Once the summer is over and the tomatoes and corn and melons are gone, selling vegetables becomes a little trickier. That said, a bustling market still exists for hardier vegetables all the way through the coldest months. The keys are finding those customers and choosing the right vegetables.
1. Grow for the Unique Winter Customer
Everyone loves a fresh tomato, but in most areas in North America a fresh tomato is not a great winter crop. Winter crops (at least in places that have real winters) are more leafy greens such as kale or collards; cabbages and Brussels sprouts; salad greens such as spinach or lettuce; storage squashes and root vegetables—the kinds of crops that have a perhaps smaller (though certainly passionate) fan bases.
2. Extend Summer Crops
If you have a heated greenhouse or tunnel and can technically offer summer crops well into the winter, there is certainly a market for that. However, profitability can be challenging when you add heaters necessary to keep tomatoes at their optimal temperatures. So for the best profitability I suggest to stick with what grows and what there is demand for, then perhaps consider using that heat for early tomatoes, peppers and so on. Customers love and have come to expect an early May tomato. A January one is almost always suspect. That said, keeping your tomatoes alive with a little extra heat late into the fall is not the worst use of the tunnel, but it will probably take away space from you, reducing the amount of winter goodies that can be grown with little or no supplemental heating.
Start a Winter CSA
A winter CSA is a great way to determine what you grow before finding the customers. If you are not an experienced winter grower, do some reading on how to best manage the temperatures in your climate. That said, with a good number of storage crops (cabbages, rutabagas, squashes, carrots, beets) and a handful of fresh greens every week, you can sell veggies all winter.
Sell to Restaurants
One of the best times to build relationships with restaurants is when the competition is scarce. Being a winter grower means you can easily get the chefs’ ear and not only talk to them about what they want in the upcoming growing season but also offer them fresh produce when no one else is. There is a lot of opportunity here.
Consider Winter Markets
Winter farmers markets can be great, but unless you have a proven indoor market with many vendors, a winter market might be risky. These markets rely on customers wiling to venture out into the cold, often wet, perhaps snowy weather and offer you, the grower, less of a guarantee on sales. Certainly, a good winter market can be an excellent place to sell food. A bad one can be a waste of time, veggies and resources.
Try Retail Stores
Selling wholesale in the winter can be tricky, as your vegetables are more valuable just based on supply—you could easily be the only person in your area growing all winter, so why take a wholesale price? However, a retailer might be willing to work with the price a little to ensure good, local produce all winter. For you, the farmer, this could be a nice way to guarantee some income as well as have a reliable outlet for all your winter efforts.