In the three-and-a-half weeks since the final Old Cheney Road Farmers Market of the season, the days have shortened noticeably. Daylight-saving time has ended, plunging the dinner hour into darkness, and unseasonably cold temperatures have gripped the entire state. That’s too many reminders that winter, with its bitter winds, barren fields and dreary gray tableau, is nearly upon us.
Don’t despair, though. Many of the farmers who participated in the Old Cheney market have continued to grow and harvest a great variety of cool-weather veggies and root crops. To take advantage of the bounty, visit the Auld Pavilion in Antelope Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 13, when 17 farmers will be selling their late-fall fare.
Jointly sponsored by Community CROPS, Open Harvest Co-op Grocery and the Old Cheney farmers market, the Holiday Harvest Farmers Markets are a result of the tremendous demand for fresh produce at last year’s post-season market.
“This year, farmers have been planning and planting their crops for the fall markets since last spring. The post-season market last year was wildly successful -- we had folks waiting in line for Brussels sprouts! Because of the support of the Lincoln community during and after the season, we’ve scheduled two holiday markets this year, and all vendors at both markets can process SNAP cards,” says Megan Jackson, market manager for the Old Cheney market.
Amazingly, in spite of the low temps, cool-weather vegetables and root crops are still growing, albeit very slowly. Many of the farmers who participated in the Old Cheney market are continuing to grow radishes, carrots, cabbages, beets, onions, sweet potatoes, leeks, kale, mustard greens and even salad mixes.
Erin Frank of the Darlin’ Reds farm was concerned about their greens when the temperatures began to plunge. They had installed the hoops and protective row covers just days before, so she slid her camera under the hoops and layers of sheet plastic, anticipating the worst. However, because the covering does such a great job of holding a little warmth in -- but more importantly, keeping the cold out -- she and Margaret Milligan, the other red head of the Darlin’ Reds duo, have had great survival rates for their greens so far.
“The markets are such a nice way for people to come and shop for their winter groceries, right under one cozy, festive roof,” Frank said of the markets. “It was such an incredible event last year, and it was instantly clear how much demand there is for late-season veg. We couldn’t be more excited about the expanded market opportunities in the off-season, and we want to focus on winter growing in the future, right here in southeast Nebraska.”
Nebraska Mushroom grower Ash Gordon is another farmer participating in both holiday markets, and he hopes to have fresh shiitake and elm oyster mushrooms. He may have additional varieties, such as lion’s mane and blue and phoenix oysters ready for the market in December.
“I wanted to participate in this market, because it’s a great opportunity for producers to sell and consumers to buy fresh local foods for the holidays,” said Gordon.
Aaron French, production manager for Community CROPS, hopes to have butternut squash, onions, turnips, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, kale and mustard greens for both markets.
“Developing and supporting new markets, like the Holiday Harvest Farmers Markets, is incredibly important to us. One of the best ways small, localized producers like us can compete with conventional, large-scale farms is to continue to expand our production later into the season, and events like the holiday markets give us even more incentive to continue to grow food, even with snow on the ground,” French said. “This market can also serve as an educational experience for the average eater, who may think our Nebraska growing season is over once tomatoes die, or corn is harvested. We’re really excited to show that that’s not the case at all. Our market table may look different from August, but it’s no less abundant.”
Speaking of abundance, Diane Loth of Shadowbrook Farm anticipates that they’ll have cabbages, beets, radishes, regular and sweet potatoes, turnips and butternut squash, which, she says, makes a great substitute for pumpkin in holiday pies.
The goats on Shadowbrook Farm have continued to provide great quantities of milk, so Charuth Loth has 10 varieties of goat cheese for both holiday markets, including plain chevre, chevre with herbs, chevre with cranberries, Ogallala tomme, Rosa Maria, calypso (feta), GiGi (camembert style), Belle Sabine, Graydon Blue, Natalia in Grey and goat gouda.
“We really enjoy providing the community with locally grown, healthy products, so we’re looking forward to the holiday markets,” Diane Loth said. “Although the weather this year has been exceedingly brutal, making it pretty impossible to have greens to offer, we will have tasty storage crops, our ever-popular goat cheeses and truffles, goat milk and perhaps yogurt.”
In addition to root veggies and cabbages, Ruth Chantry and Evrett Lunquist of Common Good Farm will have eggs and baked goods, such as brownies and lemon bars, made with their eggs.
“We had a blast last year seeing so many regular market customers, our CSA members, and our friends, talking food, farm stuff and cooking, and just saying howdy to everyone. It was exhausting but also wonderful selling our stuff, of course. The energy and gratitude for our organic, home-grown good food was fantastic,” said Chantry. “This year, the weather has had us hopping, but it’s a great community event.”
A free raffle at the market on Saturday offers a chance to win a turkey from North Star Neighbors in Fullerton, donated by Open Harvest. Although the drawing takes place at 2 p.m., ticketholders do not need to be present to win. Also, there's more information on the Holiday Harvest Farmers Market Facebook page (facebook.com/events/497724450370824) on the chance to win Community CROPS’ gift of Nebraska Brassicas -- a basket of cruciferous veggies, cabbages and mustard greens.