Farmer’s markets in Northampton, Amherst offer community and plenty of variety

Customers and organizers of the Amherst and Northampton winter farmers markets agree that the weekly events are definitely not all about food.

“I don’t even come to shop,” Alex Krogh-Grabbe said while waiting to meet up with friends at the Amherst market Saturday.

The Amherst native was back in town from Providence to visit family. He wanted to meet up with a friend over the weekend, who said she was planning to go to the market. Krogh-Grabbe decided to come to enjoy the atmosphere, which included a folk music performance by Light Reaction.

“Farmers markets are the new town commons,” he said.

The Amherst Winter Farmers Market is held each Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Amherst Regional Middle School from December through March.
This is Tamsin Flanders’s third year managing the community bazaar, which each week invites around 30 local businesses to peddle their wares. Everything from fresh vegetables to honey and homemade soaps can be found in the booths, set up in the middle school’s cafeteria. She says that just as the local farmers and artisans make the products so special, it’s the customers from the community that create the market’s warm, inviting atmosphere.

“You spontaneously run into friends,” Flanders said. “You can sit down, chat and eat.”

On the other side of the river, the Northampton winter farmers market is held each Saturday at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School November through April from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

This is Andrew Lacasse’s second year managing the market, which began in 2009. He pointed to the lively atmosphere — created in part by live music and young children — as a factor for making the market a fun place for friends to meet.

“People respect kids running around as part of the space,” he said

Both markets feature a large amount of fresh, local produce, maple syrups and cheeses.

Winter Moon Roots has a booth at both markets. The farm is named after its one goal: to grow root vegetables to be consumed during the winter. Annette Szczygiel was at the Northampton outpost Saturday selling a number of colorful gourds. Her bins contained unique veggies like “psychedelic” watermelon radishes, named for bright pink flesh hidden beneath a dull white exterior, and three different varieties of carrots.

She says she’s noticed a upswing in foot traffic since the market moved from Thornes.

“People are realizing you can get greens all winter long,” she said.

Patti Klein is someone who enjoys her winter greens.
On Saturday, she picked up a bag of spinach, rosemary, parsley and an onion. She planned her shopping for one specific purpose: to craft some chicken soup. Klein says she enjoys the opportunity to buy fresh local vegetables over the winter.

“We’d always go to the Tuesday market,” she said, referring to the downtown Northampton market held during the warmer months. “But it closes!”

In Amherst, Turkish Kitchen is just one vendor who feeds the hungry masses each Saturday morning. Ipek Kursat’s one-woman operation is based in her Ashfield kitchen. There, she’s been cooking up Turkish specialty dishes since 2009. On Saturday, she was providing samples of her “festive rice,” flavored with cinnamon, currants and broth.

Kursat says she tries to use as many ingredients from the “mini farm” at her home. There, she keeps sheep, chickens and grows her own vegetables. Some things, however, she says are difficult to grow at home.

“We’ve never been able to grow Triscuits,” she joked, referring to the crackers topped with her homemade marscapone cheese, crafted from heavy cream sourced from Mapeline Farms in Hadley.

In Northampton, Rebecca Ossorio was picking up about a months worth of groceries, crammed into two paper bags.

“My strategy is to get everything that looks good,” she said. She says she frequents many of the farmer’s markets held in the city throughout the year. She lists the winter market as her favorite, though, due to its spacious layout.

“It feels special,” she said. “It’s a privilege we live in a town that has a winter market.”

Ken Johnston lives in Holyoke, which does not have a winter market.

“I need to plan more of my Saturday mornings to come here,” he said. On Saturday, he purchased a jar of honey from E’s Bees, out of Whately. He says he likes to support local agriculture, and used to own a farm share, which he says he misses. He added that he’s impressed by the Northampton’s markets wide variety of products, which includes off-beat items like kimchi, a Korean dish made from fermented cabbage, from Hosta Hill in West Stockbridge.

Local flavor was another consistency across both markets. West Stockbridge, only 50 miles away in the Berkshires was the farthest-away location of a business.

“Go to the farmers market! You’re supporting your neighbors,” Szczygiel said.