experience you won’t find in a supermarket or big box store. Rachel Robertson-Goldberg of Crabapple Farm in Chesterfield, MA, said that the farmers and other vendors get to know what their customers want and then they can tailor their crop production to their customers. “People can come week after week, month after month to get fully local foods year-round,” said Huckins.
Huckins said that he really sees the winter farmers market as a “community center or hub...it’s the relationship between the farmer and the customers that’s important," he said, adding, “”This is a way to re-humanize the economy for food production and consumption.”
Robertson-Goldberg said that Massachusetts, once-upon-a-time, used to be able to produce most of its food. “The winter farmer’s market seems like a new-fangled idea, but really, it’s the supermarkets that are,” she said.
Geri Pollard, of Bread Euphoria, said her business, which sells a variety of breads and pastries, is new to the winter market, but that they are already starting to respond to customer requests. “People are so excited to be here – it’s one-stop-shopping,” she said.
“It’s important to be here every week. People are starting to count on it,” said Robertson-Goldberg. “They’ll wait until Saturday to buy the dozen eggs they need,” she added.
Huckins said that he found plenty of vendors when he started the market venture. “But this year, things are really solid and taking off,” he said. Hukins added that the type of customer that comes to the Northampton winter farmer’s market varies across age and gender, but that due to its location, does tend to draw more young people. We have five colleges around us. But I also think we tend to get more young people because I’m young. It’s the way I go about marketing,” he said. Huckins added that he uses a Facebook page and brings in certain types of musicians to play during the markets hours that appeal to a younger crowd.
Huckins said that there is still an element of surprise and novelty to the winter farmer’s market. “People who are coming are moving towards treating this as a staple of their winter experience,” he said.
Huckins said that the community aspect is integral to the winter farmer’s market. “There are person to person interactions. There is accountability, respect, to people and food, and understanding about food,” he said. Huckins said the market is limited only by its space at the moment. He said that if they were able to locate to a larger indoor space that he would like to have skill-sharing workshops, talks, and community activities. “Food is such a shared terrain among people. It’s a good coming-together point,” he said.