Farmers markets are moving indoors for the fall, leaving behind the strawberries of summer and embracing the root vegetables of the colder months.
Jim Ramanek of Warner River Organics is showing me his wares at a farmers market in Concord. It’s a relatively standard selection for a farmers market in fall, except that for every familiar autumn veggie he rattles off, there’s an alternate variety of it that I’ve never heard of. For instance, there are your classic turnips here, but there are also something called hakurei turnips, too.
“The purple-top turnip is what most people think about when they think of a turnip. And they either like it or they really hate it, and they usually really hate it because it’s bitter. And so the difference between the purple-top and the hakureis is that the hakureis are very neutral and sweet tasting.”
It goes like this for many of Ramanek’s crops in the fall. There’s familiar butternut squash and then there’s delicata squash. There are plain-old red beets and then there are golden beets. And so on.
Ramanek is used to describing these varieties to first-timers like me. And often, he has to convince someone to leave behind their childhood phobias of certain veggies like turnips or brussels sprouts.
But more and more, people are going for the less traditional versions.
“It’s diversification. People used to come for squash and the only squash they’d want is butternut. Now we grow a wide range and other farmers do and people like that, they are liking different kinds of squashes.”
This trend toward diversification is thanks in part to the farmers themselves, says Ruth Hazzard with the University of Massachusetts agricultural extension.
“Well I think farmers are doing a lot more direct marketing. If the customer is in front of you, you can say ‘hey try this."
She also has some advice for those who haven’t yet diversified their diet of fall vegetables.
“If somebody sees something and they don’t know what it is or how to use it, they should certainly ask the farmer. Because you can be pretty sure if the farmer grew it, they also cooked it.”
That’s a lesson I learned firsthand from Jim Ramanek, who convinced me to take a chance on delicata squash this season.