Freezing cold temperatures, bitter winds and the threat of snow blanketed central Indiana.
But inside the Circle City Industrial Complex in downtown Indianapolis, a farm-fresh bounty offered a respite from winter’s chill. Shoppers browsed locally grown heirloom apples, triple-cream Trillium cheese and freshly roasted coffee.
Farmers offered cuts of beef, whole chickens and pork sausage from coolers. Bags of frozen berries preserved the sweet taste of summer.
Even in snowy Indiana, fresh local food has become a year-round option. Handfuls of winter farmers markets have been established throughout the area, giving people a chance to support local producers while maintaining the locavore habits they’ve developed during the summer and fall.
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The weekly events only strengthen the bond between farmers and foodies, maintaining a sense of community even when most people would rather hide away indoors.
“We pick up where the summer leaves off,” said Rosie Sill, co-owner of Earth Song Farm and president of the market’s advisory council. “Now, residents have a farmers market to go to throughout the entire year.”
Over the past three decades, farmers markets have become an integral part of communities throughout the U.S. But traditionally, the events were constrained to the warmer months of the year.
In the past 10 years, though, more and more Indiana winter markets have been emerging to serve consumers around the state.
Broad Ripple market organizers saw that more and more farmers were stretching their growing seasons year-round with hoop houses and other growing methods.
Vendors were interested in expanding the market to have a place to sell their produce. They asked if the summer market could carry over into the winter.
“Downtown had that successful winter market, and we felt like we had vendors who were interested in doing it,” said Mark Demerly, manager of the Broad Ripple Winter Market.
Inside the spacious confines of Bent Rail Brewery, tables are set up where producers can sell fresh-baked bread, goat cheese, raw honey and other items.
Operations such as Freedom Valley Farm, located just south of Spencer, feature spinach, greens, beets, potatoes and carrots. Batch No. 2, an artisanal condiment company, has whole grain mustards and farmhouse catsup.
“I have a product, and I have a brand name. One of the things that I do is try to expose my product to as many people as possible. That’s the primary function of the markets — face-to-face interaction with customers. I can get feedback and develop my concept with regard to what the customer wants,” said Zach Rohn, owner of Southside-based Batch No. 2.
Rohn comes out to the Broad Ripple market twice each month. In addition, he does monthly winter markets in Westfield and the JCC in Indianapolis.
Rohn has been working on his business for nearly three years, and has developed a following at local specialty markets and restaurants that carry his products. He attends multiple farmers markets during the summer, so having an option in the winter is a good opportunity to introduce people to his products.
“Having a winter market helps to bridge that gap,” he said. “When I’m operating six or seven markets a week in the summer, that starts to rival my retail sales, and coming into the winter, I was a little nervous. You have less events. The most valuable aspect is my ability to market, and get paid for it.”
The oldest winter farmers market in the state is held every Saturday in Bloomington. Founded in 2004, the Bloomington Winter Farmers Market was a response by farmers and producers in the region to expand their income base.
“It was just a handful of farmers who wanted to extend market through the winter season, and they only met a couple of times that winter,” Sill said.
The market now boasts 30 vendors selling kale, broccoli, lamb and salmon, as well as tamales, tarts and local grains. Winter is a challenging time for farmers, so this is another way to reach people and sell their goods that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, Sill said.
At the same time, fresh, local food is rare this time of year, so the markets fill that void as well.
“It’s incredible to be able to go to a winter farmers market in Indiana and get fresh greens or local-sourced potatoes and onions,” Sill said. “You’re getting local food, the freshest you can get, supporting local farmers at a time when they very much need it and also still have that community aspect.”
The Indy Winter Farmers Market has been operating in downtown Indianapolis for the past eight years, extending the immensely popular summer version at City Market.
Until last winter, the gathering was indoors at Indianapolis City Market. But a growing number of vendors and interest from the community motivated organizers to look into a new home.
With its move into the Circle City Industrial Complex, the market now has more space to grow, as well as such added benefits as more parking for customers.
“It’s a spacious building, lightly heated and a bit on the raw side — perfect for a farmers market,” said market manager Sarah Adams. “Sharing space with so many local makers is also a plus, drawing the kind of interest in the location with many similar, like-minded people who are looking to keep their local dollars in our local economy.”
Winter does present multiple challenges that summer markets don’t deal with, though. Bad weather, a smaller roster of growers who have fresh food available and the general desire for people to socially hibernate can stymie the success of cold-weather markets.
“It’s really weather-dependent,” Sill said. “The summer market is outside, there’s an open feel, it’s much larger and customer flow is a lot more than winter market.”
Still, winter gatherings around the area are growing, adding vendors and drawing more people. The Indy Winter Farmers market added 13 participants last year, and another eight in 2016.
That success has only helped encourage more farmers and producers to take part, which attracts more people, Demerly said.
“You can get bad weather in the summer markets in regards to rain,” he said. “People really celebrate the fact that we have a winter market. We have regulars who come and new people who show up after finding out about us. That way, we can tell produce vendors that we have the audience and it’s not too much of a risk for them.”
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Broad Ripple Winter Market
When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through April 15
Where: Bent Rail Brewery, 5301 Winthrop Ave., Indianapolis
What: Vendors offering breads, artisanal mustards and sauces, fresh produce, apples and cider, ice cream, wine, baked goods, salmon, honey and handmade cheeses.
Indy Winter Farmers Market
When: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through April 29
Where: Circle City Industrial Complex, 1125 E. Brookside Ave., Indianapolis
What: Vendors offering tea, fresh produce, apples and cider, chili and soups, baked goods, salmon, woodworking, honey, coffee and handmade cheeses.
Bloomington Winter Farmers Market
When: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through March 25
Where: Harmony School Gymnasium, 909 E. Second St., Bloomington
What: Produce such as carrots, onions, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, arugula and kale; cheese, eggs, chicken, rabbit, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, salmon, milk, honey, fair-trade coffee, and bread.
Carmel Winter Farmers Market
When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through March 11
Where: Wilfong Pavilion at Founders Park, 11675 Hazel Dell Parkway, Carmel
What: Produce, pet products, free-range eggs, pastured chickens, fair trade chocolate, popcorn, barbecue, vinaigrettes, chai tea, salmon.
Fishers Winter Farmers Market
When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays through March 18
Where: Billericay Park Building, 12690 Promise Road, Fishers
What: Meat, fish and poultry, produce, specialty food products, handmade bacon and sausages, baked goods, farm-raised and dried flowers and other products.
Westfield City Market Winter Market
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 14, Feb. 11 and March 11
Where: Grand Park Events Center, 19000 Grand Park Blvd., Westfield
What: Produce, meat, cheese, eggs, baked goods and other products.
JCC Indianapolis Farmers Market
When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 15, Feb. 19, March 19 and April 17
Where: 6701 Hoover Road, Indianapolis
What: Vendors selling items such as fresh produce, artisanal mustards, vinaigrettes, homemade pet treats, pastries, raw honey, fresh-roasted coffee beans and vegan, gluten-free soups.