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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: The wonders of Winter Fare

I just attended my sixth Winter Fare! I got to do my small part, giving a talk about the basics of extending the growing season, but mostly I just enjoyed the crowds, visiting with people I haven’t seen in a while and marveling at all the fresh produce that is available in February in Franklin County. Of course I shopped, too. Carrots, onions, salad greens, apples and salad toppers, a flat of arugula that I can snip over the next month to top my salads.

So how did Winter Fare start? When I asked Mary McClintock, the Recorder’s food columnist and Winter Fare organizer, she said that, for her, it started in 2001. “ I attended a talk that Kate Stevens and John Hoffman gave about Gary Paul Nabhan’s book ‘Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Food.’ That book and that talk changed my life. I started noticing where my food came from. “

That discussion changed McClintock’s view of the produce departments in grocery stores. Then, when Juanita Nelson suggested to a group of people that it would be nice to have a Harvest Supper at the end of the year, McClintock was prepared and eager to join an organizing committee that created the wonderful and celebratory annual Free Harvest Supper that fills the street between Greenfield Town Hall and the Common.

It takes a lot of volunteers to put on that dinner: organizers and generous farmers, cooks and even musicians. In addition to serving up a magnificent buffet, this event raises money to provide coupons so that clients of the food pantries can also buy fresh produce at the farmers market.

After some time of happy harvest suppers, Nelson made another observation and suggestion. The Harvest Dinner educated people about the delicious benefits of local produce, now how could they find a way to make that produce available in February?

McClintock joined Nelson in March of 2007 to start writing a series of monthly press releases for the Recorder talking about what gardeners could be doing in their garden to prepare for a winter’s worth of fresh vegetables. That was part of the groundwork for the committee that began planning for the first Winter Fare in 2008. McClintock’s wonderful Wednesday food column, with recipes as suggested by Recorder Editor Tim Blagg, grew out of those articles.

“The response to that first Winter Fare was mind blowing. It was so crowded. Coyote Farm sold out of their greens in half an hour,” McClintock said. I’d say the rest is history, but most of the history is almost invisible.

If produce is going to be sold at the Winter Fare, farmers have to grow it. And they have. “That first Winter Fare changed local farming,” McClintock said. “Now farmers plant for Winter Fare and for the winter farmers markets that have been created because of Winter Fare.”

That statement confused me a little. I thought all the farmer’s markets were Winter Fares. Not so. McClintock explained that Winter Fare is really an addition to the winter farmers markets. Winter Fare organizes workshops, the soup cafe and the barter fair.

From 2010 on, CISA (Community Involved is Sustainable Agriculture), inspired by Greenfield’s Winter Fare, organized Winter Fare events for winter farmers markets in Northampton and Springfield. The Winter Fares have given birth to a host of regular winter farmers markets in Amherst, Athol, Northampton and other towns. Their schedules are on the CISA website www.buylocalfood.org. The next Greenfield Winter Farmer’s Market will be at Greenfield High School on Saturday, March 16. This is a change from the usual first Saturday of the month schedule, so mark your calendars.

This year, there was a week-long calendar of Winter Fare events from movies, potlucks and talks. It ends with the annual Cabin Fever Seed Swap on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Green Fields Market from 1 to
4 p.m. and the Conway Local Potluck on Sunday, Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. at the Conway Town Hall. Full information is on the CISA Web site.

My talk with McClintock touched on the different ways that local farming has changed over the past few years. With a year-round market for local produce, farmers have been planning and planting for what is practically a nonstop season. The use of hoop houses has helped with that effort

There have also been ongoing discussions and efforts to increase the infrastructure needed for food storage. One addition to the food system infrastructure is the Community Development Corporation’s Food Processing Center, which makes it possible for farmers to freeze their produce and sell it locally. You can look for this produce at Green Fields Market.

Many people have been involved with Winter Fare over the years. The organizing committee is an ad hoc group. It is not affiliated with any organization although members of the committee may also work for CISA or other groups. New volunteers are always needed for the committee or for the day of Winter Fare activities. If you are interested in joining these lively and satisfying efforts, McClintock would like to hear from you. You can email her at mmcclinto@yahoo.com or telephone at 413-522-5932.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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