COLUMBIA – Despite the cold weather, fresh local produce was available in the city on Saturday. The Columbia Farmers' Market has sold a variety of goods for 29 years, and because of its success, the market has been extended into December.
The market has previously closed before Thanksgiving. Saturday was the first day the market has ever been open in December.
Market manager Caroline Todd estimated on Friday that about 10 vendors and 600 customers would turn out. But on Saturday morning, 20 vendors braved the cold weather. After the market closed, Todd said about 300 customers attended.
The market’s board of directors, which is composed of farmers, made a last-minute decision to extend the market because customers expressed a demand. When past seasons came to an end, Todd said, many shoppers expressed disappointment that the market would close and said they did not know where to buy locally grown food.
Some produce farmers have extended their seasons using growing technologies such as greenhouses, hoop houses and high tunnels.
Jim Thomas Jr. of Share-Life Farms said he is selling produce into December mainly because of the mild fall. He said some produce, such as turnips and lettuce, can stand the cold and even a light frost. He grows more sensitive vegetables such as spinach and carrots in a hoop house, which is similar to a greenhouse, but is made of plastic and has sides that can be opened in warmer weather.
Thomas recently acquired a larger hoop house, and this is the first year he has continued growing into the winter.
“The cold weather won’t bother (the produce) in there,” he said.
Even so, he said he won’t have much produce left for the next two weeks. Thomas said he is grateful the market has extended its season because he could use the extra money.
“We’re either the dumbest or the poorest vendors,” he said about those who decided to remain open in December.
Rhonda Borgmeyer of Pete’s Produce uses a greenhouse. She said she will sell tomatoes until Christmas. This was the first year Pete’s Produce sold items at the farmers market, and Borgmeyer said she’s planning to grow lettuce later next year. “I can’t get over the amount of people here," she said.
Other items for sale included meat, cheeses, baked goods and ice cream.
Art Gelder of Walk-About Acres sold meat, ice cream, honey and candles on Saturday. He said his wife persuaded him to continue selling in December even though he was pessimistic about the outcome. “It’s way better than I thought it’d be. There are more vendors and customers than I expected,” Gelder said.
Columbia resident Rachel Brekhus came to the market to get a knife sharpened. She was also looking for some eggs, baked goods and cheese. She said she attends the market weekly and is happy she can continue in December. Brekhus said she likes going to the market because it’s convenient and the vendors help her with tips on how to cook and store their goods.
Carol Crigler had never been to the market before. She raises produce, so she said she was very surprised at the amount of vegetables available at such a late date.
The market will be open Dec. 12 and 19 from 10 a.m. to noon behind the Activity and Recreation Center.