Reflecting on Ten Years of Winter Fare: A Letter to Juanita Nelson

The Recorder, January 31, 2017, by Mary McClintock

Dear Juanita, I miss you and wish we could sit down next to your Woolman Hill cabin woodstove to chat while we enjoy a cup of peppermint tea.

It’s been almost two years since you left this realm and went off to what I think of as “Juanita and Wally’s Heaven”: a peaceful place with no war, lots of delicious food grown right there, and plenty of music and dancing.

I’m thinking about you right now because it’s almost time for the 10th annual Greenfield Winter Fare. You planted many physical and metaphorical seeds in your decades as a gardener and activist. Long after the vegetables and fruit you grew have been enjoyed, many of the metaphorical seeds of action continue to bear fruit, even after you’re gone.

One of those seeds has grown into the monthly Greenfield Winter Farmers Market and this Saturday’s Greenfield Winter Fare. When you first proposed a winter farmers market, it was January 2007 and you talked to some of us who’d helped you organize the Free Harvest Supper of Locally Grown Food each August starting in 2005. You reminded us, “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.”

You shared with us your essay titled “Winter Fare” about the joys of growing, preserving, storing, and preparing food year-round, even in the depth of winter.

At a time when there were no winter farmers markets in western Mass., we had a hard time imagining one. But you planted that seed of an idea in fertile ground, and we quickly figured out there could be a lot of tasty food available in February, if we planned ahead. The first Greenfield Winter Fare and Farmers Market happened in February 2008.

Thanks to that seed you planted, in 2017 there are monthly winter farmers markets in Greenfield, and weekly winter markets in Amherst and Northampton. And, each year since 2008, there has been a special market and events in February to continue your legacy of Winter Fare. Thanks to all of the farmers who make the monthly Greenfield Winter Farmers Market happen and to CISA for continuing to organize annual Winter Fare events.

At Greenfield Winter Fare at Greenfield’s Four Corners School this Saturday, Feb. 4, many people will taste the fruit that grew from your seed of an idea for a winter farmers market. They’ll buy a wide range of yummy locally grown food, attend workshops on growing their own microgreens, cooking, and more, swap their homegrown or preserved food with other gardeners and cooks, and chat with friends and people they’ve never met.

Juanita, you had a huge influence on me, and many of us. One influence is how much locally grown food there is available to us in western Massachusetts in the middle of winter. I definitely eat more locally grown food in the winter than I did before you started Winter Fare and I know many other people who do, too.

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.

I remember you talking about eating as a political act, that it can be an act of social justice. I remember you telling me a key reason why you ate locally grown food and grew much of your own food was because you wanted people in other places to be able to grow food for their families and their own neighbors, not for someone far away.

There’s a lot more to talk about, Juanita, but this is enough for now. I’ll let you get back to dancing with Wally. I just wanted to let you know that the seeds you planted are still growing, still having a big impact on me and everyone in our community. And, we are so grateful for all the many seeds you planted and nurtured.

With gratitude and
love from your friend,

Mary McClintock