During Missouri’s long, chilly winter months, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when it comes to fresh eating and cooking. Fresh produce is not as readily available and inspiration is often lacking. Since becoming year-round in 2010, the Columbia Farmers Market has fought against this trend, continuing to bring shoppers and vendors together throughout the winter months.
Through recent expansion work, the market has been made more easily accessible year round. The market was temporarily displaced last year as construction of the new MU Health Care Pavilion was taking place. In July 2019, CFM moved back to its home at Columbia Agriculture Park, bringing all of its original customers and more with it.
“Things have been insane,” CFM executive director Corrina Smith said. “Our customer attendance since we’ve moved here has increased by 72%.”
The pavilion is still being worked on, and it was part of the first phase of construction undertaken by the park to bring more services and experiences to the community. The new sheltered market doubled the average winter attendance, providing better shopping and selling conditions for everyone involved.
“I love it,” shopper Nicole Cope said. “You can still have it here all year round; it’s warm inside and you don’t have to drive somewhere new during the winter.”
No matter the time of year or location of the market, CFM offers a list of benefits to the community that regular grocery shopping does not. This unique opportunity is what has recently raised the market’s vendor membership to 80 booths. About 45 of these, including The Veggie Patch, owned and operated by Jim Thies, continue to offer their products throughout the winter.
“[It’s about] having a taste that you can’t get any other way because those tastes can’t be shipped,” Thies said. “It’s just the recognition of what fresh really is and making that available in the community.”
Over his 26 years selling at the market, Thies has developed methods to ensure that his farm can still offer quality produce throughout the slower growing months.
“Normally, we’ll have a lot of typical storage crops – winter squash, potatoes, some onions typically, popcorn, some dehydrated things – and then we always have some green stuff,” Thies said. “We’ve got a hoop house that extends that growing season or gets you an earlier start.”
Beyond the opportunity to serve up fresh food all year, other aspects of the market add to its appeal. As the issue of climate change grows increasingly prevalent, consumers and producers alike are searching for ways to become more sustainable.
“There’s all kinds of environmental benefits where you’re cutting down on your carbon footprint, using less water [and] supporting local labor,” Smith said.
CFM and the Agriculture Park are constantly working to expand their services and its impact on the community. In the coming months, this will take shape in the form of new construction on the property like a one room schoolhouse and gardening structures. Programs like cooking demonstrations, children’s activities and live local musicians will add to the Saturday morning experience.
Those wishing to check out all the winter market has to offer can stop by between 9 a.m. and noon on Saturdays at the Columbia Agriculture Park. The market will return to summer hours in April, opening an hour earlier.
Edited by Sophie Stephens | email@example.com