Brookline resident Faith Michaels began buying more and more foods from local farmers markets when her daughter began working with a local food project that teaches young people about agriculture.
But as the weather turned cold and the local farmers market closed for the season, Michaels said she felt she had lost access to the same fresh and healthy foods she had grown accustomed to having.
“I felt like I had to return to the supermarket, which was depressing,” said Michaels, a landscape designer who described herself as 50-something years old.
Then in November a new
Brookline Winter Farmer’s Market launched on Sundays inside the Arcade building in Coolidge Corner, and Michaels said she began buying all of her groceries except soy milk at the winter market, including produce, fish, meats, cheeses, and pasta.
A growing number of winter market enthusiasts are helping support a recent boom in the number of winter farmers markets west of Boston and throughout the state. Winter markets have also launched in Framingham and Newton this winter, joining cold-season markets founded in the region four years ago in Natick and Wayland.
Statewide, the number of winter markets has more than doubled from 18 in 2010 to 41, according to Lee Piper, the applications manager for the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, a nonprofit organization that works with markets across the state.
While the winter markets may not offer the temperate outdoor shopping experience of the summer season, the markets have set up shop in some unique indoor spaces to keep customers cozy.
In Natick, the market is being held each Saturday morning in an auditorium at the Leonard Morse Hospital, while Framingham’s Winter Market has found shelter in the First Parish church on Vernon Street. Newton’s winter market is being held Tuesdays in the Hyde Community Center on Lincoln Street from 1:30 to 6 p.m.
In November, Brookline’s Winter Farmer’s Market rented space in the Arcade on Harvard Street, a building that houses a variety of stores, including a restaurant, on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. In January the market began opening on Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Despite some initial concerns that the market could get a bit messy indoors, manager Linda Plazonja has kept everything running smoothly, said Walter Laughlin, the chief financial officer for the Leeder Management Company, which owns the Arcade building.
“The building is really alive when the market is here,” he said.
Plazonja, 54, who lives in Brookline and blogs about sustainable foods, said the winter market had about 1,000 customers on the first Sunday in January and she’s hoping the increasing crowds are a sign that word is getting out. She’s brought in a dozen vendors for Sundays, and nine vendors for the new Monday market hours.
She credits the early success of her market, and the growing interest in other winter markets, to the relationships customers develop with local farmers by shopping and asking questions about the products each week.
“I think people are craving connection to community,” she said.
Winter markets may not boast of bountiful summer fruits, but managers say there is enough variety in produce and other foods to keep customer’s interest during the colder months. Some vendors sell potatoes and winter squashes, while some sell greens and vegetables grown in greenhouses, and others specialize in meats, fish, nuts, cheeses, and even salsa.
Jacqueline Meninno, the manager of the new Framingham Winter Farmer’s Market, said she decided to begin opening in the winter months because of the growing success of the summer market in Framingham and the demand by vendors and customers to keep going.
Meninno said her summer market grew from about eight vendors in 2011 to more than 20 in 2012. So far this winter she’s had 11 vendors participating in her indoor market at the church. The market launched in December and will be held from noon to 5:30 p.m. the first Thursday of each month through May.
Instead of many of the impulse shoppers that might wander into an outdoor farmers market while passing by, Meninno said most of the winter market patrons she’s seen are “die-hard” customers.
“We’re getting the vegetarians or the vegans or those who really make it their mission to support local agriculture or small businesses,” Meninno said.
Deb Sayre, the market manager for the summer and winter farmers markets in Natick, said her winter market started four years ago and has about 20 vendors. The summer market on the Natick Common has about 40 vendors, she said.
Sayre said in the winter the size of the market is confined some by the amount of indoor space, though a move from the Johnson Elementary School to the hospital two years ago has increased the amount of room for the vendors.
“It’s not being outside on the common, but it’s warm, it’s fun, and it’s delicious,” she said.
In Newton, the new winter market has been attracting about 300 customers each Tuesday, compared to the 700 customers for a Tuesday market during the summer months, said Robert J. DeRubeis, the commissioner of Newton’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the markets.
While DeRubeis said the city would like to see the number of customers increase, it is a little early to tell what the new market can expect. DeRubeis and Plazonja both said they believe the holiday season also kept the number of their customers down in December.
On the first Monday of Brookline’s Winter Farmer’s Market customers trickled into the Arcade to do some shopping, but vendor Andrew Thornhill of Dartmouth-based Silverbrook Farms said he thinks once word spreads that the market is also open Mondays, the number of customers will be more comparable to the crowds on Sundays.
Thornhill said that on the first Sunday market in Brookline in January he sold out of his greens in 30 minutes.
“It was crazy, it was madness,” he said. “I mean, I’m into it. I love it.”