N.J. Farmers’ Markets Prepare for Winter Months

As New Jersey’s farmers’ market season starts to wind down, vendors are beginning to make the preparations needed to carry them through the winter months.

For some, the cold season offers a chance to rest and plan for next year, but those who depend on farmers’ markets for the bulk of their revenue must find ways to cut costs and keep sales up until the markets reopen in the spring.

In 2011, there were 58 farmers’ markets open across New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, but only 16 remained open after Oct. 31. There are many vendors who sell at the markets all year, but location can play a factor since the majority of markets remaining open during the winter months operate in the northern part of the state.

Pickle Licious, a 35-year-old specialty pickle and olive company based in Teaneck, has roughly 30 employees. That gives them the manpower needed to attend markets through the winter, but even they get leaner after the peak season is over.

“We do markets year-round. Like Montclair, we do that market through the winter, even when it’s snow on the ground we’re out there,” said Marc Malajian of Pickle Licious. “Staff is definitely cut down, that’s the first thing, cut labor, and then we just let everybody know that we do shipping, year-round. Up to $20 is free shipping, so that’s definitely our big push.”

For local businesses that may not depend as heavily on farmers’ markets for revenue, the summer and fall are a time when they can advertise and promote events that occur during the winter months.

Sarah Graziano, an employee of Patricia and Paul, a specialty olive oil and balsamics company in Westfield, said their presence at the markets definitely pays dividends around the holidays.

“We do a lot of business around Christmastime…because we do gift bags, we do gift sets. We’re in a very suburban area. There’s lots of young families, lots of moms buying teachers gifts or corporate offices or medical offices buying gifts for their staff.”

Other businesses, like Brook Hollow Winery in Columbia, N.J., are restricted to selling during the peak season by the nature of their product.

“We haven’t done a winter farmers’ market because unfortunately many of the farmers’ markets in the winter — the indoor ones — are being done in schools, and because (we sell) alcohol we can’t be in a school,” said Laraine Reedy, a representative from Brook Hollow Winery. “If we found a farmers’ market that was in the winter that was close enough to us, we would probably do a winter market.”

The winery holds special events in the winter and has a tasting room at their Columbia location, which accounts for the majority of their sales, but they too use farmers’ markets for promotion.

Farms, like Stony Hill Farms in Chester, N.J., will shut down the majority of their operation after the holidays. They continue to sell what is in season, but use the coldest part of the year for a much-needed break.

“We shut down Christmas day, and the family — it’s a family run business — they all kind of take a little vacation at that time. It’s nice for them to relax for a little bit, but they still always have something to do,” said Christine Tompeck, who has been with the company for five years. “And then I think at the end of January is when they start mucking out the greenhouses, disinfecting them and starting all over. It’s a way of life for them.”

For a listing of New Jersey farmers’ markets, visit Jersey Fresh.