No, it’s not just your imagination. Area farmers tailgate markets are opening earlier than ever before. It’s all about demand, says Peter Marks, ASAP’s program director. ASAP runs the Asheville City Market, and coordinates the Mountain Tailgate Market Association, a collaborative group of tailgates in WNC. “It takes a critical mass of vendors to hold a market,” says Marks. “It’s more and more the case that a critical mass of farmers is ready to serve the public in November or, now, in April. That’s because the public is ready to buy what they’ve got.”
Right now, farmers markets carry plant starts, cheeses, farm-fresh eggs, baked goods, handmade items and early-season veggies like asparagus, lettuce, radishes, greens and spring onions, just for starters. It’s likely you’ll see a few items earlier than normal as well because the weather’s been so warm. “The usual spring calendar seems to be running about two weeks ahead,” says Marks. That means strawberries could show up at markets very soon (if they’re not available already).
And although it’s a boon for consumers, the warm winter stirs other emotions for farmers.
“In general, farmers react to this weather in a range between pessimism and cautious gratitude,” says Marks. “Anything outside of expected weather is difficult to plan and plant for. If you plant something early because it’s been a warm year, you could end up with an early harvest, or you could end up with crop loss from a normal freeze.”
He adds, “Cold winters can be a farmer’s friend. A very cold winter will decrease pest and disease pressure the next year. A very warm winter can do the opposite. Snow melt is the best way to get groundwater into farmers’ irrigation streams and wells.”
Marks says that the almost-sure final frost date in Asheville falls in the first week of May. Some apple and peach trees in Henderson County were already damaged by a light frost around April 13. It’s also a concern for area vineyards (see this week’s Eatin’ in Season).
While shopping tailgates, don’t hesitate to ask farmers when they’ll have your favorite items this year. Browse a complete list of area tailgate markets with ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at http://www.buyappalachian.org and find a weekly tailgate market report on ASAP’s community website, http://www.FromHere.org.