AT THE WINTER MARKET Gallit (left) and Chris Cavendish of Fishbowl Farm at the Portland Winter Market.
Even with Maine's short growing season, farmers all over the state are working to accommodate the needs of their customers who want to eat locally year-round. There are more winter farmers' markets and winter Community Supported Agriculture opportunities, and farmers are taking extra steps to get their products to the customer no matter the season.
They're not just selling grains, meat, and dairy products in addition to the traditional winter offerings of potatoes and turnips. Maine farmers have created online systems for customers to shop, they travel to parks and church basements for summer and winter markets, and even make deliveries.
Melissa White Pillsbury, the organic marketing coordinator of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, says she has seen an increase in winter farmers' markets over the past few years. She says farmers are connecting to customers in new ways, banding together to offer customers more of a selection, and reaching out to them online.
She adds that when customers participate in winter CSAs or farmers participate in a winter market they have a more steady cash flow, and will not deplete their reserves by the end of the season.
"Another benefit is maintaining customer contact year-round," Pillsbury says. "Being more visible and increasing (product) availability and convenience are ways to reach more customers. It is what people need to make buying local an option for them."
While CSAs are a popular way to support local farms by paying upfront for a season's worth of fresh food, there are a number of variations on the model — including self- or farmer-selected foods, and delivery or on-farm pickup.
Beth Schiller at Dandelion Spring Farm in Newcastle, said she used to follow a more traditional CSA format, but found the credit style works even better for her and her customers. Her CSA is year-round, and customers can select items whenever they want it. In the winter, she sells storage crops like cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, and home-raised pork, beef, and lamb. She also offers milk and eggs.
The model not only gives customers greater freedom in their food selections, but allows Schiller the ability to grow a wider variety of vegetables and extend her harvest through the winter.
Using an email system, customers select what they want and Schiller delivers the items to Portland and Rockland on a bi-weekly or monthly basis from November through May.
For Amy Sprague and Tom Harms of Wolf Pine Farm in Alfred, the answer was to offer a more traditional CSA, but in the winter months only.
After offering a traditional summer CSA for about eight years, Harms says they started the winter CSA in response to customers who didn't want their local-food options to end in October. The family spends their summers farming, and during the winter, partners with other farmers to offer grains, meat, storage vegetables, fruit, sea salt, and oils to their customers. This winter Harms said the farm sold 600 full shares, at $500 a share for 24 weeks of food. The website says the winter share provides enough vegetables for one to two people to eat them with most meals.