Savoring the seasons: Juanita’s Winter Fare legacy lives on

The Recorder, March 1st, 2016, by Mary McClintock.

Juanita Nelson forever changed my experience of Groundhog Day. Until 2007, Groundhog Day meant a weather-forecasting large rodent in Pennsylvania and the time of year I noticed the sun staying up a bit longer in the afternoon.

Then, in January 2007, Juanita talked to some of us who’d helped her organize the Free Harvest Supper of Locally Grown Food each August starting in 2005. She said, “One purpose of the Free Harvest Supper is to encourage people to eat locally grown food. It’s easy for people to eat local food in August when we feed them. What about in the winter? How can we get people to eat locally grown food in February? We should have a winter farmers market and events to help people learn how to enjoy local food in the winter. Let’s plan a farmers market for February 2008.”

At a time when there were no winter farmers markets in western Mass, it was hard to imagine one. We quickly figured out there could be a LOT of tasty food available in February, if we planned ahead.

The first Greenfield Winter Fare happened on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, 2008. It was a huge success, and many people said they wished there was a weekly or monthly winter farmers market in Greenfield.

Fast forward to February 2016. There is a monthly Greenfield Winter Farmers Market in recent years. And the Greenfield Winter Fare Farmers Market inspired farmers in Amherst, Northampton, and Springfield to start their own winter markets.

As I write my farmers market shopping list for this Saturday’s Greenfield Winter Fare at the Greenfield High School, I’m thinking about Juanita and how she influenced so many of us to eat locally grown food throughout the year. This will be the first Greenfield Winter Fare since she passed away in March 2015.

Juanita had a huge influence on me, and many of us. One influence is how much locally grown food there is available to us in the middle of winter. Looking back, I realize I do eat more locally grown food in the winter than I did before Juanita started Winter Fare.

Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” I agree and I think farmers markets aren’t just about farmers. They are about all of us realizing that our eating is an agricultural act.

My guess is Juanita would say eating is a political act, that it can be an act of social justice. One reason she felt strongly about eating locally grown food and growing much of her own food was that she wanted people in other places to be able to grow food for themselves and their own neighbors, not for someone far away.

Another quote that brought Juanita to mind is from Mark Bittman’s article “(Only) Two Rules for a Good Diet” ( He said, “Here then, is your two-step guide for an unassailably powerful personal food policy. 1) Stop eating junk and hyperprocessed food. This eliminates probably 80 percent of the stuff that is being sold as ‘food.’ 2. Eat more plants than you did yesterday, or last year. If you add ‘Cook your own food’ to this list, it’s even more powerful, but these two steps alone allow you to reduce the amount of antibiotics you’re consuming; pretty much eliminate GMOs from your diet; lighten your carbon footprint; reduce your chances of becoming ill as a result of your diet; save money; cut way back on sugar, other junk and unnecessary and potentially harmful nonfood additives; and so on.”

I miss Juanita. I would love to talk with her about these two quotes and ask her what her “rules for a good diet” would be. I bet she’d resist the idea of “rules,” but we’d have a great chat about what guides our choice of what we eat.

Here’s a “rule” I try to live by: Eat more locally grown food than I did last week, or last year.