When temperatures drop and the ground hardens, it’s logical to assume eating locally grown foods isn’t an option anymore. Those fragile cucumber and asparagus plants wouldn’t stand a chance against winter’s elements, so isn’t it time to go back to processed foods?
Not necessarily. Nutritious groceries can still be found in most areas during the winter, if you know where to look. To discover organic winter chow grown locally and sustainably, I caught up with my local farmer, Dan Fedick of Zion Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia.
All Up in Farms
“The most difficult time of the year to eat regional food is the winter, unless you understand the plethora of options,” says Fedick. Difficult, and maybe even a little unpopular. “Local, seasonal eating is a bit offbeat from the standard American diet but can be done with [the] right knowledge,” he says.
Get to Know Winter Crops
“Many cold, hardy vegetables tend to be sweeter than their summertime counterparts,” says Fedick, “so keep your purchases of produce like kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, and carrots to the short-day, long-night part of the year.”
Learn How to Preserve Them
Canning, lacto-fermentation, and long-term cold storage in a root cellar are some of the ways you can ensure your food keeps during the winter. Today, we have freezers in which lush vegetables from summer can be stored for much longer than they would otherwise. “Farmers in the early 1900s would have given their teeth for such a convenience,” says Fedick.
There are plenty of winter CSAs that do meat, dairy, and vegetables in the wintertime. If you get in on one early enough, you may even score some leftover fruits and veggies from the fall harvest: apples, pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and even peppers. Reach out to your local CSAs to see what they have available this time of year.
Like most good businesses, farmers’ market managers have taken notice of the dramatic rise in popularity of the locally grown goodies they sell. In response, many markets continue operating through the winter—with artisanal foods and products. An indoor location is usually secured, and your favorite farmers move inside. Just ask a vendor at your local grocery store.
Do It Yourself
Find the southern-facing side of the house, put in a raised bed in with plastic cover, and grow your own delicious vegetables. You can also grow micro greens, or “sprouts.” “These are easily grown in a southern-facing window or under grow lights on a shelf. Micro greens are said to be anywhere from four to forty times more concentrated in nutrients than the mature plant version of themselves,” Fedick suggests.
If you don’t know how to can certain veggies, grow winter crops, keep egg-laying chickens, or find a winter CSA, it’s time to get creative. Use your social media accounts to find someone who does have these access points, and meet them in the middle with the skills and resources you do have. Can you bake? Do you enjoy farm chores? Some creative customers even offer to distribute farm goods to other customers in exchange for winter produce or farm-fresh eggs.
If all else fails and you’re not able to grow or prepare your own grub, visit a restaurant that touts local food. There are some great restaurants currently pushing for local harvests, and have a desire to help develop local economies just as much as the farmers themselves.
Bet the Farm
Not only can you find local produce in winter, but you should, according to Fedick. “Large-scale industrial agriculture creates an overflow of pollution in animal waste and chemical runoff. This pollution corrupts our watersheds and soil ecology,” he says. “Without clean water and active soil ecology, we’re dependent on synthetic fertilizers.”
Synthetic fertilizers provide an incomplete nutrient profile in fruits and vegetables, and this affects our ability to stave off chronic infections and illness. Other side-effects include dependence on fossil fuels, unfair pay for farmers, and the appalling quality with which we treat certain farm animals. Ultimately, reinforcing local economies by “choosing with our fork” means nourished people, stronger communities, and a healthier planet.
Farmed to the Teeth
The “eat local” movement may seem new, but believe it or not, our modern culture is late to the game. Just two generations into farming’s past, Americans had no other choice. “Eating an orange in December in Virginia doesn’t seem out of place anymore but seemed exotic just 60 years ago,” Fedick explains.
Indulge in your region’s seasonal foods this year. If you don’t think you can go the winter without juicy summer fruits and veggies, just remember: Winter won’t last forever, so enjoy it while you can.
What’s your favorite way to eat local, seasonal fare in winter? Show off your creativity by tweeting us @TomsofMaine, and we’ll do the same.
Image source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.