SKOWHEGAN — Having fresh food from a farmers market in the winter is more than just rutabagas, apple cider, milk and eggs.

At the Skowhegan Farmers Market, it’s also about nutrition and fellowship, sharing a hot cup of coffee with a friend and organizing children’s activities where it’s warm and comforting.

The Skowhegan market, which has operated year-round in the parking lot at the Somerset Grist Mill, downtown, this year has moved inside for the winter. The market, with 13 farmers, crafters and guest vendors, opened this month on the ground floor of the Skowhegan Masonic Hall on Water Street.

“Having a market in the winter is a part of a resilient system — having access to food in the wintertime,” said Sarah Smith, market manager and owner of Grassland Farm in Skowhegan. “As time goes on and food becomes way more expensive in the grocery store and fuel costs and climate change and all these things that are affecting the food system overall, places that have access to food — direct in the wintertime — is going to be huge.

“I feel we are way ahead of the curve by having a resilient system in town where people can get access to fresh farm food all year round.”

The market moved indoors on Nov. 7 and will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. all winter on the first and third Saturday of the month. Smith said the farmers — and their produce — had been suffering outside for a number of years and the farmers market group voted this year to find a place to rent inside. They chose the Masonic Hall, where former bartender Katie Quinn of Cornville started brewing her Ass Over Teakettle Bloody Mary Mix in the kitchen in January.

Several different vendors who sell their items at the summer market agreed to join in for the winter, including cheeses from Crooked Face Creamery, Greta’s Little Bake House of Athens, Tata’s vegetable booth and cider and apples from Cayford Orchards.

“All the way around this room will be filled with vendors,” said Heather Davis, market assistant manager and co-owner of Cayford’s Orchards. “It’s just like we set up at the market in a big horseshoe; it’s the same thing here.”

Smith said being outside in the winter is hard on the produce, which can freeze being exposed even for just a few hours during last winter’s brutal freeze and heavy snow. She said the winter location is warm and it’s still downtown and the space is large enough for all of the market participants.

“My sense is it’s just another arm of the collaboration and partnership that the market does — we’re utilizing an under-utilized space downtown,” she said. “The market is a place for socialization and it’s hard to socialize in zero-degree weather.”

Smith and Davis said the market will continue to offer their double-dollars program, in which families using the food stamp program get free fruits and vegetables coupons just for shopping at the market. The market accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT cards, that has replaced the food stamp program.

The market also participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — for income eligible families.

Fresh food available to the Skowhegan Farmers Market this winter will include cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, garlic, leeks, potatoes, frozen fruit and fresh greens and spinach grown in hoop houses, along with winter squash and pumpkins.

The Skowhegan Farmers Market first opened with two vendors behind the Chamber of Commerce building in the municipal parking lot in 1997. In 2007, through a partnership with new Main Street Skowhegan program, the market moved to the bank-owned parking lot next to the Grange hall on Pleasant Street.

When Amber Lambke and her business partner Michael Scholz purchased the former Somerset County jail downtown in 2009 to turn it into a grist mill, the farmers market followed and set up in the parking lot where there was plenty of parking and space for live music and a children’s vegetable garden.

This winter the farmers market also will continue its CHEF Club — Children’s Healthy Eating Fun Club. Any child that comes to the market gets a $2 coupon to use at the market.

“It allows kids to get a taste of shopping on their own,” Smith said. “They get to start making choices on their own. It’s a way for them to get more familiar with local food because we feel that there’s a lot of evidence that changing how people eat starts when you’re young, having choice and trying new foods when you’re young.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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