Berkshire Grown an example of how 'winter markets are great'
GREAT BARRINGTON — Despite falling snow and temperatures in the low 20s, bundled men, women and children lined up outside the Berkshire Grown farmers market at Monument Valley Regional Middle School while Sean Stanton grilled up some local sausages.
Stanton, who has been selling meat from North Plain Farm at area farmers markets for 13 years, said he didn't know what to expect the turnout to be Saturday, but he was hopeful that the weather wouldn't deter shoppers.
Stanton's optimism was met with over 100 customers who were willing to brave the cold and snow to grab lunch off his grill.
"It's been really good growth," Stanton said of farmers markets in Berkshire County. "I think people are recognizing the value of the local landscape."
Inside the school, stands of fresh produce, bread, meat and pastries lined the market.
Michael Gallagher of Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough, which opened about eight years ago, echoed Stanton.
"A slow day now is what a really good day was then," Gallagher said. "The winter markets are great, because we have product all year round."
The Berkshire Grown farmers markets, which began in 2009, are aimed at "strengthening local farms and building community," according to executive director Barbara Zheutlin.
Each year, Berkshire Grown holds four markets in Great Barrington and two in Williamstown.
Last year, around Thanksgiving, the markets had record-breaking numbers, with more than 1,500 people shopping at the Great Barrington market and more than 1,600 in Williamstown, Zheutlin said.
"Our aim is to grow our winter markets," she said.
By 12:30 p.m. Saturday, 500 people had checked in to the market, which was offering $10 in "market bucks" to the first 50 shoppers who brought a newcomer with them, according to Zheutlin.
For Amelia Conklin of Sky View Farm in Sheffield, the winter markets like Berkshire Grown offer a boost in revenue and socializing at a time that is generally slow and isolating for farmers.
"It's a huge income opportunity" Conklin said. "It's not a little blip on our income, it's a peak. It's an opportunity to make a big amount of money in a short amount of time."
Maeve Dillon of Sheffield and Taylor Nickles of Great Barrington popped in to the market to see what they could gather for dinner.
"We're cooking for my parents, and we wanted to get local meat," Dillon said.
While most shoppers Saturday were filling reusable bags of groceries to go, some people stopped in to grab a snack to eat at the market.
Several shoppers requested that Ozren Drobnjak of Strudel Z put their pastries right on napkins because they had no intention of trying to wait until they got home to dig in.
Drobnjak said that he and his wife, Angela, didn't intend for their strudels to end up being their main source of income, like it has been for the past four years.
During one trip to New York City, the Croatian couple were on a search for hand-pulled strudel but couldn't find what they were looking for.
Strudel in the United States is often much sweeter than in Europe, and the dough is not hand-pulled, Drobnjak said.
When the couple moved to Hudson, N.Y., and found themselves surrounded by apple farms, they decided to make and sell their own at farmers markets.
"We are stretching the dough with our hands on a big table," Drobnjak said, crediting his wife for most of the work.
The apple strudel is the most popular, but people go crazy over the couple's sour cherry strudels during the few weeks in the summer when they are in season, he said.
The next Berkshire Grown farmers market at Monument Valley Regional Middle School will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 17.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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