If the thought of purchasing fresh, homegrown produce for your meals in the middle of winter seems odd, think again.

Every Saturday, through the worst of winter weather, area farm families arrive early at FairOaks Mall in Columbus to set up booths to display their fresh vegetables and meat products for sale at the Columbus City Winter Farmers Market, now in its third season.

Artisans, craftsmen and -women, home bakers and hobbyists also arrive early so that their booths are ready by the time the first customers arrive at 9:30 a.m.

Customers leisurely roam the walkways and chat with the vendors, who fill the mall’s hallways with displays of homemade baked goods, honey, homegrown nuts, fruits, eggs, meats and fresh vegetables.

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“It is a lot of work for the vendors just to get ready for the market, but I think they do it for the same reason a farmers market is special. A farmers market gives the rare opportunity for the people who grow or make a product to meet the people who are going to put that product to use,” market organizer Sandy Hummel said.

Hummel is quite satisfied with the progress of the winter market.

“We have around 24 regular vendors at the market now. Other vendors come and go, but the regulars are here about every week. We also have regular customers, and I notice more new customers are coming. That is good progress,” Hummel said.

She knows a lot about the hows and whys of farmers markets. Hummel also started the summer farmers market in Columbus, which has grown every year and divided into two separate sites.

A good farmers market has a relaxed, almost festive, atmosphere, Hummel said, but also follows the many rules and health safeguards.

“I attend many classes year-round. The state of Indiana has many rules that must be followed at every vendor site. One of my responsibilities is to make sure the rules are followed for everyone’s protection,” Hummel said.

Customer Amber Smith seemed confident all was safe at the Columbus Winter Farmers Market recently as she led her daughter, Teghan Pittman, and son, Gannon Smith, to the Poseys and Pumpkins vendor booth. They come to the market every Saturday, and 3-year-old Gannon always expects to stop at the Poseys and Pumpkins booth to pick up a week’s supply of fresh red peppers.

“He eats them raw. He just loves them,” his mother said.

Poseys and Pumpkins booth proprietor MacKenzey Shatto, of North Vernon, said her family members have been selling produce from their farm at farmers markets for more than 19 years.

“Farmers markets are a tradition for my family,” she said.

Pointing to Gannon, Shatto said, “I was younger than he is now when my mom started taking me with her to our first booth.”

On this particular day, Shatto noted that her sister and mom also were selling their farm produce at Bloomington and North Vernon farmers markets.

“It is our tradition and our business, and I am very proud of what we sell because we have raised it or made it on our own farm,” she said.

At another booth, customers Terry and Beverly Belush sang the praises of the meat products offered by Nightfall Farm in Crothersville, operated by Nate and Liz Brownlee.

“This is the best chicken I have ever had,” the Belushes said.

Across the aisle from the Nightfall Farm booth, DeAnna Williams and daughter Allison visited with other vendors who stopped by their That Bloomin Farm booth. Like the other vendors who sell their farm’s meat products at the market, DeAnna Williams said she is proud of the methods used at Bloomin’ Farm, which she operates with husband Joe in Lawrence County.

“Our pork is all grass-grazed. It is pastured pork. That means our pigs never have to forage through garbage,” a smiling Williams said.

Dee Carmichael and daughters Bethany and Hannah, of Brownstown, proudly displayed homemade bread and cinnamon rolls at their booth.

“I mill the flour for this bread myself,” a smiling Dee Carmichael said.

Her husband Dan also started a hobby of roasting coffee beans, and they now sell his special coffee at their booth.

“I think we have the only fresh roasted coffee here,” Dee Carmichael said.

The hobbies of Bill Johnson of Jennings County also led to a booth at the Columbus Winter Farmers Market. During a family vacation to Georgia 33 years ago, Johnson decided he wanted to grow pecan trees for a hobby. After 20 years, Johnson’s efforts paid off and his trees started producing pecans 10 years ago. Now he brings packages of pecans in the shell to the market.

“I have proven it is not easy to grow pecans in Indiana, but it can be done,” Johnson said.

After retiring from Cummins Inc. in Columbus, Johnson decided to write fictional books. Several of his books are also for sale at his booth.

Bill Motes’ hobby of raising beehives also led the Columbus resident to the market, where he sells jars of his bees’ best work.

As customers wandered the market, they also discovered craft booths featuring crocheted, knitted and hand-sewn clothing and articles.

“I think we have a little bit of everything here. We feature the farm products, but I can’t imagine there is someone out there that couldn’t find something they would like to buy here,” Hummel said.

If you go

What: Columbus Winter Farmers Market

When: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays through March 31

Where: FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St., Columbus.

Offers: Fresh produce and meat; artisan breads, sweets, jellies, herbs, spices; flowers and plants. Visit with local authors.