Depending on climate, winter may be the off season for fruits and vegetables, or it may be the season of winter harvest. Either way, if a farmers market runs through the winter months, it will have some unique offerings during that time.
Some foods come into season in the wintertime. Pomegranates, pears, and citrus fruits are primarily winter fruit. Apples are at their peak in fall and winter. Kale, which can keep on producing through frost and snow, favors the wintertime. Broccoli and brussels sprouts can tolerate some frost, which makes them good winter vegetables. In climates with mild winters and little or no frost, winter is the prime time for cabbage, cauliflower, fennel, and leafy greens.
In the southern and western United States, where winters tend to be mild, these foods grace winter farmers markets. Availability may vary somewhat by region. Foods that keep well in coolers or with minimal refrigeration may also be sold at the farmers market through the winter, even if they were harvested earlier. Garlic and bulb onions are always available. Apples, which keep well in coolers, may still be available from the fall harvest even when winter’s apple season begins to fade. Winter squash remains available until late winter.
Winter is a good time of year for mushrooms and tubers. Mushrooms grown for sale are typically raised indoors, making them not subject to changes in weather. Potatoes, unlike most vegetables, become ripe for harvest not because of changes in weather or length of daylight, but based on how long it has been since they were planted. In all climates, they can be harvested straight through the winter, unless the ground freezes too much to dig them up.
In mild winter climates, yams and sweet potatoes are a winter farmers market offering. Root vegetables such as radishes, turnips, and beets do especially well at that time of year. Growers who use hothouses may occasionally show up with vegetables not normally available in winter, such as tomatoes and bell peppers.
In colder climates, where winter brings snow and ice and shuts down the growing season, fresh foods may not be available at winter farmers markets. Instead, the markets sell preserved and non perishable foods, as well as non-food items. Honey, jam, pickles, and baked goods remain available through the winter. Crafts, all-natural personal care products, candles, and even furniture may be sold at a winter market. Around Christmas, the market may sell Christmas trees and wreaths.
Even where winters are mild enough to support a year round growing season, the end of winter brings a sparse farmers market. At that time of year, there is a lag between the end of the winter harvest season and the beginning of the spring one. A trip to the farmers market during those weeks may yield nothing more than a scraggly bunch of carrots, some onions, and a few salad greens.
If a farmers market continues through the winter, it has plenty to sell. In some regions, winter is a unique harvest season in and of itself. Even where frost and snow put a stop to the harvest, there can be enough to keep the farmers market going until spring.