CINCINNATI -- Winter weather doesn't have to mean a break from fresh, local produce. At least seven Greater Cincinnati communities offer winter farmers markets for those who enjoy farm-to-table products.
The venues vary from one community to the next.
The Village Green Farmers Market migrates indoors at the Fairfield Community Arts Center from November through April.
West Chester Farmers Market moves operations from Centre Pointe Drive to the Muhlhauser Barn between late November and the end of March.
Deerfield Farmers Market operates outdoors year-round on Irwin Simpson Road.
Regardless of the location, the sentiment from the markets' vendors is the same.
"We still like to interact with the customers," said Andy Gorman, market manager for Deerfield Farmers Market.
The market operates year-round in the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield parking lot in Mason. However, its hours are limited to 10-11 a.m. Saturdays between November and April. From May through October, it operates between 9 a.m. and noon every Saturday.
"We're fortunate just to even have a place to do an outdoor winter market," Gorman said.
The market is mostly volunteer-run and is "very low-cost," he said.
West Chester Farmers Market similarly operated outside during winter months before getting permission from the township to use Muhlhauser Barn . In its fourth winter housed in the barn, the market is seeing some growth.
"Having it in the barn has helped a lot," said Reuben Schwartz, operating market co-manager for West Chester Farmers Market.
The market is open in the barn from 2 to 4 p.m. the first and third Saturdays from late November through March.
In addition to benefiting vendors by keeping them connected to their customer base year-round, Schwartz sees the market as a service to the community.
"Having the opportunity to talk to the vendor, to talk to the producer, that's something you can't get at Kroger or Meijer or a grocery store," he said.
In some cases, the markets can even hold some benefit for their host sites by drawing more people to the locations.
"It definitely is a winter activity that draws the community into the Community Arts Center," said Fairfield Communications Manager Jenny Dexter.
This is the second winter the Village Green Farmers Market has been held inside the Community Arts Center, where it operates from 5 to 7 p.m. the second Wednesday of the month. The market operates weekly April through October at Village Green Park.
While there are benefits to year-round farmers' markets, vendors also face some challenges.
"It's cold," Schwartz said.
Muhlhauser Barn protects vendors and customers from wind, rain and snow, but because it's not heated, it's often as cold or colder inside than outside. Vendors bring space heaters to keep warm, and the market managers provide hot coffee.
Outdoor market vendors often have inclement weather to contend with on top of the cold. This may mean fewer customers, but from a vendor's perspective rain can have a similar effect in warm months.
"It's the same in the summer," Gorman said.
Seeing the customers who do venture out in rain or snow can even be encouraging.
"That's when you know you've got loyal customers," Gorman said.
Some fresh fruits and vegetables may not be available during colder months, but most markets feature a lot of the same products available in the summer.
"There's still a good selection in the winter," Gorman said.
The products vary from one community to another, but some items commonly available at winter farmers markets include baked goods, eggs, meat, soap and jewelry.