Looking for fresh food? Winter farmer's markets grow in Kalamazoo

Mar 25, 2013

Plants in the greenhouse at Summer Sun Nursery.
Credit Maggie Kane

Winter weather means slower growing for Michigan farmers, but it doesn’t stop them from selling their produce at outlets like indoor farmers markets. Winter’s market business doesn’t rival summer’s, but it has been growing in recent years.

Nabe Bowerman comes to the Bank Street Winter Market in Kalamazoo every Saturday to sell produce for Bonamego Farms. She’s one of eight to ten vendors that sell produce at the indoor market, according to market organizer Carl Rizutto and building owner Joe Mapes. Winter weather limits the variety of crops that many farmers can offer.  

Nabe Bowerman tells a customer about Bonamego Farms' foraged mushrooms.
Credit Maggie Kane

“I wish we had more this time of year but, you know, winters are cold,"  says Nabe Bowerman. "If a greenhouse, you’ve got to heat it a lot to grow stuff.”

Bonamego Farms has a greenhouse on their Van Buren county property, but owner Louis Bonamego says finances keep him from heating it. He makes his entire living off farming, which he says is difficult even without a family to support. In the winter he and Bowerman grow a few things, like green onions, but mostly rely on stored crops.

Van Buren-based Summer Sun Nursery, another vendor at the market, has three heated greenhouses. Joann Payne runs the farm with her daughter, Deanna Fritz. Their husbands work other jobs. Payne and Fritz started in 1997 selling primarily flowers and herbs, but have been focusing on farming for about five years, Fritz says. 

“This is our slightly heated tunnel house," she says pointing out the large greenhouse. "It’s a double layer insulated with air that helps keep some of the heat inside.”

Their greenhouses are heated to different temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s. This allows for diverse crops, but the low temperatures often lead to slower growth.

Deanna Fritz (left) and Joann Payne (right) of Summer Sun Nursery
Credit Maggie Kane

“There’s items like radishes that are ready in 22 to 30 days, whereas inside a winter tunnel like this it takes probably almost twice as long,” Fritz says.

Other vegetables, like spinach, thrive in cooler temperatures. Bank Street is one of two markets where Fritz and Payne sell their produce.

Market organizer Rizutto tried to start the market about ten years ago, but it didn’t attract many vendors at first. The market is now in its second year. The Kalamazoo Foods Market, at the corner of Crosstown Parkway and Burdick Street, has had their winter market for three years. Customer interest in winter markets has also grown. Payne says farmers have been getting more business.

“When we first started it was very slow, but it’s been really picking up especially this year," she says. "We’ve got a much bigger customer base and people are getting to know our product… our summer people are carrying through into the winter more.”

Bowerman says business for Bonamego Farms has increased too, but Louis Bonamego says the market still doesn’t provide much of an income during the winter for farmers like Bowerman. 

“She don’t make enough money in the wintertime there to, you know if I had to really hire someone to do that I’d be losing money every single day," says Bonamego.

So, Bowerman volunteers to sell food at the market for Bonamego Farms. Bonamego says almost a quarter of what Bowerman sells at the market goes toward gas money. Bowerman finds the market a good experience nonetheless. 

“This is something, give you something to do you know, boring in the winter and snow and cold, lousy winter so what [can you] do but just come out, try to do something,” she says.

As for Summer Sun, the market demand is strong enough that Payne and Fritz plan to expand.

“We’re looking at adding a few more unheated tunnel houses that we can plant lots of carrots and lots of leeks and the spinach and then go from there,” Fritz says.

The Bank Street Winter Market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays at 1157 Bank Street in Kalamazoo. Bonamego Farms and Summer Sun can be found there, along with other vendors selling produce and other products. The winter Kalamazoo Foods Market at 1156 South Burdick Street is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.