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Winter markets and value-added products

Although 88% of U.S. farmers markets are open less than six months a year, there is a definite trend toward stretching the market season in fall or holding special holiday markets. In addition, many communities have craft markets where farmers can sell value-added products. Many growers create a line of value-added products that they can sell after the main produce season is over. If you haven’t specifically grown crops with value-added products in mind, this is a good time to survey your markets for potential niches. You might also find that you already have the materials for products you can sell this fall, as a way of testing the water. Here are a few ideas.

Herbs: Dried herbs can be used in many products including herbal vinegars, herb rubs for meat and fish, soup mixes, and dip mixes. Mixed bunches of dried herbs are even easier. The best herbs for drying: marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. For best results, cut the herbs when the foliage is dry but not wilted. Hang them upside down in small bunches in a warm, dry place with good air circulation or a fan on them. Once they are thoroughly dry, store them in an opaque container with silica gel dessicant until you need them.

Peppers: As the frost date approaches, pay particular attention to your peppers. Once nighttime temperatures drop below 60F, peppers will stop flowering and setting fruit. You can cut off any small peppers that you think won’t mature before frost; that will help the remaining larger peppers to ripen. Peppers take about three weeks to go from green ripe to red/orange ripe, but once a pepper is 50% colored, it will continue to color after harvest. Holding partially colored peppers at 68-77F with high humidity is most effective.

Small, thin-walled peppers can be made into ristras, swags, and wreaths and sold for culinary and decorative uses. They have the greatest impact when the foliage is removed so the peppers are in full view. To defoliate pepper branches, stand the stem ends in water like cut flowers, and store them in complete darkness at 68F for three days. After that, remove from the water and shake the stems. The leaves, but not the fruits, will fall off.

To learn more about making pepper wreaths and swags, see this article on the Growing for Market website.

Dried botanicals: Fall and winter decorating is a favorite pasttime for many people, but if they live in a city, they probably don’t have access to the raw materials for nature crafts. Your farm may be a cornucopia of botanicals that you can sell at fall and winter markets. Take a walk around your fields, meadows, and hedgerows and see what you can find to sell at a “crafters’ corner” of your market stand. Popular crafting materials include bittersweet and other berries; seed heads of sunflowers, Echinacea, and rudbeckias; broom corn, millet, and native grasses; overgrown okra pods (for Santa ornaments); dried flowers including carthamus, celosia, craspedia, gomphrena, statice, strawflowers; hydrangea heads; corn shocks and husks; small pumpkins that can be used as vases; gourds and ornamental squash; pine cones, sweet gum and other ornamental seed pods.

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Reprinted from JSS Advantage September 2010