While the high summer growing season may be over, farmers in Windham County continue to offer fresh local food throughout the winter months - stored root crops, frozen meats, vegetables, and fruits, eggs, cheeses, preserved goods, and, to the delight of many, fresh greens and herbs.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) plans offer a discount to subscribers who buy shares at the beginning of the season, whether summer or winter. Winter CSAs are open for membership right now, but they all operate using slightly different models.
Some CSAs accept SNAP/3Squares VT or offer subsidized shares through the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) Farm Share Program. Some offer their own budget plan, and forms of ordering and payment differ widely from farm to farm.
Here's a sampling of what is available:
New Leaf CSA
The New Leaf Winter CSA in Dummerston has a twist on its winter CSA - not one market, but two.
Farmer Elizabeth Wood offers the Holiday Season CSA, with weekly pick-ups through mid-December, and the Deep Winter CSA, January through March, with monthly pickups. You can sign up for either or both.
The Holiday Season CSA runs for six weeks, Nov. 6 through Dec. 11. Shares consists of “earthy-sweet root vegetables” with options that include fresh leafy greens, some squash, garlic, leeks, herbs, and a bumper crop of sweet potatoes.
The Deep Winter CSA has one pickup a month, around the 10th, of January, February, and March. Shares consist of large bags of root vegetables and greens.
Pickups for both take place at the Scott Farm in Dummerston Tuesday afternoons or on Saturdays at the Brattleboro Winter Farmers' Market, which has moved to 80 Flat St.
Winter CSAs have become quite popular in recent years, a natural progression from the plans that have been around for many years during the summer growing season.
For so many years, 17 in her own involvement, the summer CSAs were an integral part of local farming in the county but the winter was a dead zone for local produce.
“All the CSAs were done in October, and it was so terrible to go back to eating college dormitory food!” she said.
The advent of winter farmers' markets and CSAs are “really an exciting part of the local agricultural scene these days,” Wood said. “This is going to better serve everyone.”
In its 11th year, Walker Farm in Dummerston has six weekly pickups for fall/winter CSA subscribers from Dec. 1 through Jan. 5. More dates will be scheduled for deep winter.
This year, the farm will offer a small or large share, and easy payment plans, to accommodate a broader range of budgets. Lindsey Erickson, one of the CSA coordinators, said she is excited about this new budget plan because it is difficult for some households to come up with the large cash payment at the beginning of the season.
“We would love to see more younger families involved,” Erickson said.
The CSA features custom boxes, so no one will get unwanted produce, cutting down on food waste. Members order in advance and pick up their items from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at the stand. Erickson said this year they decided to offer what they have even if there might not be enough of a particular crop for all members as another way to reduce waste and offer a wider variety.
The farm will supply winter root vegetables and fruits, as well as their own greens and herbs, such as parsley and cilantro.
Other goods available to members include locally raised meats, honey, and other special items as they are available.
In Westminster, Harlow Farm winter CSA will run from Friday, Dec. 14 through mid-April, managed this year by local chef and caterer Erin Hennessey.
The farm has simplified its winter CSA this year. Customers buy a Winter Market Card from $100 to $500 and receive discounts through the season based on their share.
The farm stand on Route 5 is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and customers can pick what they choose on a first-come, first-served basis, paying the discounted amount as they would with any other gift card.
Anyone can shop at the farm stand during the open hours. The farm offers the usual assortment of winter vegetables, as well as frozen produce and meat from the farm, canned products such as jams and salsas from their harvests, local eggs, honey, cheeses, and their own winter-grown greens, such as kale, spinach, arugula, and mixed salad greens.
There is always a soup, hot coffee, and an array of baked goods waiting at the stand.
Juliette Carr of Riversong Farm in South Newfane said the Winter CSAs provide both farmers and consumers with great benefits - the farmers get financial security at a time of year when it is needed the most, and the customers save a considerable amount of money over retail.
“It's a nice symbiotic relationship with everyone winning,” she said, adding that as the years go by, the relationships deepen as customers return year after year.
Riversong Farm showcases the farm's own heritage breeds, specializing in pork, chicken, lamb, beef, veal, and turkey; it also features local eggs and Vermont cheeses.
Although the winter CSA at Riversong Farm is filled this year, the farm still offers a discount on bulk purchases and there are plans afoot for next year's season.
Through the winter, Riversong offers a four-day weekend once a month at the farm for pick-up, as well as one-day-a-month pickups in Putney and Brattleboro. They use the personal touch wherever possible, keeping a record of customer preferences. The farm offers bulk discounts and a free-choice CSA in the summer.
Circle Mountain Farm
Circle Mountain Farm in Guilford features CSA programs throughout the year, with various pick-up locations, including the Brattleboro Winter Farmers' Market.
Winter shares may include salad and cooking greens, potatoes, winter squash, root vegetables, onions, garlic, herbs, eggs, pastured chickens, and preserved foods.
The farm also specializes in medicinal herbs and flowers in the summer, and it works closely with other farmers and food activists in food justice movements.
Circle Mountain offers full and half shares, and pickups are Jan. 6 through May 19. Farm shares sell out, so members are encouraged to sign up soon.
Full Plate Farm
While the winter CSA at the Full Plate Farm in East Dummerston is nine weeks long beginning in late October and running through to Christmas, its full growing season CSA runs from June on.
Full Plate Farm is a holistically managed vegetable farm offering free choice, gourmet-quality vegetable shares in several different sizes.
Winter features greenhouse greens, root crops, Brussels sprouts, frozen and dried goods, and artisan bread from Bread From the Earth Community Supported Bakery in West Townshend.
This free-choice system offers three sizes of shares, at four pick-up locations: at the farm, Brattleboro, Marlboro, and Wilmington.