Without fanfare, the Portland Outdoor Farmer’s Market opened for business on Saturday in Deering Oaks Park. The trees were budding, the grass was green and the ruts from mud season were nearly gone.
By mid morning the temperature was hovering around 55 degrees, but that’s still not warm enough to promote any meaningful vegetable growth. Greens growing in the wild, like fiddleheads, are, however, coming to market. I’m not a fiddlehead fan but they’re a sure sign that ramps and local asparagus—of which I am a big fan–are not far behind.
Gaining popularity at the indoor markets this winter was the idea of “fresh dug”—root vegetables that had wintered over in the ground and dug up after spring thaw. With parsnips, that’s nothing new, as they are prized as a spring-dug vegetable that grows sweeter after hibernaton.
But now farmers are treating carrots similarly by letting them winter over and dug up after the ground thaws. These are noticeably sweeter than the storage crops and not a bad alternative until seasonal ones arrive plucked from spring beds.
The meat, poultry, dairy and egg vendors were out in full force, too, and there’s still plenty of canned food around as well. By late spring I stop buying jars of last years pickles, jams and other put-up stuff. A year is long enough for these items, and it’s best to wait for the new crop of canned goodies to appear in the summer.
Increasingly farmers are growing greens during the winter in their hoop houses so that we’ve been able to have local spinach, lettuces, chard and kale throughout the winter.
Green Spark Farm, for instance, told me that they had erected huge hoop houses (12 feet by 144 feet) in their fields and had a bumper crop of arugula and salad greens most of the winter. Olivia’s Garden began growing greens hydroponically and their chard tasted field fresh all winter.
Mostly the big deal at the markets now are flats of seedlings, flowers and plants for sale and buckets of freshly cut daffodils and a tulip or two next to pansies and Johnny jump-ups.
Besides this farm’s cheeses, baked goods and a pig or two are for sale
Soon enough vendor stands will be bulging with produce, but we’ve got at least another month before the heft of summer harvesting begins. Still, I can’t wait for new potatoes, shell peas and baby carrots to arrive–a locavore’s heaven. And by the time strawberries and summer fruits bear witness they’re outdone by tomatoes in the field and the height of summer has arrived.