January 4, 2016

Winter Farmers Markets Increase Fresh Food Access, For Some

North Charleston/via Flickr

North Charleston/via Flickr

INDIANAPOLIS -- Live music sets the mood at the Broad Ripple Winter Farmers Market. The popular farm stand moved indoors for the first time this year, using space at Bent Rail Brewery.

To the delight of the market’s curator, Mark Demerly, crowds have followed. People can "come in and enjoy some live music, have some breakfast, pick up a few things, have a drink," he said. "Hopefully we’ll become a real community center point for everybody."

Famers markets are becoming more than just a summer outing, with winter versions popping up across central Indiana. That’s increasing the fresh and local produce available in colder months, but not for all Indy residents.

It’s late December, and vendors still have apples, leafy greens and squash. Availability of some of those – especially the apples – will peter out as winter drags on, but there will still be plenty of local cheeses, eggs and meats.

"The thing we wanted to focus on is food, and locally produced," Demerly said. "So the fact that all our vendors have products either that they grow or raise, or that it’s raised locally."

Mike Hoopengardner owns Redbud Farm and Caprini Creamery with his wife, east of Indianapolis. He’s here on a Saturday morning selling goat cheese. "The farmer’s market is how we started," he said.

As business has grown, weekend markets are a smaller percentage of Hoopengardner's income, but he said it’s still the best way to meet new customers.

"This type of market gets us into those other markets," he said. "So this gives us the opportunity to meet not only our $6 cheese customers, but our potential restaurant customers, chefs, buyers from retail stores."

Markets like this increase access to local goods and offer a financial boost to farmers they normally only receive in the peak summer months. Broad Ripple’s market is one of a growing number of winter farm stands in central Indiana. Others include a downtown market that just outgrew its space at City Market (and is moving to Circle City Industrial Park. There is also one in Carmel, Bloomington and on the north side of Indy at the Glick Jewish Community Center.

Winter markets are in more affluent parts of the city and farm-raised eggs or artisanal cheeses don’t come cheap. And so the markets do little to improve food access in low-income neighborhoods or alleviate Indy’s many food deserts.

"Part of the challenge is not just what it’s possible to grow earlier in the season and later in the season, but also getting people to consider they can still go out and get fresh produce," said Laura Henderson, executive director of Growing Places Indy, which operates several urban farms and advocates for healthy eating and lifestyles.

Neighborhood gardens operate largely during summer and early fall. And while more winter markets are a great way to boost that interest and promote consumption of seasonal produce, availability is limited, with just a few markets open a few hours each.

"Which is not super accessible and we realize that. But one step at a time, we’re doing what we can," Henderson said.

Henderson likes the idea of a produce delivery truck, or mobile farm stand to extend the reach of winter produce. But she says those ideas ultimately need to come from neighborhood residents.

Denise Ferguson is the manager of nutrition services at the Marion County Health Department. She’d like the winter farmers’ markets service a broader range of people. Maybe more basic staples available, like beans and rice. Even if fresh food access is harder in the winter, she says something is better than nothing.

"To me, the message is just eat more fruits and vegetables, whether they’re canned, fresh or frozen," Ferguson said.

There also poses one cap to a growth in winter markets. There have to be enough farmers capable of supplying them.

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