WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut’s traditional farmers markets are closing up shop after a successful summer season, but a select few are extending their seasons by moving indoors to provide fresh, local produce through the winter.
Susan Pronovost of Waterbury’s Brass City Harvest said it takes dedication to operate a year-round market. Pronovost said Brass City’s access to greenhouse-grown and long-storage crops, combined with her willingness to drive anywhere in the state to procure them, allows the organization to provide quality products to customers no matter what month it is.
Brass City Harvest operates a year-round farmers market in Waterbury, and also runs a mobile market that sells produce around Greater Waterbury.
Pronovost drives as many as 100 miles every day, trekking across the state to restock on Connecticut-grown products such as coffee from Old Lyme and apples from Glastonbury.
“We go where I know the produce is superb,” Pronovost said. “We’ve fostered relationships state-wide that few people could say they have.”
Still, market masters like Pronovost said one of the greatest struggles of operating winter markets is helping customers understand the differences in each growing season; many customers are used to the wide array of summer produce, such as apples, berries, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. During the winter, the selection is limited to dairy, root vegetables, long-storage fruits and preserves.
“People are often unfamiliar with how things go,” Pronovost said. “We’re not Stop & Shop. Because we only sell Connecticut-grown, we only get what’s in season.”
Pronovost said she is starting to see a shift in customers’ attitude.
“It seems like it’s really starting to sink in that local and fresh is so much better than something that’s imported,” Pronovost said.
Winter markets can be difficult on vendors. Henry Gresczyk of New Hartford’s Gresczyk Farms said many people have the desire to shop at a winter market, but they end up not spending money when the offerings don’t meet their expectations.
“Everyone’s expectations are geared toward seeing tomatoes and all that stuff offered during the summer, but that’s just not what’s found,” Gresczyk said. “It’s a huge difference in variety that’s unavoidable due to the time of year.”
Gresczyk said during a regular market season, which usually spans from early summer to mid-fall, the farm can offer anywhere between 60 or 70 items at any particular market. During the winter, that number drops to 20 items at most, and consists of lettuce, potatoes and spices rather than the array of fruits and vegetables most people become familiar with during the summer.
Grescyzk said while the farm has gotten better at growing in greenhouses and using hydroponics _ a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil _ they’re limited by fewer daylight hours.
“We’d like to do more in the winter but the day length is so short,” he said.
Litchfield Hills Farm-Fresh Market has been operating year-round in Litchfield for eight years. Market master Kay Carroll said there are at least 15 vendors each weekend and during the winter, she considers it a success if they draw 200 people.
To help educate customers, Carroll sends a newsletter to about 1,800 subscribers prior to each market, detailing what items will be available that weekend.
For example, this week’s newsletter said there wouldn’t be mushrooms, goat cheese or maple syrup at Saturday’s market. A few vendors _ Laurel Ridge Farm, Mohawk Bison and Twin Pines Farm _ were absent this weekend, but will return next weekend.
“It’s not a supermarket,” Carroll said. “Our customers are pretty savvy about what’s available when, and we try to make them savvy.”