By LEIA LARSEN • Standard-Examiner staff
Jon Contos started Arrowhead Urban Farms around three years ago. His fields are 10 inch by 20 inch seed trays. His farm is in Ogden’s East Bench, on a quarter-acre lot in the basement of his home.
His crops include an array of micro greens — basil, cilantro, radish, arugula mixed with mustard. His harvest happens year-round, making his one-man operation perfect for the new Ogden Winter Farmers Market.
“A lot of people think you’ve got to have plus-five acres, 10 acres to make a go of it, and that’s not true,” Contos said.
The goal, however, for growers like Contos is to build sustainable operations where they can use farmers market revenue and support their farms year-round. That’s why winter markets have so much appeal.
The Ogden Downtown Alliance officially opened the first winter market in January, housed in Ogden’s Union Station. The summertime market makes Ogden’s 25th Street bustle each Saturday from late June to September, drawing more locals, vendors, artisans and musicians year after year.
Market organizers have heard demands for a winter market, too, but it’s trickier to pull off with Northern Utah’s growing season.
“The goal with this market is we want to have produce as much as possible, but we’re still trying to develop that in our county – an over-winter growing season,” said Kim Bowsher with the Ogden Downtown Alliance.
That’s not to say there aren’t locally made products to sell in chillier months. Fruit can be jammed and veggies can be canned. Farmers can be creative about how and what they grow when it’s cold, too.
“(For) our niche right now, we have full production during the summertime. Spring and the fall are the shoulders,” said Levi Call with Call’s Freedom Farm in West Haven. “With greenhouses, you can expand into those shoulders. You don’t make as much, but you still have income.”
Call hasn’t made the leap into shoulder season farming yet, but Ogden’s new winter market opens up the possibility. He rattled a list of potential products he could bring to market from his one-acre farm — eggs from the chickens, root vegetables, cold-hardy greens like spinach or kale, and the beef cows he just started raising.
“With the winter market, it really expands your opportunity to make sales,” Call said.
Knowing there’s a market in the colder months also gives farmers an incentive to rethink the way they farm. Contos is brainstorming using hydroponics in his basement-based farm, which uses less soil, water and space. He’s also thinking about moving his winter farming outside by building a greenhouse.
“Once you have a greenhouse, that’s a game changer,” he said.
Some farms operate year-round whether there’s a market or not. Bjorn Carlson, owns BlueTree Farms and raises grass-fed beef, pork and lamb. He stays busy through the winter breaking ice in water troughs and keeping his animals warm. The winter market means he can continue forging relationships with small, household buyers.
“It allows us to provide our product on a year-round basis and our one-on-one interaction with customers,” he said. “We have a big customer base there in Ogden, but that dies out in the wintertime.”
While BlueTree Farms meat is still available for order online, Carlson said he prefers to sell his product in person. That’s why he’s braving the snow to bring his products from his farm in the Uintah Basin to Ogden’s winter market.
“Before we had markets on a regular basis, I think customers wanted to know where their food came from — they wanted a local product but they didn’t know where to get it,” he said. “It has connected the farm to the consumer.”
Making connections is what Contos likes best about the farmers market, too — mostly meeting other local farmers and brainstorming new growing strategies.
“I guess I could’ve been satisfied with retirement and gone fishing every day, but this is a challenge,” he said. “Whatever I make is icing on the cake.”
And when you enjoy growing, it doesn’t hurt to make a little green.