The aim of this four-year project has been to support New England farmers as they expand their vegetable production and sales into the winter months in response to the increasing public desire for year-round access to local food. For this project we considered the months of December through April as ‘winter’, because in most of New England, vegetable crops that are sold during those months require protected environments for growing or storage. Our work has facilitated the expansion of this market during the four years 2010-2014 and contributed to its success on multiple fronts. The project was a partnership of vegetable Extension specialists at the Universities of Massachusetts (UMass) and New Hampshire (UNH) Extensions, marketing specialists at two local food organizations, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in Western MA and Seacoast Eat Local (SEL) in Eastern NH, and a group of grower advisors from four New England states. Through this partnership, we were able to reach a wide range of growers interested in increasing their winter vegetable sales and work on their technical needs related to having product to sell, while also building winter markets and the customer base needed to sustain them. The growth in winter markets and winter vegetable sales has been dramatic and we exceeded our performance target, documenting that 80 growers increased their winter income on average by a range of $11,775 – $23,113 per farm.
Our initial needs assessment indicated that growers wanted to increase their understanding of postharvest handling of crops for winter storage, as well as expand and improve their facilities. Many were using high tunnels for winter production but needed additional low cost season extension methods to address late fall and early spring harvest and sales. Field research trials (16 on-station and 9 on-farm) conducted over three winters addressed issues related to over-wintered vegetable production in low tunnels and post-harvest handling and storage of root crops. We found that low tunnels constructed of ten-foot hoops covered with heavy (1.25oz/yd2) row cover and 6 ml greenhouse plastic moderated the coldest winter temperatures at least 20 degrees F at locations from central NH to southern RI, and that spinach, onion, kale and carrots could be successful low tunnel crops for spring sales. At least 60 farms who worked with the project, attended programs or read our publications changed their postharvest and storage practices for winter vegetables, and built more carefully designed storages for vegetable needs or made improvements to adapt their existing facilities to new uses. The project used case studies to assess how well different types of storage units could maintain carrot quality in storage from November through February. We found that ambient-air-cooled root cellars and freestanding walk-in coolers worked as well or nearly as well as more expensive custom-engineered facilities, although an ambient air system may need supplemental cooling and humidity in a warm fall. Reports from these trials, along with other relevant technical information and farmer innovations, were presented by researchers and farmers at a total of 50 educational programs, reaching over 4,300 people during the four years of the project. During the same period, UMass Extension published over 24 unique articles in Vegetable Notes and UNH published 4 research reports and 2 refereed research articles on topics related to harvest and storage of winter crops, or season extension structure engineering and management. A Winter Production, Storage and Sales website was established at UMass in the second year of the project. It had over 3400 pageviews in 2014, a 20% increase from 2013, with the heaviest new traffic in the Post-Harvest and Storage Resources section. Several articles were written collaboratively by UNH and UMass including, “Using Low Tunnels for Overwinter Vegetables: Lessons Learned” which was published at the project’s completion.
CISA and Seacoast Eat Local worked on organizing, promoting and managing winter farmers markets at six locations, facilitating steady growth in the number of market days per year (more weekly and biweekly markets, extending into April instead of ending in February), the number of vegetable vendors (up by 50% from 2010 to 2014 in SEL markets) and customers, and the range of vegetables available over the course of the winter (up 17-35% for each month). Their customer education work highlighted the abundance and diversity of vegetables available through ‘vegetable of the week’ promotions, recipes, workshops for customers, websites and social media. They steadily drew new customers as well as nurturing an enthusiastic and loyal customer base. Farmers who were engaged in winter farmers markets diversified into other channels including farm stores, CSA, wholesale, and restaurants as their production and storage capacity increased.
In surveys conducted in 2014, farmers expressed that their major reasons for increasing winter vegetable production and sales are to increase farm income, maintain contact with customers through the winter, and keep employees year round. Among farmers we surveyed, over 60% indicate they currently intend to increase winter sales. Further work is needed to balance the continued expansion of production and customers so that markets do not become saturated. Farmers also want research and better understanding of 1) planting dates and methods for a range of crops and growing conditions from field to low tunnel to unheated or minimally-heated high tunnels, and 2) energy-efficient and cost-effective storage facilities. Post-harvest handling including fall and winter washing also remains a major challenge.
Performance Target: 75 vegetable growers in New England increase their annual income from sales of vegetable crops during the months of December through April, by an average $6750 per farm. This will be accomplished through extending their production and harvest season or through expanding successful storage of fall-harvested crops, or both.
A pre-project needs assessment was conducted in 2010 with a small group of farmers for whom winter sales were already a significant and growing portion of their overall farm income. These interviews helped our project partners to determine what these growers, and likely others, were finding to be the greatest challenges to successfully and economically incorporating winter growing and selling into their farm plans. These initial interviews were followed by a more broadly distributed survey, sent out to the UNH and UMass newsletters’ readerships and SEL vendors. Results from this survey served as a snapshot of the then-current state of winter production and markets in the region, and established a baseline for how growers were incorporating winter sales into their total farm operation and budgets. The activities of the project including field research, market development and educational programs and publications were designed to address needs identified by growers in these initial surveys.
Project partners (from UMass, UNH, SEL and CISA) held conference calls as needed to plan and review project activities, generally three or four times per year. Our eight farmer advisors from NH, RI, CT and MA kept us abreast of their needs and the ongoing changes they witnessed in the production and sales of winter vegetables over the course of the project, and advised us through conference calls conducted at least twice per year and conversations at farm visits and meetings.
The farmer advisory panel was:
- Josh Jennings, Meadow’s Mirth Farm, Stratham, NH
- Bryan O’Hare, Tobacco Road Farm, Lebanon, CT
- Andre Cantelmo, Heron Pond Farm, South Hampton, NH
- Skip Paul, Wishingstone Farm, Little Compton, RI
- Rob Lynch, Riverland Farm, Sunderland, MA
- Ryan Voiland, Red Fire Farm, Montague, MA
- Laura Tangerini, Tangerini’s Spring Street Farm, Millis, MA
- Steve Fulton, Blue Ox Farm, Enfield, NH
These advisors supported the exchange of information among farmers through their own networking efforts and through participating in workshops and farm tours. In addition, we used surveys, workshop feedback and farm visits to assess our progress through milestones toward our performance target. From 2010-2013, Amanda Brown provided project management and was responsible for the UMass low tunnel and carrot trials. In 2013, Amanda Brown left Extension to assume directorship of the UMass Student Farm. Lisa McKeag took her place as project coordinator and has completed the final two years of the project. Susan Han advised us on the design and implementation of the post-harvest and storage trials, and was a resource for developing publications. Zara Dowling conducted carrot storage experiments, did statistical analysis and wrote research reports for many of the UMass research projects, as well as contributing to the development of the winter production website. We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Andy Cavanagh, Jessica Smith, Sarah Berquist, Courtney Huffman, Susan Scheufele and Jason Silverman to the implementation of UMass research trials and outreach.
Collaboration with the SARE farmer project FNE12-748 (Evaluation of inexpensive wireless networks for managing small vegetable farms), a UMass Integrated Research and Extension project (Ben Weil PI, Optimizing food storage systems for quality, safety and energy efficiency) and a UNH Experiment Station project enhanced our capacity to address issues of storage design, energy use and monitoring. The UMass research farm low tunnels and the storages at farms that were involved in the winter storage case studies were set up with wireless sensor networks which provided a testing ground for the equipment and software and demonstrated the usefulness of real-time, continual access to data on conditions in protected environments on the farm. Two of the farms have continued to work with Larry Manire and use wireless sensors on their farms. Ben Weil, UMass Extension assistant professor in Building and Construction Technology and his graduate student, Luke Doody, conducted research in winter 2013-2014 to compare temperature, RH, energy use and carrot quality during winter storage in a walk-in cooler at the UMass Research Farm that was fitted with their ambient air/humidifcation system with a walk-in cooler at Simple Gifts Farm that used conventional cooling equipment. Their work was presented at the 2014 Storage Workshop and UMass 2014 Field Day, and reported in a fact sheet (see Publications and Outreach).
Research (on-farm and on-station) and Case Studies:
Researchers and growers in NH, MA and RI conducted a total of 16 on-station and 9 on-farm trials over three winters from fall 2010 to spring 2013 on topics proposed in this project. Most of these trials were replicated experiments, while some were non-replicated observational studies or case studies. We worked directly with farmers to learn about storage needs and improve winter storage capacity for fall-harvested vegetable crops, and extended information about vegetable storage through many outreach channels.
1) Low tunnels for overwintering, including cover materials, crops, varieties and timing of planting to achieve optimal winter protection and spring yields
Covers: low tunnels were established at six sites in NH, MA, RI with three different coverings at each location (two layers heavy rowcover, one layer heavy rowcover + one layer 2ml perforated plastic, one layer heavy rowcover + one layer 6 ml IR greenhouse film), and temperatures were monitored with dataloggers inside and outside tunnels. Consistently across sites, an inner layer of heavy rowcover (1.25 oz/sq yd) plus an outer cover of 6 ml greenhouse plastic moderated the coldest temperatures most effectively and prevented ground from freezing at all sites. Subsequently all tunnel experiments (described below) used these coverings unless otherwise stated.
See attached documents (2): UMass & UNH low tunnel materials fact sheet and UNH low tunnel materials site analysis.
Crop evaluations, UMass: Three trials were conducted at UMass to evaluate three crop types: brassicas, spinach, and onions. The brassica trial focused on planting dates and spring regrowth for three brassica species (Brassica napa, B. juncea and B. rapa); onion and spinach trials focused on comparison of varieties for spring yield. All trials used black plastic on raised beds with tunnels constructed of metal conduit, covered with 1.25 oz row cover and 6 ml greenhouse plastic. Results in brief: For all crops, winter survival was very good; B. rapa bolted too early for spring harvest but the other greens produced marketable greens in March and April; spinach varieties Spargo, Space, and Corvair produced marketable greens without bolting while Red Cardinal bolted early; onions produced healthy greens and fresh bulbs for March and April harvests. Effects of planting date on yield varied among crops.
See attached documents (5): UMass low tunnel onion, spinach, brassica trials 2011-12 report or photo log.
Crop and tunnel evaluations, UNH: Three trials were conducted at UNH to evaluate: 1) greens including brassicas, lettuce, and chard at two seeding dates; 2) seeding date and variety on late fall and spring harvest of salad mix and; 3) influence of tunnel shape on winter temperatures. In addition, onion variety trials were conducted at the research farm and a cooperating partner farm further north. Results in brief: Earlier plantings of greens (seeded 7 Sep) yielded marketable greens in the fall and spring, while later plantings (seeded 21 Sep) yielded in the spring only. Salad mix seeded on 18 or 21 Sep produced harvestable yield in the fall, in 24 to 65 days after planting according to species. Growth was slower for 28 Sep seeding date and not all species reached harvestable size. Tunnel shape (4’ or 6’ base width for hoops) and size (10’ or 20’ long) did not influence temperature, but number and types of covers did. Onion varieties tested survived and grew well, and produced mature bulbs by mid-June, with differences among varieties in bolting, vigor and bulb size.
See attached documents (2): UNH low tunnels greens DRAFT, and UNH salad green varieties.
Crop evaluations, UMass: Two trials were conducted in low tunnels at the UMass Research Farm: 1) a 2nd year of onion variety trial and, 2) direct seeding of a single variety of each of beets (Red Ace), spinach (Space), kale (Red Russian), and carrots (Napoli), at different seeding dates. Results in brief: Onions: four onion varieties (Bridger, Copra, Patterson and Pontiac) were evaluated for quality and yield after overwintering in low tunnels for spring harvest. Transplant survival was high for all varieties (89-96%), and most of the onions harvested in spring were marketable. Bolting was strongly correlated with variety, with 79% of the Patterson, 73% of the Copra, and 55% of the Pontiac bolted at harvest, as compared to only 3% of the Bridger. Significant differences in yield were found between varieties, with Bridger having significantly higher bulb diameter and marketable weight than the other varieties. Seeding dates for various crops: the second planting date of beets had the highest survival based on number of plants, but plants in all treatments bolted in spring and did not develop good roots. The latest seeding date of spinach had the highest overwinter survival, while the earliest seeding date had the highest average harvest weights, though with high variability between replicates, no results showed statistical significance. No bolting was observed in spinach from any treatment. All three kale treatments survived the winter well, based on number of plants at harvest, though from a third to over a half of the plants had bolted. As with spinach, the earliest seeding date yielded the highest total and marketable weights, though not with statistical significance. There was a significant difference, however, in total yield between the earliest and latest seedings. In carrots, overwinter survival was good across all three seeding dates, and highest with the earliest treatment, with statistical significance between only the first two dates. The number of plants that had bolted at harvest corresponded to seeding date, with the latest treatment having the lowest bolting. Bolted plants were found to have a marketably-sized root, but the root was generally woody and bitter-tasting. All carrots were considered marketable, except for these bolted plants.
See attached documents (2): UMass low tunnels onion variety trial Yrs 1&2 and UMass low tunnels direct seed beet carrot kale spinach 2012-13.
Onion evaluations, UNH: onion variety trials were conducted at the research station in Durham (USDA hardiness zone 5B) and at a farm in North Haverill (zone 4B). Varieties were rated for vigor, time and rate of bolting, and bulb size. The conclusion after two years of onion trials was that low tunnels provided a protected environment that allowed onions to grow well in both locations. With both mid-August and mid-September seeding dates, onions were ready for harvest in late May to early June. Bulbs continued to increase in size until late June. The varieties TopKeeper, Hi-Keeper, Keepsake Bridger and T420 produced nice bulbs in both years; Walla Walla did well in one out of the two years. Planting later in the fall seemed to reduce the chances of spring bolting, but resulted in smaller, slightly later bulbs.
See attached document: UNH overwintering onions 2Yr.
2) Storage Carrots, UMass
Introduction. In pre-project surveys, carrots were the most widely grown crop for winter storage, and that remains true in our 2014 survey. They serve as a useful model for the large group of crops that require cold, humid conditions (32-34°F, >95% RH) in storage; if their needs are met they will store 4-6 months and all the other crops in that group will do well also. Without proper postharvest handling, carrots rapidly lose moisture and flavor. For these reasons we focused several trials on carrots. We evaluated varieties, harvest dates, post-harvest handling and storage methods using carrots as a model crop for long-term storage. At the outset, we found that a single variety, Bolero (JSS) was the most widely grown carrot for storage, so it was included in all trials. We wanted to see if carrots gained or lost quality when allowed to grow into November even if that takes them beyond their labeled days-to-harvest. Ambient air is used by many growers to cool their carrots, so later harvest can be beneficial for achieving good storage conditions. Two trials were conducted by UMass to evaluate effects of carrot variety and date of harvest on storage quality over time.
Carrot variety trials for fresh sales and storage quality
A variety trial was conducted using six storage carrot varieties: Bastia, Berlanda, Bolero, Canada, Carson, Sugarsnax. These were planted on 28 June 2010 and samples were harvested on 4 dates: 29 Sep (93 days post-seeding), 12 Oct, 27 Oct, and 11 Nov (130 days post-seeding). Varieties differed in type/shape (Flakee, Berlicum, Nantes, Chantanay, Imperator) as well as days to maturity (68 to 95 dh). At each harvest, carrots were weighed and graded based on USDA standards into one of the following categories: marketable (USDA #1 &2, >5″ w/no bends, forks, or blemishes), forks, misshapen, split, small (<5”), or insect damage; and tested for sweetness (ºBrix). Samples of USDA #1 or 2 carrots from each variety were used in a storage trial. Carrots (10 of each variety per harvest date per storage pull date) were washed, weighed, and stored in perforated plastic bags under good conditions (32-37°F, RH>95%), and pulled from storage monthly from December through March to measure two components of quality, ºBrix and water loss. For Brix test, 4 slices were taken from each carrot spaced top to bottom, frozen, then juice extracted and measured with a refractometer. Water loss was measured by weighing bags monthly over five months of storage to track weight change over time.
At-harvest results: Total weight of carrots harvested, and total marketable weight increased for later harvests, indicating that carrots continued to grow late into the season without compromising quality from insects, disease, or other factors. Later harvests, which extended the days-to-harvest for up to 60 days past the labeled maturity date, produced some russetting and regrowth of side roots especially in Bolero, an indication of over-maturity, but marketability remained high overall. Bastia had the highest number of marketable carrots, followed by Bolero and Carson. Varieties Canada, Carson, and Bolero had higher Brix scores across all harvests as compared to Bastia, Berlanda, and Sugarsnax. Taste tests found no difference among varieties. For direct market sales, small, misshapen, or forked carrots are often acceptable, potentially increasing marketable weight.
Storage results: All carrots stored well. Water loss occurred at low levels throughout the storage period, was consistent across varieties, and averaged 5-11% between harvest and 1 March. Brix readings increased from December through February, and declined sharply in March. Brix score varied significantly with harvest date and variety during the first three months of storage. In December, after one month of storage, the second harvest date had the sweetest carrots in all varieties. On this sampling date, Bolero and Carson led the pack in terms of Brix score for all harvest dates, followed by Canada. In subsequent months there were differences among individual varieties and harvest dates, but there was no clear pattern of one variety or harvest date dominating. By March, there were no significant differences in Brix score for any of the carrot treatments.
See attached documents (2): UMass carrot variety trials 2010-2012 proceedings and slideshow.
Overwintering in the ground under mulch
A non-replicated observational trial was conducted to compare methods for storing carrots in place under 10-12 inches of straw mulch without plastic or with a layer of plastic over or under the mulch. Three varieties of carrots (Bolero, Berlanda and Canada) were covered 30 Nov and harvested 11 April. All mulch treatments protected carrots from freezing, while bare carrots all froze. By the time carrots were harvested, temperatures had warmed considerably and although carrots were still crisp and sweet, tops were beginning to regrow. Disease, primarily Sclerotinia white mold, had developed on 2 to 6% of samples but injury from rodents and insects was low. Brix ratings over all mulch treatments averaged 7.4 in Berlanda, 7.9 in Canada and 8.2 in Bolero. Across all three varieties, average Brix scores were consistently lower when carrots were stored with plastic over the mulch compared to plastic under mulch or mulch alone; however, scores were only significantly lower for the Berlanda. This method for overwintering can be viable and result in marketable, sweet carrots if carrots are harvested in early spring before regrowth. Further studies could evaluate the viability of harvesting during varying winter conditions, damage risks from rodents, insects or disease, and the timing of spring harvest. For growers who have storage facilities available, fall harvest and storage in a more controlled and protected environment may be less risky, but in-field overwintering could provide a low-cost method to supplement storage.
See attached document: UMass Mulch for wintering carrots in ground DRAFT.
For the 2011-12 season, six carrot varieties (Berlanda, Brest, Bolero, Carson, Deep Purple, Florida) were evaluated. Carrots were seeded 26 July and thinned to 1 inch on 24 Aug. Carrots were harvested on three dates (3, 14, 28 Nov). Wholesale and direct sale marketable weights were measured, culls counted, and dimensions of carrots (length, width, pith width) measured. Those that were in good condition but small or moderately misshapen were included in direct sale marketable weights. Brix scores were measured at the time of harvest, and again after 6 months of storage. Monthly quality in storage was not tracked. However, for three of the varieties (Berlanda, Bolero, Brest), half of the carrots were stored washed and half unwashed. Staining, presence of rot, and top sprouting were then evaluated after 6 months of storage.
At-harvest results: Brix score was higher for the two later harvests (14 and 28 Nov) compared to the first. Marketable weights were also higher for the later harvests, but generally lower than 2010. This was likely the result of a combination of later plant date and cool, wet growing conditions. There were no indications of over-maturity as in 2010. Berlanda was the highest yielding variety, both in terms of numbers and weight of wholesale marketable carrots. Brest, Bolero, and Florida were also high producers. Carson and Deep Purple did not fare as well, with Deep Purple producing less than one third the marketable weight of Berlanda. These low yielding varieties produced approximately an equal weight in direct sale marketable carrots. Higher yielding varieties produced additional direct-sale carrots equal to about 2/3 of wholesale weights, and were still by far the best producers even for direct sales.
Storage results: Stored carrots were sampled in April for rot, staining, and top sprouting (an indication that they are becoming biologically active). After six months of storage, they no longer retained flavor and were unmarketable. However, their reaction to extended storage serves as a good indication of how they would react to storage over shorter periods. We found that washed carrots were more than twice as likely as unwashed carrots to show signs of rot (35% versus 14%), although rot damage was quite minor in all carrots. We saw no differences in top sprouting between washed and unwashed carrots. Unwashed carrots did show minor to moderate staining, and did not wash completely “clean.” However, washed carrots that were not kept perfectly clean (i.e. not all dirt was washed off pre-storage, small amount of dirt left in bag) also showed minor staining. We saw differences between varieties in terms of levels of staining, rot, and top sprouting. There were no significant differences in Brix score between washed and unwashed carrots.
See attached documents (2): UMass carrot variety trials 2010-2012 proceedings and slideshow.
Storage case studies
As growers expand their production of root vegetables for winter storage, they need a corresponding increase in storage capacity. Optimal storage conditions are known for most crops, but creating a facility that provides ideal conditions can require a large up-front or long-term investment. In this study, we explored how well carrots stored under conditions in four different types of storage facilities on commercial farms. While these case studies cannot fully address the question of trade-offs between quality and cost, they do offer insight into how different storages affect quality and marketability of carrots from December through March.
Carrots, cv. Bolero, were seeded on 11 July 2012, weeded, thinned, and irrigated as needed, and harvested on 13-14 Nov. Farmers’ market-quality carrots free of nicks, scars, or rot were selected and placed in the storage facilities the day of harvest, or kept overnight in cold storage and placed in the trial facility the next day. Carrots were processed to mimic how carrots were stored at their destination: either stored unwashed or barrel-washed pre-storage; either in mesh bags to mimic carrots stored loose in bins, or stored in perforated plastic bags (PPB) if they were stored that way at the farm. Samples consisted of 10 carrots per bag. One set of bags was removed from the storage each month to sample water loss, Brix score (a measure of sugar content), rubberiness, rot, and other measures of carrot quality. Carrots from on-farm storages were also brought to the Amherst farmers’ market in January, February, and March. Attendees were given a blind taste test and asked to sample slices of carrots from different storages and rate the carrots based on texture, taste, and appearance. Carrots were rated on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent.
Farm Storage Facilities
Farm A: Recently constructed underground root cellar with cement walls, and ceiling with 4” of spray foam insulation, active cooling with ambient air through 8” pipe with intake/exhaust fan, as well as passive cooling using PVC pipes built into the walls and through gaps around the elevator shaft in one corner. Carrots are stored unwashed in plastic bulk grain sacks. Humidity is provided by respiration of stored vegetables, supplemented as needed by wetting the floor.
Farm B: Standard 8’ x 8’ x 10’ tall walk-in cooler made of standard refrigeration panels and foamboard in the floor, with a three-phase compressor, condenser, and fans (Cool-Trol system), with temperature set at 38°F. Humidity maintained by wash water dripping from freshly washed winter greens onto wood floor. Carrots are barrel-washed and stored in 25 lb PPB.
Farm C: Underground chamber 21′ x 47 ‘ x ~7’ tall, retrofitted in an old barn, insulated with 4+ inches of spray foam inside the walls and ceiling, heated and cooled by a geothermal system and cold air from outside, set to 35°F in the winter. Carrots are stored unwashed in large macro 34 vented bins. Humidity is managed with misting or water on the floor, and bins covered on top with a layer of plastic.
Farm D: Semi-underground concrete storage unit (320 sq ft) insulated on the roof with foam, flanked by two other concrete storage units, with the back against earth, cooled with a low velocity unit and humidified with an automated spray system. Washed carrots were stored in 25# perforated plastic bags and then placed in either Macro bins or on pallets. Because the farm was considering storing washed carrots loose in large bins we included both perforated plastic and mesh bags of carrots placed on top of or nestled in pallets containing carrots in PPB.
Results: All storages maintained temperatures within several degrees of the target (which was 34-38°F) except that the root cellar was slow to cool because of warm ambient temperatures in November and December and did not go below 40°F until January. Along with warmer T, RH also remained low and did not exceed 90% until January. Water loss over three months was 13% at Farm A and in carrots in mesh bags at Farm D, compared to less than 2% at Farms B and C, and at Farm D for carrots in perforated plastic. The water loss in mesh in the cold, high RH environment for Farm D was unexpected. We found Brix scores to be higher in the carrots that experienced greater water loss, likely due to the fact that loss of water meant sugars were concentrated in the water that remained. In January taste tests, after two months of storage, the carrots stored under the closest to ideal conditions – at Farm C and at Farm D in plastic – were rated higher in appearance, flavor, texture and preference compared to carrots stored in mesh at Farm D and carrots from the root cellar at Farm A. In February, results were similar except that we found no difference in taste and texture ratings; anecdotally, some people appreciated the crunch and crispness of the carrots that had been stored under ideal conditions, while others noticed the sweetness of the carrots that had experienced greater water loss. By March, carrots from the root cellar (Farm A) were rated highest in flavor and texture – apparently the higher sugar content was especially noticeable at this point, compared to crispier carrots that were less sweet. The decline in sweetness for most of the storages in March is consistent with our 2010-11 storage trials, in which Brix readings increased from December through February, and declined sharply in March. A limited amount of water loss appears to be tolerable and in fact lead to sweeter carrots over time. When water loss was low (5-11% in 2010-11 storage trial, and <2% in 2012-2013 study), we observed a tendency for carrots to decline in sweetness after February.
Overall, we found that the only storage with serious limitations in this season was the underground root cellar, and its limitation was primarily from inability to draw enough cold air from the environment. In subsequent years, this farm has not encountered the same problem when late fall temperatures have been lower. Humidity was maintained at >95% using informal, non-automated methods in two of the storages, though it appeared to be higher and almost excessive (i.e., water condensing inside the bags) in the storage with an automated mister. The standard walk-in cooler was able to prevent water loss as well as the two custom-designed storages. Even in the high humidity environment of Farm D, perforated plastic packaging appeared to provide benefits compared to open air; however we also saw that less protective packaging (open bins) also prevented water loss in the storage on Farm C; our results suggest that more work on packaging and humidity would be useful. In a low-humidity environment above forty degrees (Farm A), feed bags did not prevent water loss. Marketability was maintained in all four on-farm storages, even under less than ideal conditions. Further studies conducted by Ben Weil and Luke Doody at UMass have shown that the cooling with ambient air can be made more effective and energy-efficient if combined with humidification to reduce temperature (see Educational Programs and Outreach, March 2014 Storage Workshop).
See attached documents (2): UMass carrot postharvest and storage case studies slideshow and UMass carrot storage case studies report.
To Wash or Not to Wash
One long-standing debate is on the merits of washing carrots before placing them into storage. The decision to wash carrots before storage, or immediately before sale during the winter months, is usually based on a farm’s washing facilities (heated, with winterized water source, or not) and available labor. In the 2012-13 season, we followed up on preliminary results from 2011-12 and stored Bolero carrots from the UMass Research Farm (seeded July 10 & harvested Nov. 5) under three postharvest treatments: barrel-washed, hand-washed (scrubbed in a bucket by hand), and unwashed (stored unwashed, and washed just before evaluation). For each treatment, carrots were placed in perforated plastic bags, and stored at 32-34 degrees, 95% RH. For each month in storage, we pulled out designated bags to evaluate rot, staining and lenticel dirt, top sprouting, hair sprouting, water loss, flavor, and crunch, and Brix readings.
Results: Rot – There was no effect of treatment on root rot in our 2012-2013 trial – washing did not lead to higher levels of rot. Staining – Some staining was apparent in unwashed treatments this year, manifesting as a slight brownish cast on some carrots. However, overall, staining was quite low, and difficult to distinguish from the off-color whitish cast that occurs in older carrots, no matter how they were stored. Hair sprouting – In the April sample only, we found higher rates (20-40%) of hair sprouting (white hairs growing along the carrot) in both washed treatments, compared to 2.5% in unwashed. Hair sprouting indicates that the carrot is becoming biologically active, which will render it unfit to eat. Other variables – We found no effect of washing treatment on water loss, flavor, lenticel dirt, or top sprouting of carrots.
This study indicated that carrots can be successfully stored unwashed without significant staining occurring, at least for the Hadley silt loam found in Deerfield MA. This may differ among soil types; a 2009 washing trial at Jerrico Settlers Farm in Jerrico, VT found increased staining in unwashed carrots. Like Jerrico Settlers Farm, we found that carrots can be stored washed without rot, though there was a slight increase in rot and in ‘hairiness’ late in the season. Washing by hand or barrel worked equally well. The success of either approach to washing will vary with soil type, storage conditions and storage duration.
See attached document: UMass postharvest carrot washing trials DRAFT.
Our partner local food organizations and market organizers were Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) based in the Connecticut Valley area of western MA (Claire Morenon, project leader) and Seacoast Eat Local (SEL) based in the seacoast area of New Hampshire (Kate Gardner, project leader). They were either the primary organizers or offered support to winter farmers markets at six locations in western MA and eastern NH, building up the direct links between farmers and consumers for regular sales of vegetables and other local products during the winter months. Both organizations handled market logistics, recruited vendors, promoted markets to the public, and worked to draw new consumers to the markets. They evaluated consumer attitudes to gain better understanding of how to expand sales and kept abreast of vendor trends and needs. In a market development effort that was not part of our proposal, Ruth Hazzard along with other local partners was actively involved in organizing a new weekly winter farmers market in Amherst MA, which opened in December 2010 and has been open weekly from early December into April every winter from 2010-2015.
Seacoast Eat Local Activities:
Market Schedule and Locations. In November of 2007, Seacoast Eat Local began holding indoor winter farmers’ markets. We started with 3 markets the first year, and expanded to 6 markets in 2008-09. Based on overwhelming demand from market customers, and positive feedback from participating farmers, fishermen and food vendors, we decided to increase the frequency of the winter markets, and secure indoor spaces large enough to accommodate 40 to 50 vendors. Our Winter Farmers’ Market season now runs from late November through April, alternating between 2 indoor locations in Rollinsford (Glass greenhouse, 56 vendor spaces) and Exeter, NH (high school cafeteria, 39 vendor spaces). We host 11 or 12 market dates each winter, starting the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
SEL’s Winter Farmers’ Market webpage:
During the NESARE grant period (June 2010 – May 2013), Seacoast Eat Local:
-held 32 winter farmers’ market events
-hosted 12 vegetable cooking demonstrations
-produced 17 “Vegetable of the Day” recipe cards
-held 1 farmer focus group meeting
-conducted 3 online vendor surveys
-conducted 2 online consumer surveys
-conducted 7 in-person consumer surveys
-led 2 workshops for winter market organizers (total of 30 participants)
Key Ingredients to Organizing a Successful Winter Farmers’ Market
SEL developed and used many techniques to make their markets a success. Here is a list of tips:
- constantly building SEL’s email list (4,138 count as of 12/1/14)
- distributing print materials (postcards and posters) and maintaining our online presence (website, blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). Facebook is a particularly important tool (5,396 followers).
See attached documents (2): 2013 SEL Winter Farmers’ Market flyer and SEL WFM Press Release.
- paying dedicated staff to plan, promote, and manage the markets
- recruiting volunteer board members and winter market committee members
- organizing a strong base of market volunteers
- cross-promotion and partnerships with other winter market organizers, food and farming organizations, and community groups
- recruiting high quality vendors with a reliable supply and attractive displays
- engaging vendors in promoting the markets and helping them run smoothly
- finding market locations with appropriate facilities, space, customer traffic flow, parking, etc.
- fostering collaborative relationships with our host sites
- creating a positive market experience for our customers by offering live music, kids’ activities, cooking demos, book signings, knife sharpening, food drives, CSA Days at the market, etc.
- integration with SEL’s SNAP/Debit at the Markets program (http://seacoasteatlocal.org/snap/)
- recruiting local business sponsors to underwrite some of our overhead expenses
- utilizing online tools including: Manage My Market, Mail Chimp, Survey Monkey, and Razoo, Pinterest, and Google Forms.
- Finding new partners and engaging new audiences
Seacoast Eat Local staff and volunteers provide customers with a range of opportunities to learn about locally available foods in winter. Each winter market day is planned as a distinct event with featured foods, live music, demonstrations, guest nonprofits, and volunteer support.
- Vegetable of the Day: One vegetable was featured on each market day, and was promoted in advance of the market in our email newsletter, blog posts, and social media (Carrot Day, Potato Day, etc.). We chose to promote vegetables that were in abundance at our market on that particular market day, communicating closely with farmers about what they expected to have available throughout the winter. Promotional content about Vegetables of the Day included recipes, shopping tips, storage information, fun facts, specific vegetable varieties, and farmers’ growing practices. On market day, we distributed recipe cards for the featured foods at Seacoast Eat Local’s Market Info Booth. A full array of recipe cards is now available at every market event. Featured vegetables included: beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, winter squash, pumpkins, kale, potatoes, onions, cabbage, greens, radishes, Brussels sprouts, and dried beans. Prepared food vendors at the market were also encouraged to utilize the featured vegetable in their product recipes that week.
See attached documents (4): alium, beet, radish, and turnip recipe card for samples of these materials.
- Cooking Demonstrations: We partnered with local chefs, nutritionists, and master food preservers to offer hands-on cooking demos and vegetable “tastings” featuring the Vegetable of the Day. Demos emphasized basic cooking skills and techniques, accessible to people with all levels of cooking experience. Recipes were generally limited to ingredients that could be purchased at the market.
- SEL Market Information Booth: Our volunteers and staff are available to answer customers’ questions about the market, specific products they’re looking for, food storage tips, recipes, etc. We are especially attentive to first time winter market customers who have many questions, and aren’t sure what to expect. We also provide a Market Map (online and in person at the market) which helps customers find specific vendors and products.
- Recipe Resources via Pinterest: Seacoast Eat Local maintains an extensive collection of recipes, organized by vegetable on our Pinterest page. This is an excellent resource for winter vegetable cooking. http://www.pinterest.com/seacoasteatlocl/
- Manage My Market Online Tools: In 2011, we began using online market management software called Manage My Market (MMM). In addition to streamlining our vendor application process, recordkeeping and invoicing, MMM provides us with three interactive tools which are very useful for consumer education and market outreach:
- Meet Our Vendors: Market vendor list, including farm profiles, growing practices, products, and market dates.
- Market Map: Interactive map for each market date, showing vendors’ assigned spaces and profile information.
- Product Search Tool: Customers can search for a specific product and find out which vendors will be selling it at our markets.
- Links to MMM tools:
See attached document: SEL.NESARE.report.dec2014
CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) activities:
CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is a non-profit that focuses largely on marketing and outreach to consumers to increase the interest in and viability of local farm businesses. Since 2010, CISA has worked with UMass Extension and other regional “buy-local” partners to support production and sales of winter crops, with a special focus on supporting the development and health of winter farmers’ markets and on encouraging consumers to eat locally year-round.
Work with winter farmers’ markets. Between the start of this project in 2010 and today, the number and status of winter farmers’ markets in the Pioneer Valley has changed dramatically. CISA’s original model was to organize big, festive, one-day winter markets with workshops, bartering, hot food, and music, called “Winter Fares.” Our goal was to draw as many people as possible, exposing shoppers to the range of local food available year-round and proving the market to vendors by providing them with an excellent sales day. In recent years, as ongoing winter markets have developed in the region, we have shifted towards organizing special Winter Fare days at the markets, rather than creating separate market events. This new model was designed to bring the excitement, customer density, and community education components of Winter Fare to the ongoing winter farmers’ markets, thereby contributing to their long-term sustainability.
In the winter of 2010-2011, CISA organized two ongoing winter markets, in Northampton and Springfield. CISA also organized three one-day Winter Fares in Greenfield, Northampton, and Springfield.
In 2011-2012, CISA organized an independent Winter Fare in Northampton, which drew 22 vendors and 1,000 shoppers, and 52% of respondents indicated that they were spending over $20 that day. We also partnered with the bimonthly Springfield Winter Farmers’ Market for a special Winter Fare day, which drew nine vendors (the regular vendors at that market) and 445 people. The Greenfield Winter Fare morphed into a vendor-run monthly market that year, and CISA offered promotional support, but did not organize a Winter Fare day.
In 2012-2013, CISA partnered with four ongoing winter markets for special Winter Fare days. The Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market was a weekly market with thirty-one vendors. At Amherst Winter Fare, CISA coordinated five workshops and 758 shoppers visited the market, up from 437 at the previous week’s market. Of the respondents to a shopper survey conducted at Winter Fare, 24% indicated that they were first-time visitors to the market. The Northampton Winter Farmers’ Market was a weekly market with twelve vendors. At Northampton Winter Fare, CISA coordinated six workshops and 380 shoppers attended. This was the busiest market day ever recorded, up from an average of 295 shoppers. The Springfield Winter Farmers’ Market was a bimonthly market with approximately fifteen vendors. At Springfield Winter Fare, CISA coordinated three cooking demos and 426 shoppers attended. The Greenfield Winter Farmers’ Market was a monthly market with twenty-four vendors, several of which were admitted as one-time vendors to accommodate Winter Fare crowds. Greenfield Winter Fare drew 816 shoppers, and included six workshops.
2013-2014. Based on extremely positive feedback from market managers and vendors the previous year, CISA once again worked with the four regular winter markets. At Winter Fare at the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market, over 700 people attended, and 24% indicated that they were attending the market for the first time. Forty-six percent of responding shoppers spent $20 or more. Winter Fare at the Greenfield Winter Farmers’ market drew 858 people, 35% of whom where there for the first time, and 57% of whom spent $20 or more. Winter Fare at the Northampton Winter Farmers’ Market drew 654 people, 36% of whom were attending for the first time, and 49% of whom spent $20 or more. Winter Fare at the Springfield Winter Farmers’ Market drew 318 people, 32% of whom were attending for the first time, and 55% of whom spent $20 or more.
Consumer Education. In addition to direct work organizing Winter Fares and supporting winter farmers’ markets, CISA has consistently promoted seasonal eating and year-round support of farmers through a variety of tools. CISA’s “Valley Bounty” newspaper column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette focuses on a different seasonal food each week and provides recipes, local sources, and storage tips. CISA’s website, which receives over 3,500 unique visitors per month, features up-to-date lists of winter farmers’ markets, winter CSAs, and farm stands that stay open during the winter. We promote seasonal eating with recipes and information about farms selling during the winter through our Facebook page and Twitter account, which have a combined 3,371 followers, and through our monthly e-newsletter, which is sent to over 5,200 households. We have also continued our extensive paid advertising campaigns throughout the winter for the last several years.
See attached document: CISA.Winter Market Expansion in Western Mass
- UMass low tunnels brassica greens trial 2011-12 report
- UMass low tunnels onion variety trial Yrs 1&2
- UMass carrot postharvest & storage case studies slideshow
- SEL WFM Press Release
- UMass & UNH low tunnel materials fact sheet
- UNH low tunnels greens DRAFT
- UNH OverwinteringOnions 2yr
- UMass carrot variety trials 2010-2012 slideshow
- UMass carrot storage case studies report
- UMass postharvest carrot washing trials DRAFT
- 2013 SEL Winter Farmers’ Market flyer
- UNH low tunnel materials site analysis
- UMass low tunnel onion trials 2011-12 report
- UMass low tunnel onion trials 2011-12 photo log
- UMass low tunnel spinach trials 2011-12 report
- UNH salad green varieties
- UMass carrot variety trials 2010-2012 proceedings
- UMass Mulch for wintering carrots in ground DRAFT
- CISA.Winter Market Expansion in Western Mass
- alium recipe card
- beet recipe card
- radish recipe card
- turnip recipe card
- UMass low tunnel spinach trials 2011-12 photo log
- UMass low tunnels direct seed beet carrot kale spinach 2012-2013
Start date: June 1, 2010
End date: October 31, 2014
Milestone 1: 2010-2011
- Farmer advisory committee meets with project team and refines project plans. Completed. In 2010 we held 3 phone meetings with members of the grower advisory panel.
- Four farms and two research stations establish low tunnel trial. Completed in winter 2010-2011. This trial evaluated different coverings for low tunnels at six locations from central NH southward to RI.
Milestone 2: (Year 1, June 2010 to May 2011)
- 225 New England farmers attend winter farm tours, field days, and winter vegetable workshop. In 2010 we conducted or participated in 6 programs, with 395 attendees and in 2011 we held 5 on-farm programs (including 1 research farm) and three winter programs with 775 attendees. These covered low tunnel and high tunnel construction, crops and cropping systems, growing storage carrots and other root crops, post-harvest and storage for vegetables to be sold in winter, and marketing strategies. For more details see Publications and Outreach.
- 30 growers join ‘interest networks’. We discussed establishing a winter grower listserve with the grower advisory committee and they expressed support for the idea, so we launched it in December 2011 by announcing it at meetings and through our newsletter. There were other listserves in place (such as Vermont-based vegandberry, regional CRAFT networks, western MA Pioneer Valley group) through which growers were exchanging information. This may have influenced the success, or lack of success of the winter grower listserve; the response and interaction among growers through our winter listserve did not take off. It is possible that it would have gained more traction if we had seeded it regularly ourselves, with ideas and posts, but we did not have resources for that level of effort on this component of the project. After further review with our advisory group, we dropped this method and focused on other supports for information exchange. We continued to hear that individual growers were contacting each other directly on issues related to growing, building storages, and selling.
- As a result, at least 200 obtain new information about production, harvest, storage, farm planning, and marketing for winter. We developed articles and fact sheets that were published through Vegetable Notes (circulation increased from 800 in 2009 to 2000 in 2014) and UNH Vegetable and Small Fruit Newsletter and offered articles at educational programs. New fact sheets included a chart of harvest, curing and storage needs for vegetable crops, and a report on Becky Sideman’s research on Sprouting Broccoli research. At the March 14, 2011 Brox Farm twilight meeting, 67% of those who filled out exit surveys reported an increase in knowledge of winter production practices after having attended the meeting and 53% reported that they would adopt new practices aimed at improving production and sales of winter vegetable crops. At the September 14, 2011 Four-Town Farm twilight meeting, 63% of attendees who filled out exit surveys reported an increase in knowledge of winter production practices and 50% reported that they would adopt new practices aimed at improving production and sales of winter vegetable crops as a result of this meeting. See Publications and Outreach for more details
- Sixty farmers provide information on their current production, storage, and marketing and define goals relating to winter sales. Completed. An online survey was conducted in collaboration with all of our project partners. Eighty-three growers responded. Sixty-five of these responded to the question asking them to estimate their gross income from winter sales in the previous year. Growers reported their winter income ranges as follows: Forty six percent <$1000; 29% between $1,000 and $10,000; 14% between $10,000 and $25,000; and 11% between 25 and $100,000. Winter income was <10% of total for 42% of respondents, between 10 and 25% of total income for 43%, and 25 to 100% of total income for 17% of respondents. Seventy-three respondents answered the question about which areas in which they were interested in receiving more information. They expressed strong interest (> 50% of respondents) in more information about production for winter harvest, and management of crops for storage, postharvest handling for long term storage, and designs for crop storage facilities. Scaling up issues were important for 48% of respondents.
Milestone 3: (Year 2, June 2011 to May 2012)
- Four farms and research stations repeat low tunnel trial; two farms host tours. Completed. Both UMass and UNH research stations repeated low tunnel trials. Farms continued refining low tunnel practices. Four farms hosted tours in 2011. Brox Farm, Dracut, MA, Tangerini Farm, Millis, MA, Four-town farm, Seekonk MA, and Brookfield Farm, Amherst MA. See Materials and Methods, and Publications and Outreach for details.
- 200 farmers attend farm tours, field days and workshops and learn strategies to increase harvest and sales. Completed. Project participants hosted or participated in 10 educational programs in NH, MA, & ME in 2012, reaching 600 attendees including farmers and researchers who increased their knowledge of winter production and storage practices. Additionally, a poster on the temperature moderating effects of low tunnels over winter in cool climates was presented by Becky Sideman at the Conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science, attended by approximately 875 people. See Publications and Outreach.
- Forty growers improve storage facilities or change production or storage practices. This was not measured on a yearly basis.
- 40 farmers expand winter sales. We did not conduct new surveys in this year, but we measured increases in markets and vendors. See Market Development in Materials and Methods, and Impact sections.
- 500 farmers visit Winter Harvest website, 1000 receive fact sheets and articles. Completed. The Winter Harvest website http://extension.umass.edu/vegetable/research-projects/winter-harvest-sales continued to expand. More content was developed and posted to the site with over 1400 individual visits to the site in 2012. Wintergreens, a UNH blog, located at http://wintergreensatunh.blogspot.com/ had an average of 10-20 visits per day, from viewers located worldwide.
- Advisory committee reviews and adjusts project activities. Completed. Eight growers remained advisors to the project and continued to serve on an advisory panel. Conference calls with the advisory panel were held in the Spring and Fall of 2012. Members of the advisory panel were invited to see the end results of research trials conducted at the UMass Research Farm and where asked to advise on the direction for future research investigations.
Milestone 4: (Year 3, June 2012 to May 2013; with no-cost extension to October 2014)
- Eight farms use low tunnels for overwintering crops, including four who are new to this technology. UMass Extension Vegetable Program was contacted for consultations on the use of low tunnels by three Amherst farms new to this technology within the last months of 2013, and we are aware of at least one other local farm experimenting with using local low tunnels for overwintering crops. Additionally, in a survey of the general readership of the Vegetable Notes newsletter conducted in 2013, 43% of the 257 respondents had used season extension with row covers or tunnels as a result of information provided by UMass Extension through meetings, newsletters, websites, or other means. Growers serving on this project’s advisory panel continue to refine their practices with respect to using low tunnels and other structures to overwinter crops for spring harvest and sales. Two of these growers reported on their current methodologies at the 2013 New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference in Manchester, NH at the following talks, each attended by over 100 people:
- Seeding Scheduling and Using the Jang Seeder, Andre Cantelmo, Heron Pond Farm, South Hampton, NH
- Growing for Retail markets in S. New England with Field, Low Tunnel and High Tunnel Production, Skip Paul, Wishing Stone Farm, Little Compton, RI
- 20 additional growers improve storage facilities or change production or storage practices and report impact. This was not measured on a yearly basis and we do not have a numerical count except in the final impact surveys. However, in 2012-2014 we worked directly with four farms to track storage through the winter (see Materials and Methods, Case Studies); interacted with farmers about their storage concerns through meetings and farm visits; saw strong attendance at programs about postharvest and storage; and were aware of growers in several states who were actively working on changing their facilities and practices. In addition, the postharvest and storage section of the UMass winter website received increasingly heavy traffic during this year.
- 35 additional farmers expand winter harvest and sales. Completed, and evaluated through surveys conducted in 2014. See Impact of Results.
- 200 farmers attend winter farm tour, field days at research farms and winter vegetable workshop. Sixteen programs or sessions were offered by project participants in 2013 with a total of 1263 attendees, and 7 were offered in 2014, with 424 attendees.
- 500 farmers visit Winter Harvest website, 1000 receive fact sheets and articles. Completed. See Publications and Outreach, including report on website activity and publications.
UMass Extension published many articles over the course of this project related to vegetable storage and extended season production through its main outreach channel, Vegetable Notes. This e-mailed newsletter is published weekly during the summer months and biweekly or monthly otherwise, with a total of 24 issues per year. Subscribership was approximately 1,000 people in 2010, and has increased steadily, now exceeding 2,000. Additionally, articles were accessed through the UMass Vegetable Program’s newsletter archives page (https://extension.umass.edu/vegetable/publications/vegetable-notes-newsletter/archives). According to Google Analytics, these archives received nearly 5,000 unique visitors in 2014. Several of these relevant articles were also distributed at grower twilight meetings and field walks as handouts.
Our pre-project surveys of New England growers identified a need for new information on post-harvest handling and storage as key to expanding winter sales. From 2010 through 2014, UMass Extension addressed this need with publication of a total of 24 unique articles on topics related to harvest and storage of winter crops, or season extension structure engineering and management, including some results of UMass and UNH research trials completed as part of this project. Articles were often re-published year-to-year, but 21 had never been published in Vegetable Notes before 2010, and 6 were significantly updated prior to re-publishing to reflect the knowledge we gained through our winter production research, and the discoveries of our collaborating growers.
See attached document: Veg Notes articles 2010-2014 for a complete list of articles and publication dates.
UNH Extension also published the following peer-reviewed articles on their applied research related to winter production:
- Martin CA and Sideman RG. 2012. Survival and yields of fall-planted winter sprouting broccoli grown in high tunnels for spring harvest in the northeastern United States. HortTechnology. 22:345-352
- Sideman RG, A Brown, R Hazzard and H Bryant. 2014. Production of bulbing onion overwintered in New Hampshire with protection by low tunnels. HortTechnology. IN PRESS.
Several fact sheets and research reports have also been created, some of which have been distributed as handouts at grower meetings, and all of which are or will be available on either the UMass Winter Production, Storage, and Sales website or the UNH Extension Fruit & Vegetable Production Resources page. See section on Web Resources below for more information about these sites, and Materials and Methods section for links to research reports.
See attached documents (6) for examples of articles and fact sheets:
VN Article harvest cure store potatoes 2014
UNH & UMass Fact Sheet: Using low tunnels for overwintering crops
UMass Winter production and storage guidelines
UMass Harvest and storage chart August 2013
UMass Timetable for Harvest & Storage of Field crops
UMass Energy efficient storage systems – Luke Doody & Ben Weil report
The websites of all of the four partner organizations serve as robust resources for those either interested in producing or purchasing vegetables during the winter months. Products of the ‘Expanding Winter Harvest and Sales’ project, including research reports, enterprise budgets, fact sheets, photos, presentations, conference proceedings, and information for both vendors and customers at winter markets can be found among these web collections.
As part of this project, we created a sub-section of the UMass Vegetable Program’s website dedicated to winter production, storage, and sales. Since 2010, this site has been home to an ever-increasing array of resources meant to aid vegetable producers who are interested in including winter sales in their overall farm incomes, and who may need technical support in adapting their main season practices. This is where we have reported on results of our research trials and case studies, posted informative slideshows from grower meetings, and shared links to helpful resources from other growers and organizations. We have also included information for New England growers on accessing local markets, and on familiarizing customers with products that may be available during the colder months.
According to Google Analytics, pageviews of most pages within the UMass Vegetable Program’s Winter Production, Storage and Sales website increased substantially from 2013 to 2014 (Google Analytics data is not available for years before 2013). The site had 3424 pageviews in 2014 (as of 8 Dec, 2014), up from 2850 over the same period in 2013, a 20% increase. The greatest increase in visits (122%) was on the page Post-harvest and Storage Resources, which received 857 pageviews between 1 Jan and 8 Dec, 2014, with 509 unique pageviews.
At this writing, the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment is in the process of updating its daughter websites, including that of the Extension Vegetable Program. This update will include a new faceted search feature, with Winter Production included as a main search category. The Winter Production, Storage, and Sales subsection is also currently being updated and re-organized to better reflect the state-of-the-art. Major changes, including more accessible information on species and varieties of winter crops and their curing, storage and marketing, and general information on season extension structures are underway. We hope for this website to continue to be an important resource for growers both experienced in and brand new to extended season vegetable production, and will update and add to it as new information becomes available.
The UNH Extension Fruit & Vegetable Production website lists among its Grower Resources research reports on work done as part of this project. Some of these are attached among the publications, or in the Materials and Methods section.
Wintergreens is an active research-based blog supported by UNH and written by a UNH Masters graduate in Plant Biology that covers many aspects of winter vegetable production, including excellent information on locally-grown salad greens.
CISA’s website offers users a searchable database of farms, restaurants, retailers, specialty producers, farmers’ markets, and others, which can be accessed on-line and as a mobile app, and includes a complete list of winter farmers’ markets in Massachusetts and surrounding areas, as well as information on CSAs offering shares in the winter. Among their resources for farmers are two case studies on winter crop storage: Walk-in Cooler & Squash Storage: Existing structure retrofit, and Walk-in Cooler: New construction, stand-alone cold storage facility with free air option.
CISA also has an active Facebook presence, where they promote winter farmers’ markets and help vendors connect with consumers.
SEL’s website prominently features information on winter farmers’ markets, both those that they organize and others throughout New Hampshire, including an interactive map.
The Seacoast Eat Local blog provides regular updates on winter markets and available products in NH.
SEL also has an active Facebook presence where they share information on vendors and products, post recipes and coupons, and advertise winter market workshops for customers.
See Materials and Methods section for more information on how these buy-local organizations have used their web presences in promoting winter markets.
UMass & UNH Programs
This project helped support UMass and UNH in together hosting and/or presenting at a total of 50 educational programs over the duration of the project, reaching a total of approximately 4,332 people. Programs covered topics ranging from construction and use of low tunnels, to choosing crops and cropping systems for winter production, to post-harvest handling and crop storage, to marketing and maximizing profitability.
See attached documents (2): Educational Programs 2010-2014 and Winter Production and Marketing Program March 6 2014
Results of participant self-evaluations describing what they learned from 3 of these programs are outlined below:
Evaluation of vegetable producers in attendance at a 2013 twilight meeting at Tangerini Farm on winter production and storage indicated that their knowledge of season extension technologies (eg, tunnels and covers), storage technologies, and production strategies increased by 21%, 60%, and 26%, respectively, and their intention to use what they had learned on these topics on their own farms increased by 28%, 19%, and 31%, respectively.
UMass co-hosted a program with CT Extension on storage engineering in February 2014, which included a talk by Ruth Hazzard as well as talks by our collaborators Luke Doody and Ben Weil, PhD, both of the UMass Building and Construction Technology Program, and Laura Tangerini, a member of our farmer advisory panel, among others. Self-evaluations of only the growers in attendance told us that this was an impactful program:
Growers reported that they increased their knowledge in the following areas through participation in the program by the amounts listed:
- Reducing energy costs through use of new technologies in storage facilities – 86%
- Optimizing storage practices for various crops (ie, postharvest care, containers) – 32%
- Effects of temperature and humidity on stored crops – 48%
- Retrofitting an existing storage structure – 47%
- Planning new construction to meet the specific storage needs of your farm – 76%
And they increased their intention to utilize this knowledge on their own farms in the following areas by the given percentages:
- Use new technologies to reduce energy costs in storage facilities – 107%
- Optimize storage practices for various crops (ie, postharvest care, containers) – 45%
- Improve systems for temperature and humidity control – 83%
- Retrofit an existing storage structure – 108%
- Plan new construction to meet the specific storage needs of your farm – 82%
The four partner organizations involved in this project hosted an all-day program in March 2014 to present lessons learned over the previous 3 years in each of the project’s focus areas – production, storage, and marketing. Four growers, including 2 members of our advisory panel, shared lessons from their own experiences and research, and participants engaged in a farmer-to-farmer discussion. We invited a marketing consultant who specializes in working with farmers and food businesses to provide one-on-one branding and marketing consultations to interested growers who thought this was an area that they could improve upon to increase their winter sales. Below are results of the evaluation from this program:
Growers reported that their knowledge in the following areas had increased by the given amount:
- Fall harvest and storage of vegetables for winter sales – 61%
- Over-wintering or growing crops throughout winter – 57%
- Winter harvest & post-harvest handling – 64%
- Winter vegetable packing & transporting – 75%
- Winter marketing opportunities – 35%
And that they were likely to change their practices in these areas by the given amounts:
- Fall harvest and storage of vegetables for winter sales – 65%
- Over-wintering or growing crops throughout winter – 53%
- Winter harvesting & post-harvest handling – 53%
- Winter vegetable packing & transporting – 47%
- Accessing new winter markets – 35%
- UMass & UNH Fact Sheet Using low tunnels for overwintering crops
- VN Article harvest cure store potatoes 2014
- Veg Notes articles 2010-2014
- UMass Winter Production and Storage Guideline Tables
- UMass Harvest and storage chart_August 2013
- UMass Timetable for Harvest & Storage of Field crops
- UMass Energy Efficient Storage Systems
- Educational Programs 2010-2014
- Winter Production and Marketing Program March 6 2014
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Performance Target: 75 vegetable growers in New England increase their annual income from sales of vegetable crops during the months of December through April, by an average $6750 per farm. This will be accomplished through extending their production and harvest season or through expanding successful storage of fall-harvested crops, or both.
Surveys were conducted during 2014 asking New England growers to assess their overall change in annual income from winter sales since 2010. Of the 80 vegetable growers who responded to this question in surveys, these growers increased their annual incomes on average by a range of $11,775 – $23,113.
Our data collection to verify the performance target consisted of an on-line survey (SurveyMonkey.com), and questionnaires conducted at grower meetings in the last year of the project. In these surveys, we asked the question: “In the last 4 years, how has your income from winter sales changed”? We provided a series of categories ranging from ‘decreased’ to ‘over $100,000’ from which to choose. A link to the on-line survey was e-mailed to a list of producers made up of our grower advisory panel, and registrants from some winter-related educational programs. We also distributed the link in several issues of our Vegetable Notes newsletter, which reaches approximately 2000 readers. Fifty-four of the 83 survey respondents answered this question. Attendees of the 2014 North Country Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Whitefield, NH participated in a separate survey through which the same financial question was asked. Twenty-six of the 64 attendees responded to this question.
See attached document Change in Income 2010-2014 for complete results from this question.
See attached document: 2014 Expanding Winter Harvest and Sales final survey results for complete results of the on-line survey
The range of the average increase was calculated using the low and high ends of the categories provided in the surveys. We took into account that incomes for 3 of the 80 growers decreased by including their numbers among the respondents, but did not attempt to assign a dollar value to their decrease. For growers who answered that their increase was >$100,000, we considered $100,000 to be both the low and high ends of this category, though some of these 6 growers may have grossed significantly higher.
In our baseline survey conducted at the start of this project in 2010, 65 growers estimated their gross annual incomes from winter sales (see document Change in Income 2010-2014). None of these respondents reported gross incomes from winter sales in excess of $100,000, and only 7 (11%) had winter incomes of $25,000 or higher. Nearly half (46%) of the growers surveyed at the start of this project reported winter incomes in the range of $0-1,000. We did not ask for total winter incomes in our final survey at the project’s completion in 2014, only for the change in income. Of the 80 growers who indicated how their incomes had changed over the previous 4 years, 28% saw increases in the range of $1,000 – 5,000, 20% increased by $10,000 – 50,000, and 8% increased by >$100,000. These increases demonstrate the importance that winter sales now play in many New England farmers’ income, and the degree to which this market has changed in this relatively short time.
This increase in income was to be accomplished by growers extending their production and harvest season, and/or expanding successful storage of fall-harvested crops. In our final assessment survey, growers described the specific season extension tools and strategies by which they achieved their average increase in annual incomes. We asked, “In the last 4 years, how has the volume of crops you market in winter changed?”. Of the 56 respondents to this question, 88% said that the volume of crops produced increased, 11% stayed the same, and only 2% decreased. The variety of products is changing too, as growers become more aware of many crops’ range of possible production and harvest dates using season extension technologies, and their optimum storage conditions, and as customers become accustomed to the cold season availability of this increasing array of local produce options. SEL reported that the number of different crops available at their markets in 2014 was 50, up from 37 in 2010 (see Market Impacts below).
Growers are utilizing a number of different marketing venues to move product in the winter, with about half of our survey’s respondents selling at winter farmers’ markets both in 2014 and in 2010. Asked about their marketing outlets four years ago and in 2014, there seems to be a slight shift toward more direct and on-farm sales, with the number selling wholesale to stores decreasing, while sales through CSAs and to restaurants have gone up.
Growers are combining several season extension tools, including heated and minimally-heated greenhouses, row covers, and plastic-covered low tunnels. The majority of growers we asked in our 2014 on-line survey – 83% – used unheated high tunnels among their season extension strategies, up from 70% in 2010. In 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) began its High Tunnel Initiative as a 3-year pilot project to provide farmers with financial and technical assistance in erecting high tunnels on their farms, which may have helped to fuel this expansion.
As growers make improvements to their infrastructure, whether as part of routine maintenance and upgrades or to specifically accommodate their expansion into extended-season production, they are considering new knowledge about crop physiology and equipment engineering in designing new facilities. Facilities are being built to house more long-term and winter storage, and engineered with both energy efficiency and the needs of a variety of storage crops in mind. Opportunities for agricultural engineers and design consultants may arise from this focus on the long-term storage quality of vegetable crops, and the research done on engineering energy efficient systems for small-scale diversified producers by people like Ben Weil and Luke Doody, our collaborators in the Building Technology program at UMass, and Chris Callahan at the University of Vermont. Thirty-nine percent of respondents in our final survey were using a climate controlled specifically-designed crop storage facility to store their crops for winter sales, while another 32% were using a modified area with limited climate control, and at least 9% were using an area with no climate control. Forty percent of respondents to this survey say that ‘Maintaining good quality in storage’ is the biggest challenge to managing products for winter markets. These growers may make investments into engineered facilities as their winter sales increase.
Over sixty percent of the growers we polled said that they still plan to increase their winter production from their 2014 levels. Fifty-nine percent responded that ‘having enough product’ was their biggest challenge to selling products during the winter, indicating that with the proliferation of winter markets and the great increase in sales that many farms have seen, the demand for local produce in the winter is still not being met. Attendance at conferences and programs related to winter production has been high, and demonstrates that growers still have a lot of questions about how to effectively include winter farming into their production and business plans to meet this demand. Growers also said that ‘getting customers to market’ was another big challenge to selling their products during the winter, so opportunities for marketing specialists and innovators who can help connect growers to customers exist as well.
Market impacts – Connecticut Valley, Massachusetts
Winter marketing increased through expansion in the number of markets and their regularity (becoming weekly or biweekly), the number of vendors and customer attendance. The work of CISA to support this development transitioned to lending support for special winter fare days at weekly winter markets in order to enhance attendance, which increased attendance by 30-70% compared to other weeks. Of customers polled at these markets, about 25% tended to be first-time shoppers.
At the Amherst winter farmers’ market (AWFM), four core vegetable vendors reported average sales of $894 per market in 2012-2013 and $924 in 2013-2014, a 13% increase. There were 15-16 markets per season. Income in 2013-14 was affected by the severe weather which made greens production more difficult – which reduced income for those who did not have greens in midwinter, and enhanced it or held it steady for those who did. These vendors’ monthly trends varied, some reporting good sales in December increasing through January, then declining through February and March, while others saw weaker sales in January, then increases through February and March. This probably reflects their differing crop mix, especially which months saw their strongest supply of fresh greens. For 2013-2014, with an estimated average season-long AWFM income of $13,872 per farm, this market represented from 1 to 11% of their total farm income.
Market impacts – coastal New Hampshire
Winter marketing opportunities for vegetable farmers in the Seacoast area of New Hampshire have changed dramatically in recent years. Seacoast Eat Local’s Winter Farmers’ Market is now in its eighth year. As this winter market has grown and evolved, several other winter markets have started up and stabilized into reliable marketing outlets for area farmers. In the 2014 edition of Seacoast Harvest (www.seacoastharvest.org) we listed 10 winter farmers’ markets in Rockingham, Strafford, and York Counties. We’ve also seen an increase in Winter CSAs and year-round vegetable sales to local restaurants and other wholesale buyers. There are currently 15 farms offering winter vegetable shares in our area, and several others who offer some type of “late season” share in November and/or December.
Twenty-two vegetable farms will participate in Seacoast Eat Local’s Winter Farmers’ Market during the 2014-15 season (up from 16 farms in 2010). Farms such as Meadow’s Mirth (Stratham), Heron Pond Farm (South Hampton), and Brookford Farm (Canterbury) have successfully increased winter vegetable production over the last several years by adding new storage facilities, hoophouses, and a host of other season extension strategies. As their vegetable production has increased, these farms have diversified their marketing well beyond winter farmers’ markets, with winter CSA shares and year-round wholesale delivery as key strategies.
While winter marketing is becoming more diversified, Seacoast Eat Local’s Winter Farmers’ Market remains a substantial piece of the winter marketing plan for many local farmers and food businesses. Our markets have gained broad popularity with an enthusiastic base of loyal customers, and both supply and demand for locally grown winter foods have grown steadily as our Winter Farmers’ Market has evolved. Market vendors continue to diversify their product offerings, bringing a larger selection of foods to market all the way through the winter season. With a diverse and abundant supply of winter foods now available, Seacoast Eat Local continues to work on increasing customer attendance at the markets, and building broader community support, so that the market will be a winter resource for farmers and customers alike, for years to come.
Vegetable Crops Sold at SEL Markets
The number of vegetable crops available at our markets has increased gradually each year, with the largest selection typically available in November and December of each winter market season. The number of crops offered for sale in December increased from 37 in 2010 to 50 crops in 2014. The number of farmers selling in December has also increased. The data collected below also shows an increase in the number of crops sold in January and February, between 2011 and 2012.
Economics and staff: Demands of winter labor for farmers & employees, costs and returns. Growers are reflecting on these issues and making choices to develop winter operations that meet their needs. Not everyone wants to build up their winter production, preferring to take time off to “recharge and fix equipment”. Thirty percent of respondents to our 2014 survey noted that the issue of ‘what happened to getting a rest in the winter?’ needs more research. In the survey, the most important reasons for doing winter sales (picking one among six options) were 1) to keep employees year-round – 26%; 2) to provide income through the winter – 22%; and 3) to increase total annual income – 22%.
Below are several comments from the 2014 survey, in response to the question “How else have your winter markets, your production for winter sales, or your knowledge changed over the past four years, and how have these changes impacted your farm?”
“Learning to grow the greens to size while there is still adequate day length has been the biggest change. In order to do that correctly, extra work is piled on in the later summer and fall months, which can be exhausting. Learned to grow certain lettuce varieties in minimally heated houses on a bench.”
“Each year we have grown our winter production, increasing root crops and high tunnel production (we now have ~ 1/2 ac of unheated high tunnels). We have continued to trial crops and varieties for storage and high tunnel production (who knew radicchio harvested in Nov. can be stored for up to 2 months?) and increase infrastructure for storage and winter washing. While our farm income is still dominated by summer and fall sales, winter production and sales has allowed us to increase and maintain a loyal customer base and keep crew employed over the winter (and thus coming back for the next summer). This has become a key for us… nothing is more important to the profitability of our farm all year round than experienced employees.”
“We offer a low-stress (for the farmer) winter CSA with distributions primarily Nov-Jan. In the next year or two we’ll add a second high tunnel and market greens, etc. into the spring. We’ll also get a bit more crafty with winter storage crops.”
Harvest, postharvest and storage. Growers that we worked with have sought out information, including educational programs and publications, but also other growers and other workshops, and taken it home to use on the farm. Sometimes information was hard to find: Tangerini Farm found it very difficult to find an engineer or builder who understood how to help them build a structure and design the proper HVAC equipment for winter vegetable storage rooms. Cross-fertilization of ideas and information is very active in the area of winter growing. Growers from northern Vermont came to the 2012 Brookfield Farm meeting, hungry for details about how that farm harvests and stores for their winter CSA, and going back to rethink their storage. One farmer on the advisory committee attended our first meeting at Tangerini Farm where we toured their brand new 3-bay concrete storage for their transition to full-winter CSA, and rebuilt his own storage system the following year. Another stopped by Tangerini farm on his own to exchange ideas about storage design. Another farmer who attended the Tangerini meeting and who markets primarily through CSA has hired an agricultural engineering firm to help her design new storage facilities, to be built in winter 2015.
Our 2014 grower survey indicated that on average (n=54), 59 % of winter income is from fall harvest for storage and winter sales, 45% from winter production & winter harvest, and 23% from over-winter production for spring harvest and sales. Over 50% of respondents picked ‘optimizing storage facilities to meet your needs ‘ as a key issue for future research, and 40% said that maintaining good quality in storage was their biggest challenge in managing products for winter markets.
This project, along with others, has offered many educational programs about postharvest and storage. The Manchester conference 2011 and 2013 both had sessions on these topics, and we have published many articles. We have seen and heard evidence of a steady increase in understanding of the postharvest and storage needs of crops. When we first published our ‘harvest, curing and storage for fall and winter crops chart’ in 2011, one experienced grower on our advisory group commented a few days later “It’s just what I needed. I already posted it up on the wall of our farm office”. Two years later at an advisory meeting he said, “well we all pretty much know what conditions are needed, now it’s just a question of how to provide them”. Groupings of crops that need certain storage conditions, or techniques for curing certain crops before storage, were not common knowledge among diversified vegetable growers five years ago, but they are becoming so. In a survey conducted in 2013 through our newsletter, Vegetable Notes, asking about our programming overall, we asked which practices readers adopted as a result of information provided by UMass Extension through meetings, newsletters, websites, or other means and 22% responded that they have adopted new methods for curing and storage of winter squash, and 22% adopted new methods for winter storage of root or tuber vegetables. One grower notes in our 2014 survey: “my biggest challenge is the variety of storage conditions needed, none of them ‘perfect’ for most crops, even within a group (cold moist/cold dry, etc.)”.
Low tunnels. Grower interest in low tunnels has been strong, although high tunnels remain the most widely used form of season extension for winter growing, and low tunnels less so. In our 2014 survey, 83% said they use unheated high tunnels for winter season extension, while 25% use low tunnels with layers of row cover and/or plastic. In our 2013 Vegetable Notes survey, 43% of respondents said that they have used season extension with row covers or tunnels when asked which practices they adopted as a result of information provided by UMass Extension through meetings, newsletters, websites, or other means. In 2013, we were contacted by Stone Soup, a relatively new farm in Hadley that wanted to set up about ½ acre of low tunnels and asked for assistance. Farms such as Simple Gifts and Red Fire Farm, who have been developing their winter systems over many years, incorporate a half acre or more of low tunnels among a suite of options from row cover through caterpillar tunnels and unheated high tunnels to minimally heated greenhouses, that give different kinds of protection and fill out their market needs from October through May. For these farms, low tunnels seem to have an important role to play. You can plant larger acreage of crops such as carrots, onions, kale and spinach using field equipment in the fall, install relatively inexpensive low tunnel covers, leave them alone for the winter, and open them up the following spring for early harvests in spring markets.
Marketing. There are concerns about increased competition in the marketplace, and the need for the customer numbers to keep up with production. We have heard most often with regard to winter farmers markets, but it may also apply to CSA in certain areas. One farmer shifted to all-CSA in winter because of farmers’ market competition, and has focused her growing and marketing efforts on her CSA customers. She is one of the few farmers to offer pick-your-own greens in low tunnels in the fall and in high tunnels through the winter. “So what if a kid steps on some greens – who cares? Everyone loves being in the greenhouse in the winter!“ Seacoast Eat Local notes that farmers who sell in the farmers markets are also making sales to restaurants, farm stores, wholesale, CSA, and institutions. In our final survey, all of these ranked, on average, above 20% of gross sales income in winter, with CSA, winter markets and farm store ranking as the top three (in that order). CSA’s who don’t have the land base to grow larger acreage winter storage crops have teamed up with farms who have more land, who grow their squash, potatoes, and other fall storage crops. For example, Waltham Fields Community Farm works with Picadilly Farm in southwestern NH and Riverland Farm in western MA to increase their fall crops, and they have extended their shares later into the fall, though not for a full winter share due to lack of heated space. One comment we received on how their farm has changed was: “We’ve gotten better at harvest and storage. The winter markets have increased making competition stronger. This has helped us develop our niche and stick with it.”
In August 2014, a group of 35 experienced winter growers met for two days at a ‘Frozen Ground’ conference to exchange information about all aspects of winter growing. Presentations given, and recommendations for further research needs are posted at the University of Vermont Extension Vegetable and Berry website for the winter growing conference: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/WinterGrowingConference2014.html. Other all-day winter workshops have taken place around New England.
Areas needing additional study
Production and Storage
Below is a list of research priorities suggested in our 2014 on-line survey, and the percentage of respondents who considered each a priority. Feedback at grower meetings and in conversations sometimes emphasized these topics to somewhat different degrees, but there seems to be agreement that these are the areas in which more work is needed. Overall production questions, including timing of plantings, soil health and fertility, and management of pests that may overwinter in relatively protected environments typically top growers’ lists of research needs, as do the issues of maintaining produce quality in storage, and designing cost-effective facilities for winter crop storage and handling. Many growers are also grappling with the question of when and whether to take a break from growing and selling to recharge and do maintenance projects around the farm, and are considering the costs and benefits of including or scaling up winter production.
On which issues would you like to see more local research done?
Timing of plantings for fall/winter harvest
Potential new crops for winter sales
Optimizing storage facilities to meet your needs
Optimum harvest time & methods
Unheated high tunnel production
Winter pest scouting & identification
What happened to getting a rest in the winter? — and related issues
High tunnel – soil fertility
High tunnel – crop rotations
Scaling up – systems for getting bigger
Marketing & market development
Information for customers about home storage and use of winter crops
Winter pesticide efficacy & application methods
Other (please specify)
Winter markets have similar needs to summer markets, including building and maintaining the customer base. They offer something special during winter – a warm place to gather and meet others, a sense of celebration, a serious source of food for those seeking local fare, and an important income stream for vendors. One issue that needs further work is expanding the customer base to meet growing production capacity of farmers. In our winter survey, farmers cite ‘having enough product’ and ‘having enough customers’ as the two major challenges of winter marketing. This may be a matter of study but also would benefit from stronger networking and educational programming among market managers and vendors. However, we found that it was difficult to interest market managers in programming.
In early 2012, CISA completed a thorough report on the status and future of winter farmers’ markets in our region, based on independent research. This report was made available to farmers, market managers, and other interested parties (see attached document: CISA.Winter Market Expansion in Western Mass in Materials and Methods). Their conclusion emphasized the need to expand the customer base:
“The recent increase in the number of winter farmers’ markets reflects two financial tension points: the investments that farmers have recently made in the infrastructure needed to sell product year-round, and the need for those markets to sustain themselves financially. One farmer that recently built new greenhouses for winter greens said, ‘The growth in the number of winter markets is not the success story – the story isn’t over. We still need a lot more people to be shopping at winter markets in order for our investments to pay out, and we need to be sure that these markets are going to stick around for the long haul.’ There is a lot of excitement around year-round markets, and a lot of potential growth, but there are also a lot of costs. Steady work to increase the number of shoppers taking advantage of the existing markets, which vendors and the community have already made investment in, is necessary to ensure the long-term health of winter sales as an option for farmers.”
In addition, markets are seeking to establish legal and financial structures that protect both farmers and customers at markets. Organizations such as Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets offers liability insurance for markets, and individual vendors carry liability insurance. However there is a need for markets to establish fiscal and legal status in their own right, to be able to hire staff, manage finances, handle SNAP benefits, and hold insurance. The mechanisms for doing this in each state are not easy. Further research and development of these systems is needed, along with educational support to vendors and market managers.
See attached document: Areas for further study from Frozen Ground Conference