"If you're a newbie, it's nice to go in the winter because it's not as overwhelming as the peak season," says Juliet Glass, market manager and program manager of FreshFarm Markets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting local foods from the Chesapeake Bay region.
And if you're a regular market-goer, don't give up your weekend jaunts just because the cold weather blew in. Sure, you won't find the tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries you enjoyed in warmer months. But winter markets have plenty of good stuff too. You'll find meat, cheese, breads, pastas, sauces, soups and canned goods. Apples are also sold year-round. Because they are kept in cold storage facilities -- giant warehouses where the oxygen is sucked out of the room -- they stay perfectly crisp and taste as fresh as if they were just picked. Pears and other tree fruits are stored the same way and also sold throughout the year. Dark leafy greens are limited, but they are in season. Look for kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard and cabbage. "Leafy greens sell out quickly," Glass says. "If you want them, show up a little before the market opens and be prepared to wait in a long line." You may also find cauliflower, broccoli and a little seafood. Finally, root vegetables like parsnips, turnips, potatoes and winter squash are still being harvested now. Here are some of the local markets open all year round--even when the weather outside is frightful.
Dupont Circle Farmers Market: With a customer base of more than 100,000, the Dupont Circle Farmers Market is one of the top markets in the country. Don't miss Endless Summer Harvest, a vendor that grows hydroponic lettuce year-round. Open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., it's located in the 1500 block of 20th Street, between Massachusetts Avenue and Q Street. www.freshfarmmarkets.org
Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative Market: Weather permitting, this inside food market and outside flea market, located at 7155 Wisconsin Ave, in the heart of Bethesda, is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (check its Web site for times). In addition to food, you can find jewelry, home furnishings, antiques and arts and crafts. www.farmwomensmarket.com
Old Town and Del Ray farmers markets: Early birds love Alexandria's Old Town market -- it opens at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays and runs until 11 a.m. in Market Square, 301 King St. It's believed to be one of the oldest farmers markets in the country. George Washington used to send his produce from Mount Vernon to be sold here. Alexandria also runs a second market in its eclectic Del Ray neighborhood. Located at the corner of East Oxford and Mount Vernon avenues, it is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. http://alexandriava.gov/FarmersMarket
Palisades Farmers Market: Swing by 48th Place NW at MacArthur Boulevard from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays for breads, sausages, preserves and the most popular item, Belgian waffles. Palisades was originally a seasonal market designed to "help local farmers get food to people who wanted their goods, and to keep farmland from turning into tract housing," says its founder, local resident Christopher Baer. But the neighborhood community was so upset when it closed for the winter that it now runs all year. www.palisadesfarmersmarket.com
Silver Spring Farmers Market: Open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Silver Spring market has free covered parking and is located along the pedestrian-friendly area on Ellsworth Drive between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue, which makes it the perfect place for a family outing. It also runs a Double Dollar program, an incentive plan to encourage low-income families to shop from local farmers. Glass says they accept food stamps (SNAP) and match food stamp transactions with free Market Dollars (max $10 per visit). www.freshfarmmarkets.org