Peter Dixon, co-owner of Parish Hill Creamery, slices a wedge of cheese at a recent Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market.
Victoria Chertok/The Commons
Peter Dixon, co-owner of Parish Hill Creamery, slices a wedge of cheese at a recent Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market.

Connecting community with farms and food

The Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market sees tremendous growth — and a growing need to provide access to local food — as it grows roots at its new home on the Winston Prouty campus

What started 18 years ago as a way for Windham County farmers to help feed the local community with surplus food - produce that remained at the end of the summer season - is now a thriving local attraction that boasts hundreds of visitors weekly through the winter months.

The Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market describes itself on its website as the only weekly winter farmers' market in Windham County and one of the oldest in the state.

Opened in 2006 as a project of Post Oil Solutions, a nonprofit grassroots sustainability group in southeastern Vermont, the Winter Farmers Market has grown from a two-month to a five-month market serving all of Windham County and neighboring towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Nearly 20 farms and 20 vendors sell their goods at the market each week.

The benefits of the Winter Farmers Market are many, says market co-founder and co-manager Sherry Maher, who spoke with The Commons recently.

"You buy directly from the producer - the person who grew, raised, cooked, or created [the item], and they can tell you how best to use it and to enjoy it," Maher says.

She called it "a win, win, win."

"Your dollars contribute to the local economy and promise the future of a healthy regional food system while supporting local farmers during their lean season," Maher says.

The Winter Farmers Market began at the River Garden on Main Street and operated there for 12 years. In 2018, it moved to the Church building on Flat Street, its home for four years.

In 2022, the winter market moved to its current location in the gymnasium on the Winston Prouty campus on Austine Drive.

Maher notes that the market enjoyed more visibility and foot traffic in those River Garden years. "We were nervous about moving out of the downtown area, where we'd been for 16 years," she says.

But along with that loss of casual foot traffic came an increase of people who come "intending to shop," Maher adds - "and now we have a dedicated weekly following of mostly local residents and tourists alike."

The result: "tremendous growth to the Winter Farmers Market" - and, in fact, the two years on the Winston Prouty campus "have brought our two most successful seasons ever," Maher says.

"An average of 450 to 500 people attend the Winter Farmers Market each week at the height of our season - for example, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the two weeks leading up to Christmas," she adds. "There can be up to 450 people on a regular Saturday market."

Some attribute the success to the cooperation among farmers, customers, and market organizers.

"The community that supports the market is a dedicated group of people who make the market happen," says Jon Cohen of Deep Meadow Farm in Ascutney.

"We are doing the work growing the food, and dedicated customers show up each week to buy the food," he says. "We have a wonderful group of vendors who are meeting the needs and demands of people who are coming to the market each week."

Malah Miller of Dwight Miller Orchards in Dummerston sang the praises of the Winter Farmers Market team, including "a special shout out" to Maher.

"She is so dedicated and passionate about local food and the people who produce it," Miller says.

She also praisesd Jill Green, co-manager, and to the "cheerful Saturday morning volunteers," calling participating in the market "an honor for our farm."

SNAP benefits available at market

Ensuring access to local food is an important part of the Winter Farmers Market's mission.

The Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont's Crop Cash program had provided funding to offer matching funds for customers using federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, known statewide as the 3SquaresVT program.

Crop Cash, combined with the Winter Farmers Market's own Boost Your Bread program, could turn a customer's $10 into $30 for local food.

But when funding for Crop Cash ran dry at the end of November 2023, the market had to work quickly to find funding to support that food security program.

With the help of a $10,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation's Environmental Justice Small Grants Program to help tackle this problem, as well as funding from the Vermont Foodbank, the Windham Foundation, C&S Wholesale Grocers, and the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, and donations from individuals, the market created a replacement program, the Harvest Bounty Campaign.

Maher traveled to Montpelier in January for SNAP Awareness Day to testify in front of the House Committee on Agriculture, Food Resiliency, and Forestry and the Senate Committee on Agriculture.

She talked about the increasing numbers of people in the region accessing food security programs at the Winter Farmers Market since the pandemic. Maher notes that the senators and representatives alike thought that enabling SNAP customers to turn $10 of benefits into $30 at a local farmers market was a "great deal."

Maher says that she shared with the committees that since the 2019–20 season, the Winter Farmers Market had seen an increase of 150% in SNAP transactions.

"It translates into federal SNAP dollars along with added incentives to put more nutritious local food on families' tables while keeping all of those dollars in the local economy and helping to support vibrant farms and food producers in our region," explains Maher.

She urged lawmakers to put money in the FY 2025 state budget to keep these incentives going because they lead to healthy families, vibrant farms, and stronger communities.

Justin Bramhall and Vanessa Rose of Leaping Bear Farm in Putney say they are "incredibly impressed" with the Harvest Bounty fundraising, which has given "so much meaningful support to both farmers and shoppers."

To market, to market

Visit the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market on Saturdays, November through March, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., to shop local for food, produce, and crafts. The market is fully accessible with on-site and nearby parking.

There is local live music from 11 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. weekly. You can get lunch from a number of market vendors or a chair massage from Micah Ranquist, who is trained in Swedish circulatory massage and medical massage.

The Winter Farmers Market takes place at 60 Austine Dr. in Brattleboro on the Winston Prouty Campus. The MOOver bus offers Saturday service to the market from the Brattleboro Transportation Center on Flat Street.

For more information, visit

This News item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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