The fire was not yet roaring when I dashed inside the Ag Hall on Saturday, dodging the raindrops to make my way to the first Winter Farmers’ Market of the season and to meet up with friends. But the room was cozy, with vendors bustling around getting booths set up, Little Rock Farm in the kitchen cooking up soup and pulled pork sandwiches, and market managers Lily Walter and Collins Heavener smiling at the front door, ready to greet market goers with information, hand outs, and tee-shirts for sale.

The winter market is one of my favorite things about fall on the Vineyard. Unlike the crowded summer market, where the goal (for me anyway) is to get in and out as quickly as possible (if I even make it up there at all), the winter market feels much more laid back; it begs you to slow down and linger.

It’s hard to go two feet without seeing someone you know. Often it’s a friend you haven’t seen all summer and it’s fun to catch up. The vendors are happy to see each other too.

“I love the winter market; I love getting a chance to talk to my friends. And I sure am happy not to have to throw that darn tent up,” Olivia Pattison of Cinnamon Starship said when I went over to say hello to her — only to see the last piece of a gorgeous tarte tatin disappear before my eyes.

Susie Middleton

She makes a good point. Not only are the tents at the summer market a pain to put up, but they create kind of an awkward partitioning between seller and customer. In the Ag Hall, vendors set up on tables with plenty of room between each, and you can wander through the hall in whatever fashion you please, bouncing between booths and friends and fire and ladderback bench-squatting.

The space is also kid-friendly, open and yet protected enough for a restless six-year old to venture out on her own in search of entertainment, like Eloise at the Plaza (only with less mayhem).

One such six-year-old accosted me at the fireplace as I was talking with Heather Thurber of Breezy Pines Farm. I was interviewing Heather about how her sales change at the winter market (more cold care remedies like super immunity syrup, fire cider, and elderberry syrup) and trying to take her picture, when Violette Larsen tapped me on the sleeve.

“Will you take my picture?” she said.

Susie Middleton

Followed by, “Will you print my picture?”

Well of course I agreed to take Violette’s picture, but I had to tell her that I’m not the one who chooses which pictures get printed.

No matter, she happily posed standing by the fire and sitting on a bench. I was impressed by her self-assured, outgoing personality and secretly wishing we grown-up women could be as confident as she is. Later she came back to ask me to photograph her mama, Vineyard Herbs proprietor Melissa Harding Larsen, with baby brother. You can guess where that led.

It did give me an opportunity to chat with Melissa, who said hot cocoa sales pick up for her at the winter market, as do licorice tea, West Chop Winter Tea, and (yes) cold remedies like her Garlic Elderberry and Rose Hip Elixir, which Melissa recommends as a great teacher present.

As I left Melissa and wandered over to say hello to 93-year-old farmer Bob Daniels, who’s still harvesting his purple potatoes, beautiful dahlias and slim shallots, I thought this market kind of reminds me of a general store (or at least my romanticized version of one).

I mean, where else can you get a crusty loaf of freshly-baked bread, a jar of beach plum jelly or pear-ginger marmalade, a tin of cocoa, a wedge of aged Island cheese, a bouquet of dahlias, a bunch of leeks, a head of fresh celery, a chicken pot pie, an apple pie, a wool hat, mittens, skin cream, fresh herbs, tomato soup, smoked bluefish spread, Island-made soap, herbal tea, fresh beets, chocolate chip cookies, Brussels sprouts on the stem, freshly dug garlic, room spray, hot coffee, curly kale, popovers, honey, granola, chocolate, salt, Oil of Sunshine, cough syrup, lettuce, onions, mint, eggs, sticky buns and baby clothes? And get this — a food truck, too. Josh Aronie will be bringing The Food Truck to future markets, hopefully with his famous rosemary sea salt French fries. In fact there is more, Lily and Collins told me. They’ve added a line-up of kid-friendly diversions, from visiting alpacas and sheep to an improv performance by the Yard, as well as a rotating roster of bands, including Rob Myers, Willy Mason, and Ellen and Taurus Biskis.

“We want to be all-inclusive,” Collins said, “and bring some real energy to the market this year.”

I’m all in, but not just for the goods and the meet-ups, but to support local farmers and food makers during the season when they’re still harvesting and making products, but the opportunities for sales are far fewer.

The market is on from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday this fall except Thanksgiving weekend, through Dec. 16. Vendors include Beetlebung Farm, Blackwater Farm, Breezy Pines Farm, Cinnamon Starship, Down Island Farm, Enchanted Chocolates, Flat Point Farm, The Food Truck, Ghost Island Farm, The Grey Barn and Farm, Island Alpaca, Island Bee Company, Kitchen Porch Catering, Little Rock Farm, Morning Glory Farm, MV Smokehouse, New Lane Sundries, Old Town Gardens, Pasture Prime Farm, Pie Chicks, and Vineyard Herbs.