COLUMBIA — Farmers market shoppers can buy fresh local tomatoes, seasonal breads, pies and even emu meat all winter long and out of the cold.
For the first time in its 30-year history, the Columbia Farmers' Market has set up shop indoors at Rock Bridge Christian Church, 301 W. Green Meadows Road, and will operate throughout the winter months. The last day for the outdoor market is Nov. 20.
The indoor market at Rock Bridge Christian Church, 301 W. Green Meadows Road, opened Nov. 6, and will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the following Saturdays:
- Nov. 20.
- Dec. 4, 11 and 18.
- Jan. 8, 15, 22 and 29.
- Every Saturday in February and March.
So far, 17 vendors have signed up to sell their products from November through March. The last day for the outdoor farmers market at the Activity and Recreation Center is Nov. 20.
On Saturday, customers bustled into the warmth of the church. Vendors’ tables topped with produce and other foods filled the modest space.
“It seems like I’ve bought everything,” said Tyeece Little of Columbia, who had five bags full of food. Little’s exercise group meets near the market Saturday mornings, making the church a convenient location for her. “I think the market is great, and once this catches on I think a lot of people will be coming here," she said.
Columbia resident Stephen Hessel said the organization of the indoor market had some advantages over the outdoor market at the Activity and Recreation Center, where vendors organize on either side of a single path.
“This market isn’t as long as the other one, so you can actually compare prices a little easier,” Hessel said. “It’s great to have this, since the winter vegetables are still around and people are growing stuff in greenhouses."
Susie Everhart of Susie’s Grass Fed Meats, who sells lamb at the farmers market, said she looked forward to being indoors.
“This market will be good to help farmers keep their income up in the winter and for people to get healthy food,” Everhart said.
Caroline Todd, who manages the farmers market, said the market received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for about $26,000 to help fund a winter market for the next three years.
The grant, called a Specialty Crop Block Grant, will help the Columbia Farmers Market pay for rent and advertising. The grant also requires the market to hold a dinner for the public with food from the winter market. The state of Missouri received more than $300,000 through the Block Grant program this year.
“It’s very good to offer local food year round. However, it’s hard because typically the farmers market is outdoors, and indoors is a lot of overhead compared to a tent,” Todd said. “Also, the concept of being indoors — last week when the weather was nicer, people were like, ‘Where are you?’ They expected us to be in the parking lot.”
Letitia Denhartog of the Rock Bridge Christian Church originally contacted the farmers market about using the building.
“They don’t have a building, and I knew we had space we weren’t using on Saturday morning,” Denhartog said. “I know how much the farmers market is enjoyed and used in this town.”
The church also has a kitchen that’s approved for cooking and selling food, and the market plans to open it later in the winter to sell a few items for lunch.
One of the more exotic offerings this winter can be found at Vera Gelder’s stand: ground emu meat. It’s redder and leaner than beef, takes on spices readily and can be substituted for beef in any recipe, Gelder said. Emu meat is also hypoallergenic.
The Gelders have had emus for around 15 years, but found a processor that would offer USDA certification only two years ago.
“We call (the emus) our nosy neighbors, because they’re very curious and a lot of fun to have around,” Gelder said. “You have to be a little adventurous, but a lot of people really like it.”